A Different Path

Day After: VS Rider

Kirito stretched out along the couch as he flipped through the TV stations. He and Shirou had arrived home a while ago, but there wasn't much they could do until night time. Since it was Sunday, Shirou didn't have school or work, and he had holed himself up in the shed out back as soon as they returned, leaving Kirito to his own devices.

Which was why he was watching TV.

"...Man. There's nothing good on." The Servant let out a yawn and jumped out of the couch. He decided to make use of the time he had and headed back to the dojo. The body he had right now was still unfamiliar, so he wanted to test it out some more. It was almost like the one he had in SAO, but Kirito felt that this body was more than that. Stronger, that was for sure. But the speed... he was curious if it matched up to what he thought it did. So far, it had responded immediately to his commands without hesitation or delay.

Lost in his thoughts, Kirito crashed into Shirou on his way out. Kirito maintained his balance, but his red-headed Master wasn't as lucky.

Shirou landed in a disgruntled heap on the ground.

"Er, sorry about that Shirou." Kirito held out a hand. "Here."

Shirou took the offered hand and pulled himself up, brushing the dirt off afterward. He looked at Kirito and shook his head. "No, I should have paid attention to where I was going."

Kirito gave him an amused look. "Well, it looks like both of us are at fault then, so let's just let this be."

The red-head gave Kirito an absent nod.

Kirito raised an eyebrow. "Hey Shirou, you alright there? You look a bit out of it."

"Huh?" Shirou looked up. "Oh, sorry Kirito. I was just thinking about something."

"I think it'd be better if you did your thinking inside, Shirou. At this rate, you're probably going to walk through the screen doors."

Shirou shook his head. "No, I'm fine. It's just..." Shirou looked up at Kirito. "I don't know how I can help you." A frustrated expression crossed the red-head's face. "I can't do proper magecraft and what I can do won't help at all."

Kirito noticed the helplessness in Shirou's words and sighed. "You don't need to do anything Shirou. As long as you're near me when we fight, nothing will happen to you."

"But that's the problem!"

Kirito blinked at Shirou's sudden exclamation. "Er... are you trying to say that you want to fight?"

Shirou nodded. "You said it yourself. I'm supposed to be your partner, but I can't do anything useful at all." He looked up at Kirito with a determined expression. "Teach me."

The black swordsman scratched the back of his head. "Well... I'm not much of a teacher, but I guess I can show you the basics. Let's head to the dojo."

Kirito swung his sword left to right, testing its weight. Satisfied, he looked up at Shirou. "You ready?"

The red-head nodded, holding his own weapon upright in a traditional kendo stance. "I'm ready."

The black swordsman shrugged and settled into his own battle stance, sword held loosely by his right side. "Like I said, I'm not much of a teacher. I learned how to fight from countless battles." He scratched the back of his head with his free hand. "That said, I do know a few techniques you could learn. Not sure how that would help in a fight against superhumans but..." The swordsman shook his head. "Anyway, I need to see what you know before we start practicing sword skills."

Kirito exhaled and focused, erasing all from his mind but the opponent in front of him. Already, he was picking apart the flaws in Shirou's stance, the tension that would keep him from attacking with full force.

Shirou struck first. He crossed the gap between them fairly quickly and lashed out with a vertical strike. "Hah!"

His eyes had betrayed him. Kirito recognized Shirou's attack the moment Shirou's eyes flicked towards Kirito's head. The black swordsman stepped to the side and swung his sword towards Shirou's open torso.

Shirou widened his eyes and scrambled back, swinging his shinai to intercept. The fraction of a second he earned from his retreat gave him just enough time to parry.

Kirito stepped forward and tapped Shirou's head. "Point."

Shirou winced, and rubbed the afflicted area. "Ouch."

"Decent response, but you didn't think past the parry." Kirito relaxed and lowered his weapon. "It left you off balance. You were also too tense when you attacked, then panicked when you couldn't bring the blade back in time."

Kirito raised his blade. "Again."

Half an hour passed while Kirito clinically dismantled Shirou's fighting style. The red-head's tells, tendencies, attacks. All of them were acknowledged and brought up to be adjusted. But at the end of it all, the simple matter was that Shirou was too unskilled. He had the right body for fighting, much more fit than anyone had been in Aincrad, save for maybe Heathcliff and Agil. The players in Alfheim didn't count, since they were using generated Avatars.

Kirito scratched his head. "Well, I don't know what to say Shirou except that... you kinda suck."

Shirou sighed. "I know, I know. I can't even beat Fuji-nee, and she's human." He shook his head. "There's no hope for me to fight a Servant, is there?"

Kirito frowned. If Shirou could learn how to use some sword skills, then he might have a chance. But would they work?

The swordsman shrugged. It was worth a shot, at least. They weren't good to rely on except for a single attack, but in Shirou's case that would be enough. As long as he could hold off a Servant for one strike, Kirito could take care of the rest.

"Well, there is one thing... but I'm not sure if it would work."

Seeing Shirou's determined gaze, Kirito sighed and held out his sword for 'Vertical', a basic sword skill. "Copy me."

The red-head looked at Kirito with an intense gaze, almost unnerving in its focus, and then shifted his stance, holding the sword up exactly like the black swordsman.

"Now you breathe in and focus your energy. Feel the next attack, then bring down your sword with it." Kirito's sword emitted a blue light, and then swung down in a blinding speed as the sword skill activated...

"Copy me."

A simple command.

Kirito intended for Shirou to mimic his stance and then perform the attack. Nothing complex. Yet, as soon as Kirito uttered those words, Shirou's mind froze.

Copy me. Copy. To mimic. To recreate by following the procedure. Recreate. Mimic. Copy...

Trace.

Shirou's vision narrowed to the swordsman in front of him.

Trace. Copy him. Mimic his technique.

His head throbbed, trying to understand what he couldn't. It was almost there, a concept just out of his reach, one that was familiar.

Unconsciously, he flooded his eyes with prana and tried 'Structural Grasp'.

An image. Projection of one's self. Congruency with the image, aligning the self with one's beliefs.

Crack.

Operating on alternate laws. A world within, projecting the beliefs onto reality by force of will.

Crack.

Techniques available through accumulated history. Ingrained images in the soul. Recreated by projecting the memory into reality, powered by belief in its efficacy.

Crack.

Kirito's blade shone with a bright blue light and swung down with a blinding speed.

Shirou stepped forward and faced his opponent. "Trace on: Vertical." Bright blue light filled his vision and his blade swung down in a perfect recreation of the sword skill.

The mirrored attacks clashed, and both practice swords broke with the impact. Splinters filled the air and Kirito's eyes widened in disbelief.

Shirou took a glance at the broken blade in his hand, a bemused look on his face, then at Kirito. "Huh."

He blacked out.


Kirito tossed the broken practice sword to the side and caught Shirou before he could land on any of the broken pieces. The red-head was steaming, his body burning like a computer's overclocked processer.

"Shirou!" He called out and gently tapped Shirou's face.

No response.

Kirito sighed and lifted his Master up. He didn't know what was happening, but assumed it would be best for Shirou to get some rest. The best place to do that was definitely not the dojo floor.

The black swordsman brought Shirou back to his room, laying him down on his futon, then headed back to the dojo to clean up.

Kirito shook his head in disbelief as he looked once again at the broken pieces of the two shinai they had used. "I can't believe that worked..."

Shirou had performed a sword skill. Sure, it was just a basic one, but he had actually performed a sword skill. A technique from Aincrad. Techniques that, obviously, didn't operate on real world logic. Not only that, the light from his sword, the speed that he attacked with were a perfect match for the way it would have been in Aincrad.

Except this was the real world.

Kirito could perform sword skills because he was a Servant. It was one of the 'personal skills' that he obtained due to being classified as such. Not all of them were available, limited to the one-handed sword skills, parry and, recently, Dual Blades, but the ones that were could be said to be on par with Noble Phantasms depending on their level.

But Shirou wasn't a Servant. He shouldn't be able to use them.

"Right?" Kirito sighed. "Well, magic does exist in this world, so it's not too much of a stretch to think that sword skills might..."

That thought had Kirito thinking. If he could use Sword Skills, and magic existed, then was this another game? It would make sense considering what he had been through.

"But this is too real." This was exactly like reality. The magic and superhuman fighters weren't, but then again wasn't this a 'secret war'? Who's to say that they didn't exist in his time as well, just well hidden from the masses?

Kirito sighed. It didn't matter, he supposed. Sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic, as the saying went. Whether this was a hyper realistic game that he had been trapped in, or if this was reality didn't matter. What did was that Shirou needed him, and that innocent people, like those girls Shirou cared about, would be harmed if Kirito didn't fight and stop the other Servants.

In light of that, why Shirou could use Sword Skills wasn't that important. The fact was that he could, and the knowledge needed to be accounted for in future battles. It might grant them the edge against enemy Servants like Lancer or Archer... provided they didn't use their Noble Phantasms. If worst came to worst, he could at least fend off the other masters with the skills.

Kirito paused at that last thought, then grinned. "Now, if I can just teach him how to use Spell Blast..."


Burning.

Shirou was burning.

"Gah."

His body was searing from the inside out, and he could feel it breaking, tearing apart at the seams. Something was wrong, terribly wrong.

"What...?"

His vision was black, but he could see it. A hill, standing above a barren plain holding infinite swords. No.

Unlimited Blades.

Shirou ground his teeth. This was wrong. He shouldn't be seeing this. Acknowledging the truth of what he was seeing would break him. A glimpse of a forbidden realm that threatened to drive him to insanity. No, not insanity. It would break him, tear his soul to shreds, and leave him a shell of who he was.

He forced the vision away, trying to shield his eyes from its view, but he couldn't. In fact, it was coming into focus.

But that would break him. His mind, body, and circuits were not ready to accommodate for the knowledge of this.

He couldn't resist the flow of knowledge. It filled his mind, body adapting to suit. His circuits seared as unused pathways forced open, bonding with the nerves to serve as relay between the physical and astral plane.

This was...

"Reality... Marble?"

The world egg. An inversion of the perceived reality with what truly existed. Bringing the truth of one's self, the inner world, and projecting it onto reality. Operating outside of Gaia's authority, it was a forbidden technique that bordered on a True Sorcery-

But this wasn't it. Something was terribly wrong. An outside influence encroached on this holy ground, forcing it to change. To adapt. Something was influencing it, giving it more substance than just a self image.

It was breaking him.

"Stop...it!"

Shirou knew it was wrong. Somehow, his world was becoming...real. Bending the rules around him. Finding loopholes to make his truth reality.

He saw it. A young girl with somewhat curly hair, dressed like a librarian. She stood on that hill and looked at the sky, but then shifted her gaze towards Shirou. "Hm? Oh, you're awake?"

"Stop...!"

The girl tilted her head, and then nodded. In an instant, the world shifted out of focus and the pain stopped. But before it did, Shirou saw the shadow of a giant building looming in the sky.

"I apologize for the pain, but it must be done. This is the only way you can use them. The only way he can be here."

"What...?" Shirou didn't understand. Who was this girl? What was she doing?

The girl shook her head. "Do not worry. We'll meet again soon enough. But be careful. Some things are even beyond your ability to imagine..."


Shirou opened his eyes–

"Senpai?"

–and was greeted by the sight of a familiar purple-haired girl.

"Mm... Sakura?" Shirou tried to sit up, but a sudden pain in his head stopped that notion. "Gah! What-"

"You need to relax, Senpai!" The reprimand was said in a stern tone, but Sakura's face was gentle. She shook her head in disbelief and pushed Shirou back down on the bed he was laying on. "This is a bit much, even for you, Senpai. A concussion is really serious!"

Concussion? Shirou frowned as his eyes took in his surroundings. He was in his bedroom, lying on his futon. His head throbbed, but it didn't seem to be from a concussion. It felt more like the time he tried to reinforce his arm a few months ago. Due to an imperfect understanding, Shirou had failed and ended up with an arm that felt like a thousand needles were stabbing it.

The feeling in his head was similar, but not quite so painful. In either case, it was definitely different from a concussion. The red-head had suffered plenty of those from sparring against Fuji-nee to tell the difference.

Sakura took Shirou's silence as confusion and explained what happened. "Kirito told me that you asked him to spar earlier. Apparently, neither of you held back and managed to break both of the shinai when you fought." She frowned, and gave a reproachful glare at Shirou. "Really, Senpai! Kirito's a guest that you invited! What would you have done if he didn't block your last strike?"

Shirou wilted under Sakura's intense glare, but inwardly doubted that Kirito would have that problem, especially after what Shirou had seen the black swordsman handle.

"Ah, speaking of Kirito, where is he?" Shirou asked. It was a thinly veiled attempt at changing the subject, but Sakura allowed it.

The younger girl sighed. "Fuji-nee decided to see how good Kirito was herself after Kirito explained what happened. She even managed to bring... that."

Shirou's eyes widened. "Tora-Shinai? She brought that cursed sword to spar against Kirito?!"

Sakura let out a meek nod. "That was an hour ago."

"An hour ago?" Shirou frowned, and then it hit him. "Wait, when did you two get here? It should have been at least two hours before dinner when we sparred... how long was I out?"

Sakura tilted her head. "Ah, Kirito said you were unconscious for about an hour when we arrived, and it's been another hour since."

Shirou sighed. There went the preparation for their patrol. Well, Shirou thought, at least I managed to learn something.

And that he did. If his memories were clear (and not a result of getting hit in the head) then Shirou now had a way to stall, if not beat, an unprepared Servant.

"Sword skill..."

"Hm? What was that, Senpai?" Sakura gave Shirou an inquisitive glance.

Shirou shook his head, wincing a bit at the pain it caused. "Ah, it's nothing Sakura. Just remembering the spar Kirito and I had."

Sakura sighed again. "Honestly, Senpai. You just don't know when to quit, do you?"

The red-head let out a sheepish smile and carefully rubbed back of his head. "I guess not?"

Sakura smiled in response. "Well, I'll go prepare dinner. You should get some rest, Senpai."

"Ah, wait." Shirou sat up, ignoring Sakura's reproachful glare. "You've done enough for these past few days, Sakura. At least let me-"

"No! Senpai, you need to rest!" Sakura blushed a bit, realizing her outburst, but continued. "I don't mind cooking for you, and Kirito needs a welcoming meal after all we're making him go through. Besides, I don't want to have to explain why there's blood in our food because you didn't know better than to rest after a concussion."

Shirou sighed, giving up the argument. "I'll just go check on Fuji-nee and Kirito then." Preempting Sakura's retort, he raised his hands up. "I'll be careful Sakura. Honestly, I'm happy that you're worried but I've been lying down long enough." And I need to make sure neither of the two killed each other.

Sakura relented. "Fine. But take your time, Senpai." With that said, she left, hair twirling behind her as she turned.

Shirou took a minute to muse Sakura's recent change in character. "Mm... I suppose I have been more trouble than usual recently. It must be taking its toll on Sakura." Shirou sighed, feeling a bit guilty at having to keep so much from her, as well as imposing so much recently. "I'll make it up to her."

The red-head made a silent vow to take Sakura out in the near future to make up for breaking his promise and all the trouble he was making.

When Shirou approached the dojo, the first thing he noticed was the fact that the door was wide open. The next was the resounding sounds of wood clashing.

Inside, Kirito ducked and weaved around a tiger-striped menace and her blade. In the swordsman's hand was a wooden bokuto, which a sudden influx of information told Shirou had been enhanced somehow 100 times above normal weaponry.

"Are you sure that thing's not cursed!?" Kirito brought up the wooden sword and deflected the Tiger's relentless slash.

Shirou felt a drop of sweat on his forehead and brushed it off. He stepped into the dojo, taking a careful position against the door. The red-head made sure to move as quietly as possible when he entered, considering that the 'Tiger' would lash out at any target entering its radius when she wielded Tora-Shinai.

"I don't know what you're talking about!" The Tiger continued her assault, not even hesitating in the slightest at Kirito's question.

Quick, agile, and fighting at the utmost level of human skill, the Tiger closed in on her prey, the shinai with a simple tiger charm lashing out towards Kirito's head.

Kirito let out a weary sigh that spoke of a long struggle and then stepped forward, left hand darting out with unerring precision and speed.

The Tiger's eyes widened in surprise as her attack was halted, and spread even further when she realized how it had been prevented. "No way...! One-handed sword stopping?"

Kirito took advantage of the Tiger's shock and immediately disarmed her, throwing the offending cursed blade in the corner of the dojo where it would do the least amount of damage, at least for the moment.

Immediately, the bloodlust and rage in the Tiger's eyes receded. Fuji-nee let out a sheepish smile and rubbed the back of her neck when she realized what had happened. "Ehe... sorry about that Kirito. It's been a while since I've had a good opponent."

The black swordsman cast a wary glance at the cursed shinai in the corner of the room. "Yeah. I... guess it must have, considering that shinai of yours."

Oblivious to the cursed nature of her shinai, Fuji-nee gave Kirito an earnest nod. "Yep! Stupid old geezers won't let me compete with it. It's just a small charm, too..."

As Fuji-nee grumbled, Kirito looked over to Shirou, who was leaning against the wall. With disbelief on his face, the swordsman mouthed, "She seriously doesn't know it's cursed?"

Shirou shook his head. "Unbelievable, right?" he mouthed back.

"Shirou! You're awake!" Fuji-nee ran up to Shirou and gave him a firm hug, relief on her face.

The red-head smiled. "Sorry to worry you, Fuji-nee."

The older woman stepped back and gave Shirou a frown. "I'm starting to think that all those times I hit you on the head are taking their toll. Seriously, what were you thinking, challenging a master kenjutsu practitioner to a duel?"

"Eh?" Shirou gave his Servant a questioning glance.

Kirito shrugged, though surprise was on his face as well.

Fuji-nee stepped back and gave Shirou a soft tap on his head. "You'd think that I'd have beaten sense into that thick head of yours by now." She sighed and clasped her hands in a prayer. "Oh, Kiritsugu! How could your son be so senseless? Please, enlighten this humble young woman!"

Shirou sighed. "I get it, Fuji-nee. There's no need to rub it in my face."

Fuji-nee gave Shirou an impish grin, and then left the dojo, humming all the way. When she was gone, Shirou turned to Kirito. He raised an eyebrow. "Master kenjutsu practitioner?" he asked. "Where did she get that, Kirito?"

The black swordsman looked abashed. "Ah. I... might have slipped a bit and forgot to hold back for a few seconds." At Shirou's unyielding gaze, Kirito sighed. "Alright, I accidently lashed out with the intent to kill. I admit it."

Shirou shook his head. "I'll... just pretend that you didn't admit to almost killing my guardian." The poor red-head felt pressure building in his head, the troubles of the day starting to get to him.

"Hey!" Kirito looked affronted. "That shinai of hers was honestly cursed! I had to actually use this bokuto as a Noble Phantasm to prevent it from shattering!"

The red-head sighed. "Whatever you say, Kirito. I'm heading inside to see if there's anything Sakura needs me to do. Clean this place up, would you?"

The black swordsman stared at Shirou's retreating back with disbelief, then cast a wary glance at the innocent looking shinai with as much bloodlust as a Muramasa blade. After a deep sigh, Kirito turned away from the cursed sword and walked out of the dojo. The feline purr that he heard on his way out was written off as a hallucination from the day's stress.

After all, swords, even in games, didn't do that.

Right?


Dinner was a simple affair. Kirito blended easily into the Emiya Residence's dinnertime and took his place at the dinner table without trouble. Sakura had prepared a baked salmon, along with the usual staples, for dinner and the four people at the Emiya residence gathered for the meal.

"So, Kirito." Taiga raised her chopsticks and pointed at the dark-haired swordsman. "How'd you get so good at the blade? It wasn't through ordinary training, was it?"

"Sensei!" Sakura scolded her tactless teacher. "You shouldn't be asking such things at dinner. And you definitely don't point at people with your chopsticks!"

Shirou nodded. "That's right Fuji-nee. Keep it up and Sakura might cut off your rations."

Taiga gulped at the threat. Even if it was just light-hearted teasing, threats to the Tiger's food supply were seriously considered. She gave a nervous glance back to Kirito. "Ehe, I didn't mean to pry..."

Kirito finished the food on his plate and gently set it against the table. "No, it's obvious that you would be curious. I apologize for not addressing it beforehand."

Something about Kirito's tone set Shirou's alarm bells ringing. The red-head looked at the black swordsman, catching the mischievous glint in the young man's eyes, and sighed, recognizing it as the same look he had when telling everyone about how they met. Well, Shirou mused, at least it was believable.

The red-head wondered how Kirito would explain this situation. Kirito didn't disappoint.

With a somber tone, Kirito gazed at everyone and then began speaking. "It all began when I was fourteen..."


Shirou sighed as he walked along the darkened road with his Servant. After spinning an incredible tale about winning the chance to experience an advanced video game, advertised as a hyper-realistic fantasy simulation in his invitation, and explaining exactly how realistic the game was, giving examples of duels and the enemies he had encountered, like genetic-splicing experiments gone wrong and murderous criminals, Taiga had been stunned.

Taiga could hardly believe that Kirito had gone through such an experience, but coupled with the fact that he actually was skilled with the sword, and the expressions Kirito had shown when telling the tale, especially the gut wrenching portion where one of his closest friends had died in an ambush while he lived, was left convinced. Kirito's solemn oath that he wouldn't let anyone else die in front of him, and that he had trained his skills to prevent an event from occurring again, eliminated any doubts she had about Shirou participating in their 'underground video game tournament'.

Sakura, on the other hand, took the news with ease, something that confused Shirou until she pointed out the mysterious events occurring and that it wasn't hard to believe that Kirito had experienced what he had considering that.

Needless to say, it was far too close to the truth for his comfort, so the head of the Emiya household had quickly ushered the two female guests out, after convincing Taiga to escort Sakura home.

"Something wrong, Shirou?" Kirito gave his Master a curious look.

The swordsman's words brought about another round of sighs from the red-head, something he realized he was prone to doing recently. I blame the war, Shirou thought.

"No. I'm just... wrapping my head around the fact that you managed to convince Taiga that your outfit was a costume and not actually... real."

Shirou gave a pointed look to the black swordsman, once again dressed in his dark attire and armed with two blades. The crystalline sword that had shattered was replaced with an equally elegant blade marked with a blue dragon. It was nameless, as Kirito told him, but would serve just as well as his broken weapon.

He grinned. "I didn't."

Shirou nearly tripped over his own feet at those words. After righting himself, he gave Kirito an incredulous look. "What do you mean you didn't?"

The swordsman shrugged. "She took one look and asked if my swords were real. When I said yes, all she told me was to 'protect Shirou'."

The red-head let out a groan and rubbed his forehead, trying to stave off the inevitable headache. "Let me guess. That's how you convinced her to make me carry Tora-Shinai?"

"Yep!"

The cursed blade was currently wrapped in a towel and carried around Shirou's back, held with a make-shift rope holster. "And why should I have it again?"

Kirito gave Shirou a serious glance. "Because that shinai is seriously enchanted. Or cursed, whatever." He shook his head. "Either way, it's far stronger than a shinai has any right being because of that. If you want to fight, you're going to have use something that won't break in one hit. Besides." Kirito gave Shirou a mischievous grin. "Since you're such a weak character, it's appropriate to power up with cursed equipment, isn't it?"

Shirou groaned at Kirito's reference and focused his attention back on their surroundings.

It had been half an hour since they started patrolling. Currently, the Master and Servant were headed towards Shinto to patrol in the neighboring town. There were no signs of any enemy Servants or Masters, but it never hurt to be cautious in a situation like they were in.

They had just reached the park before the bridge to Shinto when they heard it.

Piercing the silent night air, a shrill scream sounded out. It wasn't a simple shriek of terror, or of surprise, either. No, what cut through the quiet atmosphere was a desperate shriek for help.

And it was familiar.

Emiya Shirou responded, and the red-head dashed off in the direction of the scream without a second thought, not even checking to see if Kirito was following. Of course, since the swordsman was a Servant, Kirito quickly pulled in front of Shirou, blades drawn and trailing behind him in preparation for a battle.

Following the swordsman's lead, Shirou unwrapped Tora-Shinai. He felt its curse try to bend his mind and pollute his thoughts with bloodlust, but Shirou's steely resolve would not waver. The curse only refined the steel, the bloodlust turning into a call for action, and tempered his nerves.

It didn't take long to find the source of the scream.

There, under a single street light in the parking lot of the park, a lavender-haired figure crouched. The sheer amount of magical energy in the air, as thick as oil running along a clear stream, left no doubt as to whether or not this was a Servant.

And standing nearby, with a casual air, was Shinji, Sakura's older brother.

Shirou's thoughts ground to a halt.

"Oho? Emiya, you're here?" The blue-haired young man was dressed in his school uniform, his arrogant demeanor indicating he didn't care in the slightest if someone recognized him. "I was expecting Tohsaka, to be honest... of course, with your luck being as bad as it is, I shouldn't be surprised."

"Shinji." Whether it was because of Tora-Shinai, or because of the stress from earlier, Shirou's words came out as a growl. "What are you doing?"

"Eeeh?" Shinji leaned forward in a mocking gesture. In that moment, Shirou noticed the book he carried. It carried an emblem similar to the command seals, and probably acted as a mystic code of sorts. With Shirou's thoughts still blank, he could take in that information with an almost alarming clarity and began formulating counter measures against it.

"I knew you were dense, but you really aren't that dense, are you?" The arrogant young man scoffed. "I'm a Master. Of course, since I can't provide my Servant with Prana, she has to make do with... other ways to get it."

The crouched figure rose to their feet, and Shirou blanched at the sight.

It was a woman, dressed in skin-fitting black attire. An elaborate blind-fold hid her eyes, and what could be seen of her unearthly face was framed by unnatural lavender-hair.

But that wasn't what drew his eyes. It was the blood.

Dripping from her mouth, crimson beads shone under the light. And then, they vanished as the Servant licked it away, a malicious grin settling on her face.

Shirou lowered his gaze to the victim, praying that the situation wasn't as bad as it seemed–

"...Em...iya."

–and what little mount of mental processes he had available vanished, honing in on that weak plea.

"No... Ayako?"

Eyes wide in shock, hands clasping weakly against her neck. Mitsuduri Ayako lay against the ground, bleeding out. The friendly, easy-going if slightly tomboyish girl that always greeted him when he visited the Archery club was laying there, dying.

"Mm?" Shinji gave Shirou a confused look, then followed his gaze to Ayako. "Ah, you've noticed Mitsuduri. It was a bit unfortunate that she was wandering around this late, but-"

"Kirito." Shirou cut Shinji off. He had heard enough. The red-head didn't want to believe it, but Shinji had crossed the line. He had harmed another person, and someone they both knew. Someone who didn't deserve what had happened to her.

And she would die if he didn't act.

"Stop the Servant. I'll take care of Shinji."

The distance between the parties were five meters.

The black swordsman, who had been holding back out of respect for Shirou's seeming acquaintance with the unknown Master, as well as the Servant's proximity to the victim, burst into action, black lightning streaking across the night.

"Wha-"

Shirou dashed forward, mind focused on a single thought:

Save her.

"SHINJI!" Tora-Shinai was brandished, and the illusionary image of a tiger cloaked Shirou as he moved.

"N-no! Stay back!" The arrogant Master stepped back and waved his arm, a trio of black shadows rising forward to cut Shirou down.

SAVE her.

Shirou pulled his weapon to the right, unconsciously settling into a sword stance. In that moment, Tora-Shinai shone with an eerie red light, then rocketed into a series of slashes.

A diagonal to the left broke the first shadow.

A horizontal to the right broke the second.

A vertical slash split the last, completing the last portion of the combo.

SAVE HER!

The blade was pulled back, and the distance between the estranged friends closed to less than a meter.

"AAAAHHH!" Shinji scrambled backward out of fear, lifting his right arm and book to cast another spell.

CRACK.

With merciless precision, Tora-Shinai swung down, knocking the book out of Shinji's hand and snapping the arrogant Master's wrist. An instant later, the book burst into dark flames.

The dissipating presence of magical energy in the atmosphere indicated that Kirito had taken out the enemy Servant as well.

All in all, the fight had taken less than five seconds.

Shirou would have been amazed at what he was capable of, but the only thing on his mind was that imperative.

SAVE HER!

The red-head ignored Shinji's whimpering form and turned towards Kirito. The black swordsman had already sheathed his blades and was carrying Ayako, taking care to apply pressure to the wound to prevent more blood from spilling.

"The church!" Shirou called out their destination, only briefly acknowledging Kirito's nod in response, and sprinted off across the bridge. The black swordsman was hot on his tails, silently praying that Shirou wouldn't have to lose someone like he did.

A repulsive creature, made of vampiric insects, watched the Master and Servant as they dashed away.


Matou Zouken glanced at his simpering disgrace of a grandson, and sighed. While it was true that he didn't believe the boy would amount to much, almost killing his Servant in their first fight and then losing against Emiya was worse than even Zouken's worst expectations.

Casting a spell to transport Shinji back to their home, Zouken took another moment to look at the departing forms of Emiya and his Servant.

"So that is the Magus Killer's adopted child, hm...? Well, his combat ability is not anything to scoff at. Perhaps he would make a worthy ally..."

Zouken toyed with the idea of revealing Sakura's nature to the boy. Perhaps it would be enough to finally shatter her stubborn mind.

The old magus shook his head and turned to return when he felt it. And when he did, Zouken let out a bone-chilling laugh. "So the corrupt grail has obtained yet another presence! And one capable enough to enforce a balance as well?"

Zouken allowed his mirth to take him for a few more moments, then began his way back. "Perhaps that piece will end up in play after all. Yes, it would be interesting to see what happens when the corruption meets the aberration..."


In the shadows, a figure watched. It had been there since the beginning of the fight, roaming the streets as commanded. It had seen the battle between Saber and Rider. It had seen the worm's appearance. It had been watching them all, this entire time.

Unnoticed by even the ancient magus, a Servant garbed in a dark cloak stood, staring at the swiftly vanishing back of the Servant of the Sword.

Its hand tightened around its weapon, and a malevolent aura of pitch black enveloped the Servant. Hidden beneath the darkness, emptied eyes filled for the first time in years with emotion.

"Ki...ri...to."

The Master and Servant knew nothing of the two observers, running frantically against the clock to reach the Church. Time was ticking, and fate marched onwards without them.

Changes had occurred, and the revision begins.

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