A Different Path: Dividing I
The guests left, and the priest remained in the silent chapel.
"Truly, this act has become interesting. Your play was masterful, Kirei."
A golden-haired man spoke to him, appearing from the back.
Kotomine acknowledged the man with a smile and said, "I am glad you are entertained, Gilgamesh."
"How can I not be with what you have wrought? With their success or failure, its birth is inevitable. And in the time between, I am free to play in this new game." The golden King of heroes smirked. "While it is irksome that the fake Saber took her place, I suppose these events make up for it."
"Indeed. To think that Angra Mainyu could develop in that way... truly, these are interesting times."
Gilgamesh nodded. "So? What do you plan now, my playwright? That dog no longer has its use."
"Hm... that is true. If you plan to intercede, then Lancer's role is over. But it would be a shame to kill him now."
The golden King held out his hand, and a goblet of wine appeared in the air behind him. He took a sip from the beverage and tilted his head in thought. "...Perhaps we should indulge the mutt. There are plenty of other rabid beasts for him to frolic with now. It would be poetic, in a way, would it not?"
"Yes... I can see that. Very well." The priest sent a mental command out to Lancer to do just that, the blue Servant still roaming the streets, and then turned to head towards the back room.
"Is that all you have for me, Kotomine?"
The slight of Kotomine turning his back on the king was ignored in favor of curiosity. The priest rarely, if ever disrespected him in such a way, so to do so was a novel occasion.
"Of course not. There is paperwork to be done. After all, it is my duty as the supervisor of this war to inform the necessary authorities, is it not?"
"Ha. Hahaha, I see! Truly you serve me well, Kirei!" A broad grin made its way across the King's face. "It appears that deigning to stay around this past decade was indeed an endeavor worth enduring. Very well!" Gilgamesh turned his back and began walking out of the church. "Send your letters, Priest. I shall be expecting your next developments with bated breath. Do not disappoint."
"As you say, King of Heroes. Try to restrain yourself, however. Too much enthusiasm may end this play prematurely."
Gilgamesh waved off the priest's concerns and headed out towards the city, a manic glee in his crimson eyes at the thought of the entertainment that awaited.
Kotomine shook his head in mild amusement and entered the backroom. "They will arrive in one day, Emiya Shirou. I wonder... can you save her before then?"
The words were said on a whim, the result already a foregone conclusion. But even then, the thought remained.
"...Can you perform another Miracle, hero?"
In a dank crypt, a vampiric monster in the guise of an old man sat. His body lay in the center of a magic circle that was drawn to both contain and separate his consciousness. The intent? To contact the portion of a soul he left in his pawn.
To his surprise, that piece had managed to reach the end of the board and promote into a valuable queen. Not only that, but he discovered that its will had been muffled by the corruption within the fragment he inserted and that which had combined with the aberration in the grail, leaving him free to examine the workings at his leisure.
The one known as Matou Zouken, formerly Makiri Zolgen, closed his eyes and shifted his awareness to the fragment within his pawn.
It was a strange sensation. He could feel it, an aberration that should not exist and yet did. But the 'why' of its existence was unimportant. What did was the fact that he could exploit the very interesting system of Thaumaturgy it contained.
Synthesis Ritual, the direct manipulation of the soul. It was an application of the Magic he and the Einzbern had sought since the time of the First Grail War: Heaven's Feel, the Third Magic.
With his intrusion into that System through his pawn, he was able to use it, though it was limited to his own self. Tampering with the pawn was restricted, to his amusement. The corruption had blackened her, and was slowly erasing its mind. Not what he planned, but with the revelation of what he could do with the System.
"What a stroke of fortune. Now, after all these years..."
Zouken laughed at the irony of achieving the Grail's objective without completing it. The thought that one summoned would possess the capability of enacting the Magic they sought was laughable.
But that didn't matter anymore.
The ancient magus called out the words that would allow him to modify his soul and-
He woke up in the dark room, the same as he left it. "Hmph. So it didn't work after all."
Zouken scowled, but smoothed it into a neutral expression. "I should have expected it."
His connection to his pawn was severed now, and he couldn't feel the fragment that he left inside it. It appeared that the only result of the attempt at the Magic was to lose his piece in this war.
The wretched creature with a rotting soul got to his feet and set out to find his worthless grandson. Perhaps it was time to 'impart' a few of the family's mysteries onto the boy. He had desired it for so long, after all... and he was harboring quite the grudge against the latest Emiya.
With a crooked grin on his face, Matou Zouken slithered off to the rest of the mansion in search of the next pawn.
In the corner of the room, another individual with a handsome face and lush blue hair stood. He had a piercing gaze, and watched the creature depart with narrowed eyes.
He scowled, an expression like the abomination that had just left, and then spun on his heel and left the chambers through a separate passage that had been long forgotten by Zouken.
It was quiet on the way back for the trio leaving the church. The situation and reality of the events that occurred left the three, Rin, Kirito, and Shirou, in no mood for talking.
It was a beautiful day outside, a complete contrast to the corruption occurring throughout the city. The sun shone bright and the air was warmer than usual for a winter day.
It irritated Shirou. The world itself seemed to be mocking him, the benevolent weather a far cry from the malevolent events that had ruined his life. It was a cruel irony that his reality had become since the start of the war. One for one. Save only to doom. Protect one only to fail another. Gain a life to lose a life.
It was unfair. Reality set him up for success only to show the blessing to be a curse, the wish granted by a monkey's paw. Impossible situations with no true answer were around every corner.
He narrowed his eyes. That was something he needed to fix. He couldn't allow a reality with only tragedy waiting at the end. Something like that was too sad, and Shirou would not stand for it any longer.
They arrived back at the Emiya Household and Shirou opened the door, intent on heading to the kitchen to have a serious discussion with Rin and Kirito about what to do next-
-Only to be greeted by Archer wearing casual clothing and a white apron with 'kiss the chef' written on it in black and red.
"Archer," Rin said. "Why are you wearing an apron?"
Shirou blinked, still trying to comprehend the fact that a heroic spirit was wearing an apron. It couldn't be a Noble Phantasm or anything of the like, since it didn't possess any extraordinary powers that he could tell. And yet there was something about seeing Archer in that apron that bothered him, causing him to instantly be put on edge...
Archer raised an eyebrow. "I was cooking. Why else would I wear an apron?"
"Since when can you cook?! And why the heck are you wearing an apron that says 'kiss the chef'?" Rin continued her tirade of disbelief, her index finger pointed at the words on her Servant's outfit.
The white-haired man smirked. "Oh, don't worry about that. You'll find out soon enough."
Shirou remembered now. "Hey! That's my apron!" He narrowed his eyes. "And who gave you permission to rummage through my kitchen and use my ingredients?"
Kirito sighed at his Master's response and face palmed. "Shirou... really?"
"You don't do that! It's like... going to church and hiding dead babies in the basement! Blasphemy!"
A timer chimed and Archer gave Shirou an amused smirk. "Ah. That would be the roast." He smoothed down his apron and walked back to the kitchen. "Rin, help the idiot set the table, will you? I wouldn't trust him with anything delicate at the moment, so..."
"Of course, Archer." Rin cut him off before Shirou could let out a retort and started dragging him away. "Come on, Shirou."
"But... he stole my kitchen!"
Kirito shook his head and grabbed Shirou's other hand, preventing him from running off to confront Archer. "Let's go, Shirou. You need to relax anyway."
Realizing the futility of his actions, Shirou let out a weary sigh and slumped, letting the two lead him away.
Archer set the food on the table, a smug smile on his face. As strong as this Emiya Shirou may have become with his Magic, at least in cooking Archer would trump him.
A gasp from Rin, an impressed whistle from Kirito, and a grudging look of approval from that idiot was the response to his feast.
"Archer... you made all of this?" Rin looked at the feast with wide eyes.
The table was filled with food, everything from Western dishes like lasagna and casseroles to elaborate sushi and sashimi served on a literal silver platter.
"Of course." Archer gave a pointed look at Shirou and said, "I take pride in my cooking. Nothing less than reaching the ideal would make me happy."
Shirou scoffed. "Whatever."
It seemed that he wasn't rising to Archer's bait, though the attempt might have been too subtle.
Well, it wasn't like it mattered much to Archer anyway. Making all of the food had been a great way to relieve the stress of the past events.
Of course, taking a dent out of this idiotic parallel of his past self's bank account was a plus. It wasn't like he was going to use it on anything without his Saber here.
After a quick thanks for the food, the others started eating.
Archer served himself a small portion of rice and miso soup while waiting for the reactions.
The clatter of a spoon against a plate. Rin was wide-eyed after taking a bite of some baked salmon, mouth slightly agape.
It brought a brief smile to Archer's face, reminding him of how his Rin had acted back in the good days they had together.
And then some stupid Lord had decided that he wasn't worthy of her and had him turned into a sealing designate and Rin killed.
Archer shook his head. That wouldn't happen to this Rin.
Rin blinked and then swallowed her food before glaring at Archer. "Why didn't you tell me you could cook like this?!"
He shrugged. "You never asked?"
And she would probably have looked down on his 'secret ingredient' of reinforcing the food in the preparation stages.
"This is really good, Archer." Kirito gave him a slight nod in respect. "Maybe even as good as..." A frown crossed his face and then he shook his head with a severe expression. "No, Sandwich-kun is the best. Even as tasty as this food is, he will reign supreme."
Archer tilted his head and gave Kirito a slight smile. "Thank... you?" It seemed that Kirito might have a few screws loose. Hm. That might have explained why he was summoned... this Emiya Shirou was definitely insane for managing a True Magic.
Shirou took a bite out of a serving of lasagna. "...It's alright."
Archer scoffed. It looked like that Shirou wasn't going to admit to Archer's superior kitchen skills any time soon.
Well, he had achieved what he intended, so that would be enough. He wasn't stressed anymore, his Master was relaxed, Emiya Shirou wasn't thinking about the War, and Kirito was off-center.
Now all he had to do was figure out how to resolve this situation FUBAR before Alaya or Gaia decided that it'd be best to wipe Fuyuki off the map.
After the early dinner, or late lunch depending on how you looked at it, and cleaning up, Archer left to keep a watch on the surroundings outside in case monsters spontaneously appeared in the neighborhood. Ayako was still unconscious, recovering from the trauma inflicted on her and being forcibly pulled back from the brink of death, so that left just Rin, Shirou, and Kirito inside the house to talk.
The three sat around the dining table again, the air once again serious as it was time to discuss the current events and what they would do for the remainder of the war.
But before all of that, there was one thing that Rin wanted to address.
Shirou tensed. The fact that Rin was using his family name when she had given up on calling him otherwise earlier didn't bode well. "...Yes, Rin?"
"Why don't you tell us what you did back at the school, Emiya? It's quite a miracle that Ayako came back from being dealt such a grievous wound, isn't it?"
"...There isn't much to say." Shirou shrugged. "It was a Miracle I needed, and a Miracle I received."
A loud thud resounded throughout the room. "Bullshit!" Rin was furious, her eyes narrowed and nostrils flared.
"H-hey! There's no need for that Rin," Kirito said. "Mitsuduri-san's still sleep, remember?"
"...Sorry. You're right Kirito." She took a deep breath and then crossed her arms and fixed Shirou with a glare. "Explain, now. I know it wasn't projection, materialization of a Mystic Code, or a conceptual item you used, so what was it? It can't have been anything simple if Archer wanted to kill you."
"Rin, it's really not important. Sakura's still out there, and now she has a target painted on her." Shirou frowned. Couldn't she see what they needed to do? Time was short, and sitting here to explain himself was wasting it. There would be an opportunity for examining the extent of what Cardinal had done and given him after Sakura was safe.
"If you don't tell me what you did then you can try and stop her yourself, Shirou!"
Kirito gasped and Shirou narrowed his eyes.
"You don't mean that," Shirou said.
"Of course I do!" She turned towards Kirito. "Help me out here, Kirito. You've noticed it too, haven't you?"
The black swordsman was silent, but he gave a slight nod.
A spark of anger flared, but Shirou suppressed it under a layer of steel. He didn't understand what they were getting at, but he knew that they were wasting time. Ayako was saved, but Sakura was in danger of dying every second they wasted, so he needed to get up and find her, figure out a way to free her from that dark presence and bring her back. Why couldn't they see that?
"Enough. We're wasting time talking about worthless-"
"That's exactly it!" Rin pointed towards Shirou, her face flushed with anger. "Whatever you did changed you, Shirou! You..." Rin sighed and looked to the table, her face downcast. "You don't sound like... you anymore."
Shirou scowled. "Like that matters. We're-"
Kirito got up from his seat and walked over to the TV stand and dug around in the cabinet. After a few seconds, he pulled out an old-fashioned tape recorder and placed it on the table.
"...What's that, Kirito?" Rin asked.
The black swordsman ignored her and rewound the cassette inside it. "You don't mind if I use this, do you Shirou?"
It was a silly device that Taiga bought a while back in her 'spy on Shirou and Sakura' phase after she first started coming over. He had forgotten it was there actually, having never needed to use it.
"I don't see why you would want to, but go ahead."
Kirito nodded and hit record.
Rin shook her head, bemused by his actions, and then continued her questioning. "Anyway, Shirou, you have to tell me what you did. Was it your Magic Crest? You said you weren't any good at the basic thaumaturgy, but did your father leave you with anything?"
"I told you, Rin, that it's not important! Every moment we sit around is another chance for the other Masters and Servants to kill Sakura!" He narrowed his eyes. "Unless... of course. You want to kill her for that extra Command Seal."
Rin's eyes widened and she instinctively tried to take a step back. "S-shirou?"
"In that case..." A half dozen Sword Skills were loaded. He didn't have a blade, but Rin wouldn't be able to use her spells either at this close range. Just a fraction of a second and-
The sound snapped Shirou out of his murderous line of thought and he looked to the source of the noise.
Kirito rewound the cassette and placed the recorder in the center of the table. With another click, he pressed play. There was Rin's polite and concerned questioning, and then...
"I told you, Rin, that it's not important!"
Shirou flinched. The person speaking sounded harsh, his words pointed and sharp like a blade set to slash against the speaker before him.
It continued. "...In that case, I-"
Dangerous. He was dangerous. The last few minutes came back to him, and he realized what he had been thinking of doing.
He was going to kill Rin. He was seriously going to kill Rin.
Shirou folded his hands and placed them on the table. He didn't trust them to be open right now, considering that it would take only a single instance of murderous impulse before he made a mistake he couldn't take back.
"...Do you see why she's so worried, Shirou?" Kirito sighed. "I've only known you for a few days, and even I can tell the change in your personality. Didn't you say on that first night that you wouldn't know what you would have done if Rin had died? The 'you' from then would never have talked to her like this."
He was silent. What could he say to that? Kirito was right.
"Just talk to us, Shirou." Rin gave him a pleading look and placed her hands on top of his. "Please."
Let's just kill everyone.
For a second, those words flashed into his mind, and he remembered what had happened to the one who followed that impulse.
Trust me. Keeping information, no matter how small it might be, from your allies will only result in pain for you.
Kirito had already noticed it back then, but respected his decision to stay silent. But now that he was about to murder Rin in cold blood... he couldn't afford to hide it anymore.
Shirou sighed and lowered his head. "You're right, Kirito. I've been acting dumb, haven't I?"
The black swordsman smiled. "I wouldn't say that. You just... lost yourself for a bit. But you're back now, right?"
"Yeah." The layer of steel around his mind receded. It had protected him from the events he witnessed, turning his fear and other negative emotions into a weapon. It had also closed him off from himself, and what he really felt.
The pain of Lizeris's sacrifice, of failing Ayako, of losing Sakura... all of it hit him at once.
That was strange. Why was his vision blurry?
"Shirou...? Are those... tears?"
He blinked, and wet tracks covered his cheeks.
-Ah. He was crying. That was strange. He hadn't cried when his father had died, so why was he crying now? The tears had been burned out of him, he thought. And besides that, he was a sword. Swords were unchanging steel. This shouldn't be happening, yet-
A pair of slender arms around him and the sensation of soft hair brushing against his skin.
"Geez, you're really hopeless, aren't you, Shirou?" Rin let out a sigh and shook her head. "You're still the same selfless person at heart."
Selfless... yes, that described him well. He never wanted anything for himself, only for others. To see them happy was enough for him. But that couldn't happen if he didn't shut down his own fears, doubts, concerns.
A machine that helped others. That was who Emiya Shirou was, who he should be. The price for the sin of living.
He had betrayed that. No, that wasn't right. He had gained things he couldn't lose.
The peaceful days in his home with Sakura. The witty chats with Ayako every morning at the Archery Club. Even Rin's sharp tongue and confusing personality these past few days.
Losing them would have weighed more heavily on him than the penalty of living or deciding who was right and who was wrong.
...And yet he had been willing to cut Rin down for Sakura. To sever one life in the vague hope of prolonging another.
You cannot save everyone.
I'll make sure no one else dies.
Didn't he swear it? He would protect them and ensure their survival. A single death was unacceptable to him. Yet he had been willing to cut Rin down.
...They were right. He had to find out more about this power. It had changed him, made him more prone to violence. He had to reconnect with himself before acting, if his first impulse was to kill. Emiya Shirou would have found that unacceptable, and he should as well.
Just what did Lizeris do?
A cough sounded out, bringing Shirou back to reality. Rin looked to be extremely comfortable leaning against him, so he didn't want to move. But Kirito...
"I'm glad you raised her flag and all, Shirou, but I'd really prefer it for you two to get a room if you're going to keep this up." He scratched the back of his head and gave them a sheepish smile. "It's good that you finally realized your feelings for her, though that's going to be a pain later on when you sort out the other two girls, but we still gotta sort out what happened to you, remember?"
Something troublesome was interjected between the beginning and end of Kirito's words, but Shirou mentally redacted it.
He was not the protagonist of an eroge, dammit!
Rin jumped back at Kirito's words, face a deep red. "I-It's not like that! I don't even love- LIKE! I don't even like him, and I definitely don't like how he makes me feel safe and protected when I'm around him!"
The swordsman let out a wide grin. "Suuure you aren't. It's not like your heart goes a flutter when you're near him, and you feel the urge to spontaneously kiss him or anything right?"
"Gragh! Ki-ri-to! Be quiet!"
The black swordsman held up his hands. "Alright, alright." He shook his head and coughed. "Tsundere."
"What did you say?!" Rin stood up, hand already palming one of her prana infused gem stones.
"A-anyway, Rin, Kirito." Shirou spoke, trying to change the subject before things got anymore out of hand. "You wanted to know about what I did, right?"
Rin sent another glare at Kirito, but then sighed and sat back down, turning her attention to Shirou. "That's right. You were doing something extremely dangerous back then, Shirou, and I want to know what it was." She frowned. "And why Archer called you a threat to humanity. If a Heroic Spirit was calling you that..."
"Well." Shirou closed his eyes, considering how best to tell the story. "I said that I gained a Miracle, right?"
"Yeah." Kirito nodded. "But what do you mean by that, Shirou? Are you talking about the Divine Stone of Returning Soul?"
"Hold on." Rin held up a hand. "What Divine Stone?"
Shirou started to explain, but Kirito cut him off.
"It's a one of a kind item that can be used to revive someone recently deceased."
Rin opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. "...You're joking, right?"
Kirito let out a bitter smile. "I might joke about a lot of things, Rin, but not this. Besides..." Kirito sighed. "It's not a complete resurrection. It can only work in the ten seconds after someone dies, and afterwards it vanishes." He turned to Shirou, ignoring Rin's contemplative look. "But Shirou, how did you get it? I thought I gave it to Klein years ago."
"Well, that's part of the Miracle I was talking about, but not all that happened." He looked at Rin and scratched the back of his head. "I... kind of obtained a new True Magic."
For a few minutes, there was an uncomfortable silence as Rin went over Shirou's declaration in her mind, her face flashing through a wide range of emotions. Considering how often a murderous look appeared on her face, the two males in the room decided it would be best to keep the peace before the inevitable storm.
"W-well, it turned out that my real Servant wasn't Kirito, but someone else who brought him here with her abilities. She had been hiding in my reality marble, and-"
"YOU HAVE A REALITY MARBLE?!"
Shirou winced. Yep. Rin wasn't taking it well.
The twin-tailed magus jabbed a finger in his chest. "You told me you couldn't do any basic thaumaturgy!"
"I-I can't! I'm not sure exactly how it happened myself, but-"
"Not sure?!" Rin narrowed her eyes. "You can't even fix a broken window, but somehow manage to obtain what even Dead Apostles can't reach without years upon years of research?!"
Shirou gulped and glanced at Kirito for back up.
He gave a slight shake of his head. "You're on your own on this one, pal," was the message he implied.
Shirou turned back to Rin and let out a sheepish smile. "E-er, yes?"
Rin took a deep breath and then leaned back. The flushed face and apparent wrath was replaced by a serene smile, and closed eyes. "Well, Emiya. Do keep talking. I'm sure that there's a good reason why you have a reality marble and a True Magic. Right?"
...Somehow it wasn't reassuring. But he had already knocked down the hornet's nest, so to speak, so he might as well keep going.
"A-anyway, my True Servant had the ability to manipulate souls, as well as the Authority to govern the creation and modification of a World."
Shirou cast a wary glance at Rin's reaction, but her expression hadn't changed.
"Wait," Kirito said. "If I'm not your Servant, who is?"
A slight pang of loss and regret. He should have realized it sooner. Maybe if he had, then Lizeris could have at least gone with happier memories than just a hill of swords and this war...
He shook his head. No. The time for regret was gone. He could only make do with what she had left him, and ensure that he fulfilled the duty she left him. But first, to answer Kirito.
"Does the name 'Lizeris' mean anything to you, Kirito?"
The black swordsman tensed, and then closed his eyes. "I see... that would explain it. So she sent me here, huh? Geez, that girl..." He sighed and opened his eyes. "She's gone, isn't she?"
"Yeah... she's gone."
"Hey!" Rin glared at the two males, but quickly smoothed her expression. "I'm not sure I follow. If Kirito wasn't your Servant, then who was? And what do you mean by her having the ridiculous abilities to tamper with souls and the world?"
Kirito took over the explanation. "Lizeris is someone I met in another... reality, you could call it. She had part of that world's, well I guess the best word is 'God', etched onto her soul. Because of that, she had the Authority and ability to directly inspect and modify souls, as well as the governing of the World's balance." He frowned. "Though she had lost a lot of that power by the time I met her."
Rin closed her eyes and let out a weary sigh. "Of course. Only Shirou would summon a God as a Servant." She shook her head. "Let me guess. The catalyst was your Reality Marble, wasn't it?"
"I'm not too sure, actually." Shirou frowned. "It might have been Avalon."
"...Eh?" Rin tilted her head. "Wouldn't that have pulled King Arthur?"
"Like I said, I'm not too sure. But however she was summoned, Lizeris helped me out a lot, though it wasn't obvious at the time."
Kirito nodded. "That sounds like her. So, what did she do to you, Shirou? The Sword Skills and that Divine Stone are a given, but that's not all she gave you, is it?"
"That's right. She... did something after I fought Illfang. I wasn't thinking straight, and knew that the Divine Stone could bring Ayako back, so I tried to make it." He frowned. "I think she opened a gateway to Akasha, now that I think about it..."
A loud thud sounded throughout the room again. Rin's face was still set in that serene expression from earlier, but her reddening fist made it obvious the source of the noise was her.
"Em-i-ya. Are you telling me that you didn't just spontaneously develop a True Magic or have it given to you by your Servant, but got it by visiting the swirl of the root and coming back?"
Shirou nodded. "I think so."
"Give me your hand."
Rin narrowed her eyes. "Just do it, Emiya."
"Er... alright?" Shirou held out his hand towards Rin. "Is there a reason why-"
The twin-tailed magus cut him off with a short aria, and the slight warming of her hands against his indicated to Shirou that she was using magecraft.
A minute passed.
Shirou was quiet, respecting her silence. She was probably extremely focused, especially if she was using 'Structural Grasp' like he thought she was.
Another minute passed.
Shirou was still quiet, and waiting patiently. Maybe Rin just wasn't as efficient as he was? It wouldn't take him this long to perform an analysis, but it was one of the few things he was good at, so maybe others were different.
At the third, Shirou became worried. Rin had slumped a bit from her initial position, and gently tapped her shoulder. "Rin."
She didn't react.
"...I think she's out of it, Shirou," Kirito said. "What's her spell supposed to do, anyway?"
"It should just let her look at the structure of my body, if it's what I think it is. But it's not supposed to take this long." Shirou pulled his hand away and gently patted Rin's cheek.
She jerked into an upright position, and Shirou could see what he couldn't when she was bowed over. Rin's blue eyes were glazed, and shimmering with a purple haze. "...010000110110000101110010011001000110100101101110011000010110110000101110..."
Kirito raised an eyebrow. "...I take it that's not a normal reaction?"
"Definitely not." Shirou snapped his fingers. "Rin!"
"Huh?" She blinked, and the purple haze vanished from her eyes. "Where am I? What happened?"
Shirou tilted his head. "Er... you're at my house, Rin, and you were just analyzing me, I think?"
He could almost see the cogwheels turning in Rin's head as she mulled over what had happened.
After a few seconds, Rin visibly flinched and stared at Shirou with wary eyes. "...What the hell are you, Shirou?"
"Are you alright there, Rin?" Kirito said. "You're giving Shirou a really weird look, you know."
She shook her head and then placed a hand on her mouth, with the other propping up her arm at the elbow. "I... don't know. Maybe I'm just tired." She looked towards Shirou. "...Just what exactly is this True Magic of yours, Shirou?"
The red-head frowned. "Give me a moment. Trace, on." He focused his attention inwards and towards what Lizeris had left him.
He saw the web and array of lines pulsing with emerald energy that he knew marked his circuits and nerves. It was an interesting sight, since it looked like they had fused together to become one giant circuit. It wasn't what he was looking for though, so he looked past it.
There was a glowing sphere that seemed to stretch everywhere and nowhere. He could see clouds and an endless sky of crimson within, as well as some kind of fortress moving across it. But that wasn't what he was looking for, so he left it behind.
He reached it at last.
A sword. That was what Lizeris had left behind and what he had obtained with her before she closed the path between him and the swirl of the root. At least... that's what it seemed to be.
It hovered above what looked to be a tapestry of stars, planets, and ethereal heavenly bodies. From it, he could hear whispers just outside of his comprehension. He didn't understand them, not yet, but he knew what they were:
Commands to alter reality itself.
The 'sword' seemed to be made of the Authority 'to sever and rewrite reality'. The ability to tear a hole in reality and make it void, reaching Akasha, and then using that opening to manipulate the records and restore reality to a modified state with the intent of the user now inscribed in place of the rejected reality. And to do it, the sword severed its wielder's connection to existence, standing within and yet without of reality.
An aberration. It shouldn't exist, since those that visit the root were either dismantled by the counter force or return to the swirl of all existence. That blade and what it represented was something that no mortal should touch, something beyond the stars and rivaling the power of the Creator. It was His tool, and granted control over Creation and Destruction.
As it was, Shirou could possibly erase the fact that the Grail War happened, or that the Holy Grail was even found. All it would take would be a mental slash of that blade on the fabric of reality. A simple intent.
...Yet, it would have consequences.
Shirou understood that the blade and the abilities it granted was powerful, but it wasn't something he could use on a whim.
To be honest, it scared him. Even without using it, the blade seemed to be tempting him to use it. It would be so simple, so easy to just undo everything and start over.
-But he couldn't see the results of that action.
Put simply, the ability was something that only a person with the foresight and perception of an omniscient Creator could use without consequence. After all, if you knew the future, past, and present, the act of undoing and creating something in its place was an action that you could balance.
Shirou was only human. He was human, but using that blade would make him not human, as it forced his perception to align with the one suited to use it.
A Magic operating outside of parallel dimensions, outside of time, outside of space, and outside of reality itself. The user of such a power could only become inhuman.
...That was the reason.
At his core, Emiya Shirou was a 'Sword'. Forged and tempered by cursed flames and misfortune. Because of that origin, he naturally resonated with any 'blade'. And now he had what could be called the 'Ultimate Blade' in his grasp, something that could cut even Akasha apart, something that could sever the swirl of existence and rebind it in a new position.
Naturally, it was affecting his mentality and changing it to 'cut everything in your path'.
As he came to that realization, he heard a voice whisper in his ear, one that was familiar and yet foreign.
"I welcome you, Sword of Akasha. Reality, Creation, and Destruction are now within your reach."
It was masculine, and one he had heard before. Yet... who was it?
"I await the day you stand before me, Emiya Shirou. Until then, take care to not lose sight of what is important."
It was a flat voice, one stripped of emotion. Even then, he could sense... fondness?
"Until we meet again, Ultimate One."
Something snapped into alignment with those words, and understanding came to mind.
Reality Marble. The world representing one's soul.
His was accessible through an incantation similar to a ten-count aria, using a poem about the caster to change the self. The Fantasy of the Sword Saint, allowing the use of all the blades he had witnessed, as well as the skills each had experienced.
His Magic was an elevation of that concept. Since a Reality Marble bordered the domain of True Magic by allowing the creation of a World- no, of a Reality operating on preset rules embodying the user, the next step up was the ability to inscribe your own rules upon that Reality and force it to be accepted. Severing and Binding what existed with what is envisioned.
Shirou blinked, returning to the present. Rin was staring at him, but it seemed that no time at all had passed since she asked her question.
"...The Sixth Magic, named Sword of Akasha with domain over Reality itself. That's what I obtained upon reaching the root."
"Huh," Kirito said. "That sounds pretty broken, Shirou. What did you do, enter the Konami Code while you were there?"
Ignore Kirito's game references. Definitely ignore the references. Shirou had already had his perception skewed enough with that Sword inside him and Kirito's heckling about him being a Harem protagonist. He did not need his mind shifted any further than it already had been.
...If it did, along with his new powers, that would have unfortunate consequences.
"Shirou." Rin's voice was soft and monotone. "Did you just tell me you can access Akasha and tamper with the records?"
He frowned in thought. "That's one way of putting it, I guess. Yeah." He nodded. "I'm pretty sure that's how it works."
"...We're so dead. Forget the Clock Tower finding out that monsters are roaming the city because of the war, if they learn that you not only reached the root but can go there again at any time and modify it...!"
Rin got up, wobbling a bit in the process, and started walking to the door in a daze. "I... I need to think. There are books to read, the manifests... what was the protocol for something like this again? If a magus ever reached the root..." Mumbling incoherent words, the twin-tailed magus staggered down the hallway.
She gave him an absent-minded wave of her hand. "I'll... I'll see you later, Shirou. You... you sit there and think of a way to save Sakura with your powers. Or something. Just... don't leave the house. Not yet."
The sound of the door sliding open and shut marked her departure.
"Geez," Kirito said. "Talk about leaving her speechless, Shirou."
He groaned and set his head against the table. Of course. Even when something as serious as the possible end of the world came up, Kirito would make a joke about him and Rin instead.
"Anyway," Kirito said. "What now?"
Lancer came to a halt in front of an abandoned office building. The Priest had given him free reign to patrol the town and fight whatever he wanted, so Lancer did just that. At first, he had planned on hunting Saber- no, Kirito down and challenging him to a duel, but he had noticed an ominous presence along the way.
He walked through the wall in astral form, but as soon as he entered he was forced into his physical body.
Eyes, glowing with an otherworldly blue aura, looked at him from the shadowy room he had entered.
Lancer immediately shifted to a combat stance, Gae Bolg summoned and ready to strike. His eyes widened as light filled the room and he saw the monster in front of him.
A demon, about twice the height as that Berserker and armed with a sword just as large. Its skin was a midnight blue, and its humanoid body was lean with vast muscles. A pair of golden horns adorned its head, which raised as the monster looked up to stare at Lancer.
An ordinary human would have trembled in fear, or at least frozen for a few moments at the sight. Unlike the original that the demon was patterned from, this was a true Monster, wrought from the curses of All the Evils in the World and brought to life by materializing a soul. It held a malevolent presence that reeked of monstrous might and imminent death.
But Lancer wasn't an ordinary human. "Well I'll be damned." A feral grin appeared on the Hound of Culain's face. "An actual Phantasmal monster. Finally, a good fight!"
The Gleam Eyes raised its sword for a heavy slash.
Lancer leaned back, tensing for a full-speed attack. "Try not to die too quickly, you hear?"
A demonic roar was his response.
Kirito made his way down to Fuyuki Park. He and Shirou had decided that it would be best for the two to part ways for a while, as the red-headed Master would be of the most help finding a way to free Sakura and end this as fast as possible than fighting the monsters in the city.
Well, it was more of Kirito using pointed barbs and guilt-tripping him into staying behind to protect Ayako than Shirou actually agreeing, but the end result was the same.
With that done, the Black Swordsman had been left to patrol the city. It was definitely a strange sight seeing monsters from Aincrad, ALFheim, and even a few from Gun Gale Online, but they were dispatched with ease, Kirito already knowing their attack patterns.
It was as he managed to reach the outskirts of the park after slicing apart a Lizardman with Excaliber and Elucidator that he saw him.
"So you're the knave that was summoned instead of my Saber."
A man in golden armor, with blonde hair spiked in a gravity-defying manner. He was standing beneath the skeletal trees and stared at Kirito with curious crimson eyes.
For a brief moment, Kirito was reminded of that old Anime series with Super Saiyans, but he quashed that thought in an instant at the deadly intent coming from the unknown man.
A golden object appeared in his hand for a brief moment, and then the space behind him rippled as a countless number of weapons appeared, pointed at Kirito.
The object vanished, and the man raised his right hand into the air. "Amuse me."
Legendary swords, spears, halberds, axes and all other weapons. Each on par with a Divine Instrument or greater, as ridiculous as that sounded.
Kirito catalogued that information in an instant, and then judged the trajectory of each projectile. "...I don't suppose that you could just let me go, could you?"
The man smiled and then snapped his fingers.
A rain of divine and demonic steel fell upon the Black Swordsman.
An ominous forest with mist that gave the impression of roaming spirits. Within this, a young girl with a monstrous protector was hidden, staying within a stone castle deep within the woods.
She had yet to appear again after her first showing, likely due to having to recover her Servant's lives. But she would know of what had happened to the grail and would already be planning to act upon that knowledge.
It was this person that Archer was racing past the trees to meet.
After Rin left Emiya Shirou's house and returned to the Tohsaka manor, she had buried herself in the library, combing over tomes about Akasha, Magic, and Protocols of a Second Owner. Archer wasn't sure why she was doing that, but he saw the opportunity it presented for him, and he left to put his plans into action.
The first criteria, to keep Rin safe, had already been fulfilled. Utilizing a not inconsiderable amount of prana and mental effort, he had crafted a sword that skewed the temporal perception of anyone within its range other than the wielder and placed it inside the Manor. That should also stop any would be attackers like Assassin.
Normally, Archer would have preferred to use a sword he already contained in his Reality Marble, as his original creations tended to be of much lower quality than the Noble Phantasms as well as extremely short lived, but it seemed that the current events in the town were letting him do things far beyond what was ordinary. Likely due to Gaia's dampened hold on the terrain.
The thought brought a grimace to his face. It wouldn't be long before the World noticed the upset, and he doubted that when it did the results would be anything but destructive.
But that was why he was going to meet her, the reason he considered risking a confrontation with Ilya and Berserker. With her support, his abilities would increase exponentially. Not that he wasn't already strong under Rin's command, but a person modified before and after birth to become a practical walking magic circuit, as well as being connected to the grail, possessed a lot more prana for him to work with than an ordinary magus like Rin, no matter how exceptional she was.
Besides... he would save her this time.
A inhuman roar caused Archer to stop his charge.
"...Looks like you noticed me."
The girl that he sought appeared, sitting on the shoulder of her lead Servant. "I'm surprised you're here, Archer. Shouldn't Rin be busy dealing with the monsters in the city?"
Archer straightened and he stared at Ilya. She was just as he remembered her being.
It was almost painful to look at her after all this time and now knowing what he did about her. But that didn't matter. There were more important things at hand.
"Yeah, she is. You could say I took some 'Independent Action' to come here."
"Mm, I see." Ilya nodded. "Well I was planning on killing her next. If she's busy though, I suppose I can settle for just killing her Servant. Berserker!"
The lead Servant roared and brandished his blade. The berserk Herakles had yet to act though, waiting for his Master's orders.
Archer sighed. "Would you believe me if I said I just came here to talk?"
"Weeell..." Ilya placed a finger on her chin. "If you manage to beat Berserker, I might consider it."
Archer smirked. "Is that all? Alright then, Ilya. I'll take you up on that offer. Trace, on." His favored pair of black and white blades appeared in his hands with a flash of light.
"Oh?" Ilya smiled. "Aren't you confident?"
"Of course." Archer turned towards Berserker and raised his blades. "This won't end like the first time we met, Ilya."
"We'll see about that. Berserker! Show him why you're the strongest!"
The lead Servant charged forward at the speed of sound, gray thunder rushing towards Archer.
"His body is made out of swords."
Chanting that aria to perform his reinforcement, Archer stepped forward, and grinned at the charging Servant. "Prepare yourself, Herakles. I'll counter everything you've got."
Shinji laid down on the stone floor in that damp crypt. His body was bare, and he was restrained by iron clamps holding him against it. He looked more like a lamb to be slaughtered than his usual arrogant self, but his face still held his trademark sneer. "...This will let me fight Emiya, grandfather?"
The vampiric monster nodded. "Of course. You wanted to be a Magus, didn't you, Shinji? My worms will give you the ability to use thaumaturgy, like you've always wished."
A brief nod from the boy on the ground. "Do it then."
"So brave... or is it reckless?" Zouken let out a raspy and wet laugh, and then turned his back on that foolish grandson of his. "Well, Shinji, I'll be back in a few hours. Try not to die or go insane."
He left the room just as pained screams filled the air.
A dark figure with a skull mask and a cloak with army camouflage spoke from beside Zouken. "You're quite the sadistic bastard, aren't you, Master."
It wasn't a question, but a mere statement of the fact.
"I'm nothing of the sort, Assassin. This was just a necessary maneuver in this game of ours, just like summoning you after my last pawn and her Servant vanished."
"I see. A shame."
Zouken laughed at his Servant's words. "Worry not, Death Gun. There will be plenty of targets for you to play with soon enough. I did not tamper with the summoning system to just have a protector. No, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to have your 'fun' after my worms finish with my worthless grandson. I'm sure the foolish boy has grudges against enough people to keep you satisfied."
The other Assassin smiled, a chilling expression beneath that mask, and palmed his pistol. "Good."