What I Hold Dear
Promise me that you'll come back if it gets too dangerous.
Sakura's voice. He had broken the first promise he made to her. This one he couldn't break, no matter what happened.
Just touching it will make you start slipping away! It's not something a human should use!
Ayako's voice. Her concern over him losing his humanity, of disappearing without a trace. If he embraced his power, he couldn't go back. Couldn't remain in those peaceful days by their side.
Angra Mainyu was standing before him. He held a blade that could end all of reality. With his Authority, the incarnation of Evil would send everything into the void.
It was his fault. Because he had wished for a miracle and walked past Gaia's reach, Angra Mainyu could damage existence itself.
Don't you dare blame yourself, Shirou!
Rin's voice. She was always scolding him, concerned for his safety. She pretended to not care, and yet she had helped him even when it troubled her more than him, when she didn't need to.
That was right. A reminder.
He could hear them, their voices echoing clear in his mind.
Sakura. Ayako. Rin.
He couldn't protect them. Even though he had sworn it, they had ended up dying. Even though he had this power, he wasn't able to protect them, save them.
In this world and the next, he would protect her, as she would protect him.
-He was being stupid.
Just like that girl –Asuna – had wanted to protect Kirito, just like Shirou wanted to protect them... they would have wanted Shirou to be safe. To live on, even if they weren't by his side.
He was willing to die for them. To give everything up so that they could be safe, be happy.
But he couldn't.
Sakura had tried to protect him from the beginning, telling him to go straight home the day the war started, and then hiding her role so that Shirou wouldn't have to choose between his ideal and her.
Rin had tried to protect him too, healing him from Lancer's attack and then bringing him to the church to explain the rules of the war.
Even Ayako tried to protect him, choosing to stand by his side and fight rather than hide away when they went to save Sakura.
Choosing to bring them back was a betrayal. Sacrificing himself would be the same as discarding their wishes, casting them aside like that Counter Guardian did.
Angra Mainyu's booming voice brought Shirou back to the present. The incarnation of evil had finished charging his blade. In the next moment, he would attack, sundering all of reality in a single slash. Their surroundings were already beginning to fade, the throne room they were standing in taking on a transparent appearance.
He had to live.
He had betrayed his ideal, choosing to protect those he held dear rather than humanity as a whole.
He had betrayed those who died in the fire, casting aside their sacrifices for his own selfish desires.
He had even betrayed Kiritsugu, choosing to become the hero of a few rather than a defender of justice.
But if there was one thing he would never betray, it was the wishes of those he cared for.
Ayako, the normal girl who had been drawn into a chaotic web of danger and mysteries.
Don't you dare sacrifice yourself, idiot!
Rin, the one who chose to help a clueless idiot like himself.
You promised me, Senpai. Please... live on.
Sakura. The one who had been by his side for so long. The one who he had failed to save...
Shirou narrowed his eyes, forcing time to a standstill with a mind of steel.
Angra Mainyu would end all of reality in the next moment.
If Shirou wanted to live, he had to end the incarnation of evil here and now, before reality was nothing more than a memory.
The only things that could stop it were his Magic and the Sword he had forged. But he couldn't use them without losing himself.
Another way, a different path. He had to find it. Even if it was impossible, he had to make it.
He forced his frustration away with steely resolve.
It wasn't impossible.
Judging the concept of creation.
Hypothesizing the basic structure.
The solution lay in those steps.
The sword that Angra Mainyu created was made through the same process Shirou himself made his swords.
A fake. The incarnation of evil had only came into being through copying what Shirou had. His form, his Authority, even that very sword he held.
The concept of creation was a sword that could tear apart existence and make it void, expelling all from creation.
The basic structure was a sword shaped by Angra Mainyu's will, loosely defined.
The composition of the sword was barely present, ill-formed due to irrational anger.
The skill of its making was poor, as Angra Mainyu was unused to his power.
There was no growth, no experience in its making or use.
A short life span, meant to be used just this one time.
...And a manufacturing process that skimped on quality for quantity, durability for sheer destruction.
Shirou knew what he had to do.
An infinitesimal moment. In the span of time so small as to not exist, Shirou had to break it.
Angra Mainyu's sword was powerful, capable of eradicating everything around them, but it was at best a D-ranked phantasm. In the incarnation of evil's haste, he had not given it a solid foundation.
That would be his undoing.
Shirou drew forth the weapon that would end it all.
Excaliber appeared in his hand, as if it was always waiting for this moment.
-Complete synchronicity. The greatest sword Kirito possessed was a blade he wielded only for the sake of others. The golden sword might have been modeled originally after Gram, the sword in the tree, but through its use it had changed. Memories acquired gave birth to a new form, new purpose.
It was a sword that represented the bonds between its wielder and his comrades. A sword that embodied the shared caliber of those seeking a common goal.
It did not promise victory like Excalibur, the sword of the King resting in Avalon. Neither did it assure victory, like Caliburn, the sword that chose the King of Briton.
No, it was a sword that gained strength with its wielder's resolve, increased in might with the wielder's determination to fight for those close to them, one that would allow its wielder to fight on against all odds for those he held dear.
Excaliber, The Measure of One's Worth.
The sight of the golden sword didn't faze Angra Mainyu. If anything, it provoked him into action.
"VANISH, EMIYA SHIROU, ALONG WITH ALL YOU HOLD DEAR!"
His sword was swung, the executioner's blade that sentenced reality to the void.
Shirou flooded his circuits with prana and reinforced his body to almighty levels... then he went beyond it. So much that his body was almost pure energy, nearly breaking at the seams.
An attack at light speed. Excaliber was swung at Angra Mainyu's blade, appearing as golden lightning, and the vanishing throne room was filled with a thunderous explosion.
Angra Mainyu didn't have time to react. Even as the incarnation of evil, he was nowhere near the level that Shirou was physically. Neither was he even close in the level of skill.
It was an assured phenomenon. A strike that could not fail.
Excaliber struck the Sword of Void...
And it cracked.
Shirou's eyes grew wide.
It wasn't enough. Even though his attack was strong enough to kill Berserker and all of his lives in one strike, even though Excaliber was bordering on A++ at the moment, even though he gave it his all...
It wasn't enough.
The sheer weight of the concept making up Angra Mainyu's blade seemed to be enough to counteract both Excaliber and Shirou's attack, despite its shoddily crafted form.
Then... was this it?
Shirou refused to let it end like this.
He could see it. He hadn't been wrong when he chose this course of action.
Angra Mainyu's blade was breaking. Cracks ran along its length, and it was malformed, splintered and misshapen like a balloon about to burst or a bomb about to explode.
The failure was in Shirou. He had been a fraction too slow. If he had just another second, another brief moment for Excaliber to finish its strike before it vanished, he would succeed.
But he didn't have that.
Angra Mainyu's blade eroded everything it touched, expelling it from creation. Now that it was activated, that ability was increased exponentially. Shirou had just been too slow in his attack, and Excaliber eroded just a fraction too fast.
A voice called out. One that Shirou thought he'd never hear again after seeing him disperse into countless particles of light.
Shirou couldn't act on his surprise. The moment that Kirito spoke, Excaliber rapidly decayed, its form eroding into golden light, its blade cracking, splintering.
It had already been damaged on meeting Angra Mainyu's blade. Now, with that command, Excaliber broke.
An explosion of blinding light and sheer cold, then Shirou was thrown back across the room.
He quickly projected and threw a sword into the ground, then switched places with it.
He reappeared crouched on the ground, and then raised his head. With a wary eye, he examined his surroundings, prepared for further combat.
It had changed completely. What was fading away just moments ago was now crystallized with a layer of frost. Giant icicles glittered all around the antechamber, tinted blue. Ice also covered the floor, making it slick and dangerous.
But Shirou's attention wasn't on that. No, it was on the towering pillar of ice surrounding Angra Mainyu and the shattered sword in his hands.
Despite the fact that he was covered in ice, Angra Mainyu wasn't immobilized for long. With a demonic roar, Angra Mainyu broke free from his icy prison and turned a furious gaze on Shirou.
That single word was followed by a strangled roar. Angra Mainyu was enraged beyond words.
The incarnation of evil discarded all appearances of humanity and reached out with his bare hands, causing shadows laced with a myriad of curses to appear.
It should have been unnerving. With the gripping cold around him and the sight of a demonic creature gathering ominous curses, Shirou should have felt threatened, if not concerned.
But instead, he felt... confident. Assured. And the reason for that...
Evil surged towards Shirou, seeking to bury him in sin and expel him from creation.
There was a flash of prismatic light, and the shadows were dispelled.
Angra Mainyu roared again. "WHY WON'T YOU DIE!?"
He swung clawed hands, as if tearing apart the space before him. With it, black blades of pure darkness raced towards Shirou.
Shirou smiled, and rose to his feet. "I am the bone of my sword."
They crashed against him, and met unyielding steel, splashing as ineffective as drops of water against a wall.
He understood now. Not just how to beat Angra Mainyu, but the truth he carried.
"My body is of iron, and my heart is of glass."
Angra Mainyu took offense to Shirou's continued life and growled, this time sending spears of shadows towards him.
A ghostly figure with a naginata appeared, batting away each projectile, and then vanished.
"These hands have held over a thousand blades. Never retreating, never regretting."
Angra Mainyu let out that cry and raised his arm, causing a deluge of curses to rise with it. Crackling with purple lightning, the attack that would erase even an Aristotle converged on Shirou.
It met an array of violet hexagons, inscribed with [Immortal Object], and for a brief moment a woman with matching hair appeared by Shirou's side before vanishing like the previous figure.
"Withstanding pain for the sake of their arrival, my life needs no other meaning."
Angra Mainyu charged, claws held out and prepared to tear Shirou apart limb from limb. It seemed he had discarded attacking from range for the satisfaction of ending Shirou's life with his own hands.
Shirou ignored it and finished his aria.
"...Together, we share the Fantasy of the Sword Saint."
A wave of light, like the sun's first rays. Surrounding both Shirou and Angra Mainyu, it erased the world around them and replaced it with one anew, the 'Truth' that embodied Emiya Shirou's soul.
It was a world of infinite skies, with clouds bathed in soft golden light. Far in the distance, a shadow of a towering structure could be seen, but could not be reached.
Angra Mainyu stopped his charge, shocked by the sudden change. "This is..."
At the sound of his voice, Angra Mainyu's eyes grew wide.
Once again, he was in the form of Emiya Shirou, albeit covered in dark runic markings. He had reverted from the 'Incarnation of Evil' to nothing more than a copy of Emiya Shirou.
"This is my world, Angra Mainyu. You hold no Authority here."
Shirou was standing before him, the distance between the two less than five meters.
It was a strange sight. There was no land in this world. Instead, it appeared that those within stood on an invisible platform, floating amidst the clouds and sky.
Angra Mainyu scowled. "It matters not. I'll still end you, Emiya... no." He took a step back when he saw the ones standing by Shirou's side. "That's impossible...! I killed you! All of you!"
Tohsaka Rin scoffed, and swept her hair back. "Pft, as if a fake like you could get rid of me!" She was standing on Shirou's immediate left.
"Me? Die and leave Shirou alone?" Ayako laughed from her place on Rin's side and shook her head. "Like that'll happen."
Sakura nodded, and grabbed Shirou's right arm. "I'll never leave Senpai. Not again."
...An impossibility. A miracle wrought against all odds, due to the bonds they shared.
Matou Sakura, Mitsuduri Ayako, Tohsaka Rin... they had died, without a doubt. And yet here they stood, whole and healthy.
The reason for that could only be 'Magic'.
Reality Marbles represented the soul of the ones who they belonged to. Shirou's had once been that of a wasteland with infinite blades, but since it had been used as the catalyst to obtain his Magic, that land had faded away, leaving only these endless skies.
A landscape that was more surreal than logical, more dreamlike than realistic... a fantasy that Shirou held dear.
A world he dreamed of, the desire that embodied his soul, one that was echoed by those he held dear:
I want to be by their side.
"No... I refuse to believe it!"
Angra Mainyu scowled and glared at them all. "I won't allow it!"
Shirou stepped forward, Sakura letting go of his arm as he moved, and raised his hand. "It doesn't matter what you want, Angra Mainyu."
Pure white light, gathered in his hand, forming into the shape of a sword...
"This is my Reality, and you have no part in it."
Angra Mainyu charged, a last act of defiance.
Shirou declared the name of the sword, a brilliant wish given physical form, and eliminated Angra Mainyu, once and for all.
...The heavenly landscape soon faded, now that its use was no longer needed.
Shirou was standing at the top of Mt. Enzou, in front of Ryuudou Temple. With Angra Mainyu gone, all the damage and changes wrought had vanished without a trace, an illusion that existed no more, and never more.
The sun was rising. It seemed that night had turned to day in the time he fought Angra Mainyu. The first rays of dawn shone, bathing the temple in gold.
He took a deep breath, casting his weary gaze on the distant horizon.
It was over, and now he stood here alone-
"Shirou... is it over?"
-No. Not alone.
"I don't know, Tohsaka. Do you think Shirou needs to blast the guy with another of his swords? Oh wait, he's not here."
"Nee-chan, Mitsuduri-san, now isn't the best time to fight..."
Shirou turned around, smiling at what he saw.
Rin and Ayako were fighting, though it wasn't serious, more like light-hearted banter.
Sakura was standing between them, acting as a mediator, trying to stop them.
"Good job, Shirou."
Shirou turned his head towards the voice to see Kirito standing by his side. His black longcoat was torn and tattered, and he was more transparent than solid, but he was there.
The Black Swordsman let out a calm smile. "You did it."
Shirou shook his head. "No. I only did it because you helped me."
Kirito gave him a warm laugh. "Whatever you want to believe, 'Hero'."
There was a short moment where neither of them spoke.
Rin and Ayako were still bickering, with Sakura trying to stop them, and so Kirito's presence went unnoticed by them.
"...We had a good time, didn't we?"
Shirou nodded. "Yeah... we did."
"I'm glad you think so, Shirou." Kirito gave him another smile and then turned towards the rising sun. "Some day... let's meet again."
And then he was gone, fading into soft white light.
"...Goodbye, Kazuto." Shirou turned back towards Rin and the others. "We'll meet again. I promise."
The Black Swordsman vanished, leaving behind a Hero who saved those he held dear.
The impossible reality where everyone survived, and would always stay by his side...
He would live on, with them at his side. No matter what the future held, it would be alright.
This was his choice...
A Different Path.
I am the bone of my sword
Steel is my body and fire is my blood
I have gained countless skills
Seeking a dream that cannot be real
Withstanding pain while walking this path
I have no regrets, knowing I am not alone
Together, we share the Fantasy of the Sword Saint
End 3: Good