A Different Path

A Different Path: Dividing II

Intermission: Archer

Mad Warrior. That was Archer's foe. A Berserker of the highest caliber, with speed and strength that could tear apart mountains. He was the perfect killing machine, the strongest enemy underneath the strongest Master.

...But he was just a machine. That would be his downfall.

Archer disassociated his perception of time, compressing it with a mind of steel, and analyzed his opponent to formulate his following plans.

Herakles. His sole Noble Phantasm was God Hand, a stock of twelve lives and a skin strong enough to repel any attack below A-rank. Skill so ingrained that they became instinct while summoned as a Berserker. He needed nothing else. With his A-rank in practically every stat, and further increased by Mad Enhancement, challenging him head on would result in the Berserker's opponent being overwhelmed. Not only that but even if he was dealt a fatal wound, his regeneration ability and battle continuation would allow him to kill his opponent before fading away.

Every Heroic Spirit save Gilgamesh, who could take out anyone if he was serious due to his unlimited armory of every item conceivable, would either lose against Berserker or at least have a hard time fighting him in a straight confrontation.

-But Archer was a Counter Guardian before a Heroic Spirit.

Begin synchronization.

The Beasts of Alaya were granted enough power to counter whatever threat they faced, empowered to be equal to their opponents.

Analyzing base core.

Archer knew how strong he was when empowered, so the limits were defined and concrete. Since Gaia was dampened, he could call forth that strength.

Reinforcing composite materials.

He flooded his body with Prana and enhanced it with Almighty Reinforcement.

All processes complete.

Berserker's attack, made at the speed of sound and with the force of thunder was repulsed. The stone axesword crashed against the pair of unyielding black and white falchions and was knocked aside. In the next step, Archer kicked Berserker and sent him flying back a few meters.

Ilya gasped. "What?" She narrowed her eyes.

Good. She was starting to take him seriously.

Archer leaned back and crossed his arms. "Ilya, is this enough? All I came to do was talk. There are far more important things at hand here than fighting, as I'm sure you're aware. Will you listen now?"

"I didn't give you permission to call me that!"

Oh. That was right. Ilya only let people she was comfortable with call her by that nickname.

The white-haired girl glowered and said, "Berserker, go mad and make him shut up!"

"▂▂▃▃▄▄▅▅!"

The lead Servant got back up and charged again, this time powered by Mad Enhancement.

Archer sighed. Maybe it would have been better if he didn't have the memory of 'Emiya Shirou' at the moment. It was making him far too much like his old self than he liked. "Fine." He straightened, settling into his combat stance again. "If you're going to be like that, I'll just cut him down."

Berserker approached, now akin to lightning than roaring thunder. It was a terrible sight to behold, an onslaught of inevitable demise-

I am the bone of my sword.

-Yet Archer remained unfazed, only a slight narrowing of his eyes showing any emotion.

Kanshou and Bakuya lengthened, cracking and splintering as they were altered. They became more than prideless blades, more than average Noble Phantasms.

They became Broken.

"Spirit and technique, flawless and firm." With those words, Archer met Berserker's charge again.

Herakles was nothing more than a machine at the moment. Peerless in strength and agility and coupled with skill great enough to become instinctual even while mad. A machine he might have been, but it was a machine that was the best at its job.

A machine could never defeat a sentient being that was its equal.

Like his words that were declared to the world, Archer stood straight and relaxed even as the imminent death approached, the very image of an ideal swordsman.

Berserker entered his range, axesword raised to pound Archer into the ground.

"Hah!"

With that as a brief battle cry, Archer slashed Berserker's open chest in the fraction of an instant before the killing machine acted.

An explosion sounded out, and the grassy clearing beneath the trees was obscured by dust as Archer's attack gouged into the ground and immediate surroundings.

A few seconds later, a loud thud sounded as Berserker's slashed and battered body crashed into the ground next to Ilya.

She stared wide-eyed at the sight of her wounded Servant. "No way..." She turned back to the center of the dust cloud, staring at the silhouette hidden within with fearful eyes. "Who are you!?"

Archer swung his blades, and the dust cleared. He frowned at the sight of the downed Berserker. His attack shouldn't have been that powerful, even with reinforcement.

He shrugged. At least it gave the impression he was aiming towards: a force to be reckoned with, even against the strongest Servant.

"I'm someone trying to save as many people as I can, Ilya. Now, will you please listen to me?"

She took a step back. "B-Berserker! Don't just lie around! Kill him already!"

"▂▂▃▃▄▄▅▅!"

The life returned to the lead corpse, and the ground trembled as it rose to its feet. Its fierce gaze focused on Archer, and Berserker raised his weapon once more. However, he had acknowledged Archer as a threat, and the mildest hint of wariness could be seen in the killing machine's otherwise intimidating stance.

"Tch. I guess I'm going to have to kill him after all." Archer sighed. "I'm sorry for doing this, Ilya. But if you won't listen while he's here... well, it's better than being killed by Goldie I guess."

The altered Kanshou and Bakuya faded, and he closed his eyes.

I am the bone of my sword.

Berserker charged. It seemed that he could tell Archer was up to something, and recognized the use of thaumaturgy as a threat. The mad warrior charged intending on cutting the crimson Servant down before he could act.

A flash of golden light. "...Sorry Saber, but I'm borrowing your sword."

-Reality Marble. That was Archer's true Noble Phantasm, the sole ability granted to one who lived and fought his entire life as a sword and actually bonded with a sword. It went against the grain of the world to deploy it, and could only be maintained for a few moments. While he could make use of it without employing it in its entirety, Gaia still restricted him to an extent as his creations, while realistic, were things that did not exist in the normal world.

Reinforcement, Alteration, and Projection could be utilized, but only Projection was allowed without restriction while operating as a Servant. But under the twisted condition of the grail and the city being obscured from the world...

Sympathizing with the experience of its growth.

Archer shouldn't be able to use it under normal conditions. It was the holy sword granted only to the hallowed king that now rested within Avalon. Even then, unleashing its abilities would drain him dry in an instant.

...But even a degraded imitation would be enough. All he needed was to get past that thick skin of Berserker, and a sword of that high caliber along with the skills that were ingrained within by its user would serve him well enough. Its shape, composition, and skills contained within were enough.

For a brief moment, Berserker stopped as he gazed upon what only King Arthur should possess.

That hesitation was all he needed.

With merciless precision, Archer stepped forward and slashed Berserker's torso in half.

The image of Excalibur shattered in the next instant, the imperfect recreation not able to withstand more than that single blow.

Archer stepped back. That was three lives down. Nine more to go.

The girl seemed to have gone into shock, her mouth agape. "N-no way. You...? But... how? How?!"

"Ilya," Archer said. "I can keep this up all day. I'll ask again, won't you-"

"Berserker! Fight him with everything you've got! Use every skill you possess!"

There was a flash of crimson light as Ilya's body lit up, revealing the Command Seals etched across her body. It faded, and Archer knew that she had used one to empower Berserker.

Fuck.

Again, Berserker's corpse came back to life, the upper half crawling its way towards the lower half before joining together. The mad warrior stood once more, but this time the crazed eyes were calm, sanity restored to the greatest Greek hero.

Fuck.

"...Who are you, Archer? That sword should be King Arthur's, but you are not he." The voice was deep and cultured, a far cry from the mad warrior Archer had been fighting.

Archer scoffed at the title and projected another blade, this time Caledfwlch, a prototype to Excalibur he gained from the Gates of Babylon. "That doesn't really matter, does it Berserker? Your Master won't talk with me until you're gone, and you have to kill me to protect your Master."

The sane Herakles straightens, his weapon held not like the club he had been using it earlier, but like a proper blade. "...Very well. Then let us match blades, Archer! Until the end, show me your strength!"

A war cry bellowed from Berserker's mouth, but it was the one of a fierce warrior rather than the strangled cry from a mad beast and he advanced, attacking with the skill of the greatest warrior.

A mistake. Because of his arrogance, Archer had awakened the greatest enemy next to Gilgamesh: A sane Herakles that can use his skills along with the incredible strength that immortal body possessed.

Really, he should have known something like this would occur.

Stupid rank E luck.

"Well, I always did want to try my skills against Berserker." With those murmured words, Archer tapped into the skill contained in the blade, and prepared himself for the incoming onslaught.

It might have been reckless of him to attempt matching Herakles in melee instead of killing the Greek Hero outright from range, but he just couldn't resist the nostalgic feeling of facing a powerful opponent after an eternity of mindless slaughter.

"Haaaah!"

With his own battle cry, Archer advanced and met Herakles half-way across the clearing with his blade. The clash from the almighty attacks caused another explosion in the forest and dust to rise again, obscuring the combatants from view. It was joined shortly after by more explosions, as the two Servants attacked each other at Godspeed with divine skill.

In the face of such a conflict, Ilya could only sit back and watch the match with disbelief.

The dust cleared as Herakles knocked aside the latest of Archer's slashes. "First Excalibur, now Caledfwlch? You truly are a strange hero, Archer."

The counter guardian dodged the blinding attack from the Greek Hero and lashed out with his prototype holy sword. "And you, Herakles are far, far too strong for your own good!"

The attack bit into the legend's lead skin, but the wound was a shallow one.

Herakles grinned, a terrifying expression on the lead titan's face, and slugged Archer with his free hand.

He was sent flying through the air and crashed against a broad tree.

"Ouch." Archer shook his head and pulled himself upright, limbs creaking as the swords making up his body shifted. He blinked, clearing his blurry vision in time to see the titan of a warrior stare at him with an amused air.

"You survived? Impressive."

"Tch."

Right. Melee combat with the person who killed the impervious Nemean lion with his bare hands, overpowered Cerberus the guard of the underworld, and caught the Ceryneian Hind, said to be faster than a speeding arrow, on foot was a bad idea.

Herakles continued to grin and raised his blade. "Come, Archer. Surely you have more than that?"

Godhand was a troublesome Noble Phantasm. Coupled with a sane Herakles armed with all his skill and techniques, it was even worse.

Archer could match him with his reinforcement and counter that divine protection with his greatest blades, but he couldn't overwhelm him with just that. No, at this rate he would be the one overwhelmed, and that would put an unfortunate end to his plans.

The greatest attack he knew of. That was the only thing that could beat Herakles like this. Granted, he'd never thought of it before seeing it the other day, but the concept shouldn't be hard to grasp. It was something that was performed by 'Emiya Shirou' after all, so he should be able to make something similar, even though they were different at their core.

"Heh. Guess it can't be helped. Looks like the roles are reversed this time around." Archer shook his head and let out an amused smile. "Ironic, considering all that's happened..."

The Ideal Emiya Shirou held Caledfwlch loose at his side, in the same manner that the Sorcerer had done against the Monster matching Berserker's strength and speed.

"You had better come at me with everything you've got if you want to live, Herakles."

The Greek Hero nodded, his grin wide enough that it seemed to split his face apart. "Very well! Then I shall use my greatest technique to match your own!" Herakles shifted his stance, holding the axesword behind his body, one eye focused on Archer.

He stepped forward.

Archer narrowed his eyes and performed the eight steps to complete that technique.

Judging the concept of creation.

An attack utilizing all the blades contained in the world within to tear a space in reality to inflict an unavoidable attack.

Hypothesize the basic structure.

It was similar in nature to Tsubame Gaeshi and the Nine Lives technique of Herakles, multiple attacks executed in an instant that it could be considered one strike.

Duplicating the composition material.

It relied upon an infinite number of blades being projected in an instant, each executing a separate strike before phasing out of reality and back into that world within. The strikes themselves were from a different plane of existence, bypassing all rules of this reality to do the impossible attacks beyond human capability.

Imitating the skill of its making.

Archer's world was different from that Emiya Shirou. That person's world contained all the blades already forged, while Archer's blades had to be reproduced. But that was fine. He just had to reproduce them at once.

Sympathizing with the experience of its growth.

A desperate attack made by a foolish boy who gave himself to become a sword in that instant. Techniques stored from a parallel reality and loaded at once.

Reproducing the accumulated years.

The time of the technique's existence was short, a spontaneous attack created on the spot to defeat a corrupted enemy from beyond this world.

Excelling every manufacturing process.

"Trace-" Archer declared the first word to reenact the attack.

"Nine-" Herakles shouted to meet his challenge, the beginning of his infamous technique.

"-On."

"-Lives!"

An attack executed with Godspeed, nine overlapping attacks set to tear apart the opponent rushed towards Archer. It almost reached him, the stone axesword a fraction of an inch before Archer's body-

"Infinity Moment."

-but before the attack could strike, an infinite number of blades performing attacks of the highest caliber tore the Greek Hero apart.

And like that, the battle between the Legendary Hero and the Ideal Defender of Justice came to an end.

Herakles stood, weapon still poised to strike. His battle continuation prevented him from dying just yet, even as his 12 lives had been extinguished and his immortal body began to fade into dust.

"Unbelievable." That single word spilled from the hero's mouth as his eyes looked upon Archer. "That technique... was it your Noble Phantasm?"

Archer let out a self-derisive smile. "No. It was an imitation of the original, performed by someone else in this war, as were my other blades."

"I see." Herakles let out a calm smile. "To think there is one even stronger than you... unbelievable." He cast a long look at the white-haired girl behind them. "...Protect her. She has no one else."

A firm nod. "Of course. That's why I came here, after all."

Satisfied with Archer's answer, the Legendary Greek Hero faded away from this world, leaving his Master behind.

Archer relaxed, the tension from the intense battle fading at last. That had been too close for comfort.

"No way. Berserker... died?" Ilya walked towards the spot where her Servant had last stood, crimson eyes wide in shock.

"Ilya."

The girl flinched at Archer's voice. The fear in her eyes pained Archer's heart, but it had to be done.

"Look at me. You can use Transference of Consciousness right?"

She gave him a meek nod.

The Ideal Emiya sighed. His plan hadn't gone the way it expected, but nothing else in this war had, so it didn't surprise him.

"It will be faster than me explaining. I'll ask that you just trust me and use it to look at my memories."

"...You won't hurt me?" She looked at him with tearful eyes.

A lost soul.

Ilya had lost everything important to her because of the Grail War. Her mother died in the last Heaven's Feel, and her father never returned, instead continuing his life with Emiya Shirou. Not that he never stopped trying, but since he never succeeded, Ilya was left alone with the Einzberns.

A harsh childhood with impossible expectations. The only time they didn't insult her or were condescending was Berserker's summoning, months before the war began. He had been her protector, the one spot of light in her dark life.

And Archer had just taken him away from her.

"I promise, Ilya. I won't hurt you."

I'll save you.

Archer could remember the times he had failed her. He knew just how terrible he had been for taking Kiritsugu away from her. And then in all the other times they met, she didn't survive beyond a few years after the Grail War.

It wouldn't happen again.

He kneeled down so they were eye level and gave her a kind smile. "Trust me."

Ilya brushed her tears aside. "A-alright Archer." She took a deep breath and then placed her hand on Archer's head. "Here I go..."

A collage of images, pieced together from multiple timelines. An Emiya Shirou who pursued the King of Knights. An Emiya Shirou who chased after his ideal without looking back, affirming his belief after facing his future self. An Emiya Shirou who chose to become the hero of a girl that couldn't be saved.

An Emiya Shirou who became her hero.

Ilya saw all of the paths that melded together into the Heroic Spirit standing before her, witnessed his emotions, saw their reactions.

When it was over, she knew the truth.

"...So you're Onii-chan, aren't you, Archer?"

"Yeah."

She tapped his head. "Idiot."

Archer smiled. She wasn't his Ilya, but she was Ilya all the same.

That was enough.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"Well, you're going to have to take responsibility now that you killed Berserker, Onii-chan." She let out a devious smile. "My, my. What would Rin say?"

Archer scoffed. "She has that other guy to take care of her. I'm sure she'll be fine."

Ilya's expression softened. "Is that alright with you? With what happened so recently-"

"...I said it's fine, Ilya. Besides, there are more important things now."

Archer projected Rule Breaker and handed it to Ilya. "What do you say? Are you ready to be this Superhero's ally?"

She hesitated for a brief moment, but then nodded, a bright smile on her face. "Of course! Let's show them what happens when two Emiyas team up!"

The Noble Phantasm of the Witch of Betrayal severed Archer's contract with Rin and wiped it clean. With that done, the contract between Ilya and Archer was formed and the newest Master-Servant pair grinned at each other.

Stage one, complete. There was no turning back now for Archer. His duty was to Ilya first, and then to prevent the town from being destroyed. He regretted what happened to Rin, but this time's Emiya Shirou would protect her.

With a brief mental command, the blade he left at Tohsaka Manor faded away and let Rin return to the present time.

He didn't regret it. This was definitely the best course of action to take.

Even so, he couldn't stop the thought that came to his mind after dissolving the blade.

...She's going to be PISSED.

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