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A Different Path

By HallowedWizard

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Changing Fate: Revision II

Ayako thought she was dreaming. To be honest, the events from earlier seemed to be nothing more than a nightmare.

It began when Ayako had seen the black-haired man Shirou had brought with him to the Archery Dojo. Kirito, that was what Emiya introduced him as. And after that, the black-haired man had gone on to spin a tale of completely improbable events, something or another about meeting Shirou at an underground gaming tournament.

The brown-haired girl knew it was a lie the moment she heard 'video game'. Emiya would never be a closet gamer. He was too focused to waste time on things like MMORPGs, too driven to become a hero. Training and studying were the only things on his mind, a fact Ayako noted of Shirou throughout the years they went to school together.

So, when she had realized that, Ayako decided to see for herself what Emiya was up to. After all, there was no ordinary reason that could bring him into contact with someone like Kirito. For one, Kirito looked to be of University age, around 17 or 18 years old. For another, he was too severe.

Kirito might have carried the air of an ordinary student, or cool older friend, but Ayako saw the steel in his eyes when the man surveyed the Archery Club. Those were the eyes of someone who knew conflict. It was the same look she had seen in her grandfather's eyes when describing his time in World War II. She could tell that Kirito had an intimate experience with danger, and she was worried for Emiya.

It was foolish of her to go out at night alone. She had heard about the dangers occurring in town recently, but felt that her experience in martial arts and self-defense training would keep her safe. She could keep up with the average Yakuza, as her grandfather told her, so it should be fine. That, along with the fact that her grandfather personally knew old man Raiga meant that she should have been safe from any ordinary threat imaginable.

There was nothing ordinary about what she found.

A woman with unearthly lavender hair swooped down from above, just as she reached the park before the bridge to Shinto.

She couldn't scream. She couldn't look away. She couldn't move. The moment that woman entered her field of vision, Ayako seemed to have been spellbound, unable to do anything but stare at the spider-like woman that had appeared.

And then there was pain, but mostly a numbing sensation, on her neck, and the world blurred.

Maybe she screamed. Maybe she didn't. Ayako couldn't remember.

She remembered hearing Matou Shinji's arrogant voice berating her for being stupid enough to wander around at night in these dangerous times. She remembered being cradled by that woman as her senses slowly slipped away.

She remembered seeing Shirou appear to save her.

Ayako shook her head, returning to reality. This wasn't a dream.

Shirou and Kirito were walking protectively on either side of her, both males glancing cautiously at every shadow around them.

The two had explained the events to her, the truth behind their meeting. It was an unbelievable story, even moreso than the video game tournament Kirito had made up, but she couldn't find it in herself to not believe it.

After all, she had almost been a casualty.

Magic was real. That was the first thing Shirou explained when they left the church. When she asked how it could have been kept secret from the world, especially with the advent of technology and mass media, she was stunned by the answer.

Systematic murder. In order to prevent the reveal of Magecraft to the general public, any observer that was not already a practitioner was permanently silenced. And then, to eliminate any possible loose ends, the response was to kill each and every person who could have been connected with the one who learned the secret. Brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, even the family pet.

Entire families, wiped out to prevent the knowledge of Magecraft from reaching the general public, removed as if they never existed.

Thankfully, Emiya's not like that. Ayako cast a glance at the red-head on her left, relieved by his assuring presence. Shirou had explained it all to Ayako. Magecraft, the Holy Grail War, how she was saved.

It was a tremendous risk, that much Ayako could understand. There were meant to be no witnesses, no loose ends. If the organization behind all of this found out that Shirou was letting her go with the knowledge that she had, they'd come after him first.

Despite that, Shirou trusted her. Despite the dangers it held, despite the fact that she couldn't even do anything to help him, Shirou trusted Ayako to keep his secret.

To be honest, she felt a bit happy at that, though she wouldn't admit it.

"This is where you live, right Mitsuduri-san?" Shirou called out, and Ayako realized they had arrived.

She and her brother lived together in a small apartment in Shinto, and that was where the three were standing at the moment. "Yes," Ayako replied. "This is where I live, Emiya-san." She turned and gave a mischievous grin to the red-head. "Now I don't want to hear any rumors about you walking me home late at night, alright?" She frowned and then glanced up at the lit window where her apartment was. "My brother will be worried enough about me coming home so late the night before school."

Shirou looked troubled, but nodded. "I understand. Ah, but Mitsuduri-san-"

"Ayako."

"Eh?" The red-head was confused at Ayako's interruption.

The brown-haired girl elaborated, a soft expression on her face. "You saved my life tonight, Shirou. I think that deserves the right to call me by my first name."

Shirou's eyes widened at that. "M-mitsuduri-san, I don't think that... I mean, I-"

Kirito lightly tapped his master on his head. "Idiot. You saved her life. Accept her gratitude already."

The red-head was affronted and glared at Kirito. "Hey, I didn't do anything special. Mitsu-" Shirou hesitated at Ayako's glare and continued. "Ayako-san doesn't have to be grateful for anything." He turned to the brown-haired girl. "You don't have to go that far, Mi-, Ayako-san."

Ayako sighed at Shirou's reaction. It seemed that he was as stubborn as ever in accepting thanks. Taking a look at Kirito, Ayako saw that he was just as exasperated with Shirou as she was. "Well, Kirito-san. I guess I'll give you my thanks instead since block-head over there won't accept it."

Kirito gave her a small smile and nodded. "You're welcome Mitsuduri-san. But please, take this as a lesson to stop following us. As you now know, the night is dangerous."

Ayako nodded. "Of course." She wasn't going to go out so carelessly again in the near future. Well, maybe if Shirou was there... No. Better to be safe than sorry. And she wouldn't want her brother to lose her older sister. The young man was almost as hopeless as Shirou in certain aspects.

"Ah." Shirou latched on to the change in conversation and spoke. "If you can, try to avoid Shinji or Tohsaka. I don't think Shinji's a threat anymore now that his Servant is gone, but Tohsaka still has hers, and is a powerful Magus."

Ayako smirked. "Thanks for the concern, Shirou, but I've got it now. I'll be more careful."

The red-head nodded. "Stay safe, Ayako. I don't want to hear that you've been killed or hurt."

"Yeah, yeah." Ayako waved off his words. "Go on and get back to your patrol, hero."

Shirou smiled and turned around, starting to walk away with Kirito. As they reached the corner of the street, Ayako called out. "And Shirou?"

He looked back, a bemused look on his face.

"Take care of yourself too!"

The future defender of justice smiled and nodded before turning back and walking away with Kirito.

Ayako watched them walk away into the night, and then turned and entered the apartment building. Now to explain this all to Minori... Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to tell him a bit of the truth. I was out all night with Shirou, after all. Deciding on that course of action, Ayako walked to her apartment, an impish smile on her face.


The Master and Servant were walking back up the winding path to the Emiya Residence. The sun was starting to rise, and it was getting close to the time Shirou normally woke up.

"Told you she has feelings for you."

Shirou tried not to groan at Kirito's smug smile. "She's being grateful, Kirito. Just because she wants me to call her by her first name and calls me by my first name doesn't mean she's in love with me."

Really. It's not like he was a Harem protagonist. Girls weren't falling for him left and right. Sure, he was close to a few of them, but it was purely platonic! Even if a few were attractive and he didn't mind being around them...

No. Bad thoughts. Focus on the situation at hand!

Kirito placed his hands behind his head, his smile even wider than it was earlier. "I never said she was in love with you, just that she has feelings for you."

This time Shirou did groan. Ever since Ayako's last words, Kirito had been insufferable. The black Servant kept going on and on about girls falling for Shirou and his 'saving people thing'.

"Though I'm not surprised. Girls do like a knight in shining armor, especially when their lives are in danger. So let's see, there's Rin. Now Ayako... what's next. Sakura?"

Shirou sighed. They had reached towards the door to his house, and the red-head pulled out his key to unlock it. "And since when are you an expert on love? You're a Servant. I thought you were just a master swordsman."

"It's the Harem Aura."

Shirou fumbled at Kirito's ridiculous proclamation, almost dropping the key. He spun around at his Servant, an incredulous look on his face. "Harem Aura?! What am I, an anime character?"

Kirito's smug smile had evolved into a smug grin, and the black-haired young man nodded. "Don't worry, I know just how you feel. It's almost ridiculous how much girls want you after you save them." For a moment, his smile faltered, as if remembering unpleasant memories. "It can get... troublesome."

The red-head shook his head and opened the door, walking in. "Of course. Obviously my Servant would know about Anime and have experience with multiple girls falling in love with him." Shirou laughed, but then realized something off about that. He turned around at Kirito. "Wait, you know what anime is?"

The black swordsman gave his master an amused look. "Of course I do. I'm more surprised that you do, considering how much you obsess over being a hero."

Shirou blinked, and then turned around to unlock the door.

That was it. His mind had been through enough madness in the past twenty four hours to care how a legendary spirit knew what anime was, let alone well enough to understand what a Harem lead is.

He walked off towards his room. "I'm going to sleep. Wake me up when Sakura and Fuji-nee get here."

"Whatever you say, Master. Pleasant dreams."

And his Servant just had to mock him.

Shirou shook his head and stepped into his room.

He was asleep seconds after laying down on his futon.


It was a dream of a time yet to occur. The characters were people he didn't know, and could not know for years to come.

On a snowy night, there was a boy who wished for a Christmas miracle. It was something he could not perform, a regret that he prayed to be able to rectify.

He had searched for it. Far and wide, he had learned of a mystical item said to be able to bring one back to life. An item able to turn back the cruel death penalty of the world.

A Christmas miracle.

The item could only be obtained on the stroke of midnight, from a renegade apostle under the largest fir tree.

How desperate he must have been. The odds of the rumor being true were so low that he was better off praying to the stars for a miracle. And the odds of success must have been even lower, as he would be fighting alone in a battle meant for teams.

An image of a girl. A fragile expression, clinging to him as her only hope of surviving in that cruel world.

The boy persevered. Even if it was a false, the thought of being able to hear her last words, whether they had been curses or blessings, was too dear to let go.

He recklessly threw himself into battle for this date, fighting hordes of enemies on the brink of death to become stronger. He discarded his bonds for his duty, forgetting friends and allies in that desperate hope.

And now it was time.

It was snowing.

The boy who couldn't save anyone walked along the wintry evergreens, his booted footsteps barely audible under the silent snowfall. Meters before he reached the destination, a group of people appeared behind him.

Comrades. They were armed, wary, and cautious, but they were those on his side. The leader was the same friend he had made on the first day, the roguish red-haired samurai who had been concerned from him ever since.

A desperate plea. The samurai begged for him to reconsider that reckless charge and for whoever receives the revival item to keep it.

Meaningless. If that was the case, then...

Let's just kill everyone.

He tensed, ready to draw his sword. And then-


-he did.

The sword was drawn, and the former comrades marked as enemies.

There was a charge of reckless abandon, of pained determination.

The comrades who thought he would never attack were cut down with ease. A difference in skill, a gap that couldn't be bridged, made further by his despair.

He betrayed them. But that was fine. It was fitting for a fool like him to perform such meaningless acts.

He turned his back on the ones in the past, adding the painful memories to the flames of despair in his heart.

...Why? He was a hero, wasn't he? He had painted himself as a villain, but at his heart he was a hero. So why did he cut down his comrades?

Meaningless. There was no reason to the action. They were just in his way.

The black swordsman turned towards the fir tree and stepped forward, passing the threshold to his final battle.

Save her. That was the only thought on his mind at the end. Kill the monster, get the item, and bring her to life. What happened next didn't matter.

In the end, it was hopeless.

The divine artifact was a lie. While death could be usurped, it was only moments after its appearance that the act was possible.

He learned its use and slumped to the ground in despair.

Approximately 10 seconds.

Approximately 10 seconds. The time between a fatal blow and the body's shattering to the erasure of the soul.

Approximately 10 seconds. A time so short, he couldn't even revive the friends he had killed to obtain it.

Cruel. That was too cruel a fate for the boy who just wanted to protect them. He, who had sworn to protect those close to him, who turned on his first friend in the hopes of saving the one he swore that would live through this death game.

He failed.

Those hands unfit to hold anything reached out...


Shirou woke with a start and sat up in his bed, sweat drenching his body. A look at the clock showed it was 5AM. An hour before Sakura would arrive.

A dream. That was all it had been. A dream.

...But it was real. Far too real to be just that.

"Kirito..."

Did he really do it? Did he really kill his friends in the vain hope that he could save just that girl?

No. That couldn't be right. He wasn't the type of person to do that. The man was a person who would never forsake his comrades. He was the type who would die before turning his blade on those he knew.

So a nightmare. That's all the dream had to be. A nightmare brought on by Ayako's brush with death, by how close Shirou had been to failing.

Shirou nodded. That had to be it.

It was an outcome that would never have happened. The Kirito by his side would protect his allies at the cost of his life, continuing on even afterwards to ensure their safety.

...But, the scenario he witnessed wasn't something he could disregard.

He knew it. He knew it without being told. That was the fate of someone who had failed. That was the pain of losing someone close to you.

Shirou denied it. He would never do that. Emiya Shirou could never turn on his allies. No, the situation to begin with was ridiculous.

A defender of justice was a person who saved everyone. Emiya Shirou swore to uphold that ideal, so the idea that he would lose someone close to him was anathema. He would protect them without fail.

But there was a contradiction there.

To save someone means to remove them from danger. To protect someone was to prevent the danger from occurring in the first place.

If he wanted to be a defender of justice, the ideal that Emiya Kiritsugu upheld and pursued, he had to choose.

Protect, or save? The many or the few?

He could feel it. A decision was coming.

You cannot save everyone. That was a truth that Shirou found he could not deny, not now.

In his pursuit of that ideal, Kiritsugu had lost those close to him. The man had never said it, but Taiga told Shirou that the elder Emiya had been married when they met. And then there had been the pained looks in the distance and the constant trips without explanation.

Shirou understood now. It must have been painful. But... even then, hadn't he locked the feelings away? Sacrificed them in pursuit of that ever distant utopia?

Would Shirou have to do the same? Would he lose those around him on the path of his ideal?

Could he?

...Or would the pain break him, as it did for the other Kirito?

Shirou snapped out of his thoughts. A glance at the clock showed 6AM. An hour had passed without him realizing it.

A knock on his door, then Kirito pulled it open. "Hey, Shirou. Sakura's here now, so-" He stopped as he saw Shirou's clammy face. "You alright there? Did using the Sword Skills do that to you? Because if it did, I don't think-"

"It's not that." Shirou shook his head and stood up, letting out a sigh. "I just had a... nightmare."

"Nightmare?"

"Yeah. Nothing to worry about." The red-head grabbed a spare set of clothes and walked out of his room, Kirito stepping back from the door to let him past.

Shirou planned on just letting the dream be, but he had to verify it. He couldn't be Emiya Shirou if he didn't. "...Hey, Kirito. Did you ever kill a red-haired samurai on Christmas Eve?"

"No." Kirito frowned. "Why are you asking?"

A tension in his gut that Shirou didn't realize was there cleared up.

He shook his head. "No reason. Just curious."

It wasn't him then. Whoever that boy had been, no matter how much it looked like Kirito, it wasn't him.

But then who was it?

"Tell Sakura that I'll be out to help her in a bit. I just need to take a shower first."

"...If that's what you want, Shirou. But whatever you saw, you shouldn't keep it to yourself."

"It's really not important."

A pained smile crossed Kirito's face. "That's... usually how it starts. Trust me. Keeping information, no matter how small it might be, from your allies will only result in pain for you. Not to say that I want you to tell me now, that's your choice. But... think carefully on it."

That was strange. Did Kirito know what Shirou saw? Of course. It was his experiences, after all. But... what did he mean by it?

"Ah." Kirito shook his head, a smile on his face, when he saw Shirou's expression. "Don't think about it too much, Shirou. I'm probably just being silly. Go take your shower. It wouldn't be polite to keep your 'kouhai' waiting when she's devoutly preparing you breakfast."

"Wha- Kirito! We're not like that! Sakura's just a good friend!"

"So she's gone from 'just an underclassman' to a 'good friend' now, hm? Interesting."

Shirou let out an exasperated sigh and stalked off towards the shower, ignoring Kirito's teasing laughter behind him.


"More rice, Kirito-san?"

"Yes, please."

It was breakfast again in the Emiya household. Monday.

The usual three had grown to four, and were seated around the table eating amiably.

Taiga set down her paper and turned to Kirito. "So, Kirito. What do you plan to do today? Don't you have classes to attend?"

The swordsman shook his head, sitting down with his refilled bowl of rice. "I'm not attending at the moment. To be honest, I'm a bit of a NEET..."

A loud thud. Shirou had slammed his head against the edge of the table in exasperation.

"Senpai!"

Shirou groaned. Kirito's outrageous story grew by the day... yet remained entirely believable. What was it? Did he have some kind of blessing when it came to ridiculous lies? Charisma? No. Maybe it was that Harem Aura he mentioned. That would surely increase the gullibility of the opposite sex.

...No. There had to be a limit. Even Kirito couldn't be that ridiculous. Shirou could believe his sword skills. He could also believe that he was a hardcore gamer and anime enthusiast. But a Harem Aura? The line had to be drawn there.

"Shirou, you alright there?"

The subject of his ire called out in a polite voice.

Shirou raised his head and waved off their concerns. "I'm fine. Just... a bit light-headed, I guess."

It was an obvious lie, but at least it would save some face.

"Really, Senpai!" Sakura shook her head, waving her chopsticks at him. "If you're going to be fainting at the table, I might really force Fuji-nee to make you stay home for the week!"

The older woman nodded, a serious expression on her face.

And while the two women rounded on the poor red-head, Kirito gave him an impish grin.

I give up. Shirou sighed. Kirito was a worse devil than Tohsaka when it came to teasing him...

"I'll be careful. It won't happen again, Sakura, Fuji-nee."

"It'd better not, if you know what's good for you, Shirou. I didn't raise you to be so reckless." Taiga nodded and went back to eating.

"You-"

A flash of killing intent and the growl of a tiger in the background.

"...Nevermind."

Shirou picked up his bowl of rice and poured himself some miso soup, giving the conversation up as a lost cause.

"Anyway." Taiga turned back to Kirito. "Your plans, Kirito?"

"Well." He locked eyes with Shirou for a moment. "...I think I'll go check out the surrounding town. Since I'm going to be here a while, I might as well get familiar with it."

So he would be patrolling for signs of enemies then. Shirou gave him a slight nod. The plan was settled then. He'd go to school while Kirito looked around.

"Mm, that's a good idea. Ah, but try not to go too far. Getting lost in a strange city isn't fun." Taiga frowned. "I speak from experience. Oh, the hours I wandered around Akihabara..."

Shirou sighed and served himself more food.

Breakfast ended as it usually did, but the walk to school was different. Kirito had decided to tag along today, and so it was that the usual pair walking down the walled road to the school became a trio.

The conversation was light, some idle chatter between them to get better acquainted.

And then Kirito did what he usually did and asked a loaded question.

"So, Matou-san. What's your relation with Shirou?"

"Wh-what?"

It was a bit amusing to see someone else on the receiving end of Kirito's probing.

Sakura flushed at the question, and shook her head. "U-um, he's just my Senpai."

"Mm... 'your Senpai'?"

"That's right..."

"I see. Then why do you have a spare key to his house? To me, it looks like you two are a lot more than just schoolmates."

"O-oi! That's enough, Kirito! You're making her uncomfortable!"

Kirito grinned. "I knew it. See? You're defending her. That's definitely the budding signs of romance. I think you have a lot of work cut out for you though, Sakura. This guy's about as clueless as- Sakura?"

The purple-haired girl wasn't looking good. Her face was pale, and her breathing hitched when she took a step.

"Sakura!" Shirou dropped his school bag and went to her side. "Are you alright?"

"Sen...pai?"

She stumbled, and Shirou caught her in his arms. She flinched when he brushed against her back, a flash of pain crossing her face.

He didn't understand why that would be, but then he remembered.

"...Shinji did this to you, didn't he?"

This close to her, Shirou could see the bruises on Sakura's skin. She had been careful to avoid showing it earlier, but they were there, visible on her chest and arms.

He had forgotten. Of course Shinji wouldn't have calmed down after his defeat. If anything, that arrogant person he used to call a friend would lash out at the first person he could.

And Sakura was an easy target.

"Shirou. You're hurting her."

He snapped out of his thoughts at Kirito's words. Sure enough, he had been hurting Sakura. The anger he felt had caused him to tighten his grip.

"I'm alright, Senpai." Sakura gave him a small smile, though he could see the pain she was trying to hide from him. "Really, I'm fine. I just... fell down the stairs the other day."

Shirou let out a deep breath and stepped back, helping Sakura to her feet.

Consequence. There were consequences for a hero's decisions, and he was seeing it now.

Saving Ayako meant Sakura got hurt when Shinji returned home. He had saved one person, but harmed another by his actions.

He clenched his teeth.

"That guy..."

Shirou should have killed him. Wasn't that right? A defender of justice would have done that. Shinji had signed up for the war, so he would have known death was an option. If Shirou wanted to follow that ideal, then he should have killed him. By Shinji's blatant disregard for Ayako's health, and for harming Sakura when Shirou eliminated his Servant, the other Matou was a 'bad person'. And he was the type of person Shirou was supposed to get rid of.

"Senpai. Please... just leave it."

He saw the look on Sakura's face.

Fear, and another emotion he couldn't quite place.

Something inside Emiya Shirou cracked when he saw that.

He was silent, but eventually nodded. "Fine. If that's what you want, Sakura. But I swear, if Shinji does that again..."

Sakura just gave him a small smile.

"So, lovebirds. Done swearing your vows?"

Kirito's bright voice broke the somber atmosphere. "You'll be late to school if you don't hurry up, you know?"

Shirou shook his head at the swordsman's antics, and then he walked over to his dropped school bag and picked it up.

"Let's go, Sakura, before this NEET starts being more annoying than usual."

"Hey!"

The purple-haired girl paused for a moment, then gave Shirou a bright smile. "Okay!"


The three parted ways at the school gate, with Shirou and Sakura heading inside the school. And then they parted as well, with Shirou heading for his classroom.

"Oh, Emiya."

A boy with parted blue hair, glasses, and a somewhat solemn air called out to him.

"Hm? What is it, Issei?"

The president of the student council, and one of Shirou's best friend, shook his head. "Is it true?

Shirou frowned, a sinking feeling starting to settle in his stomach. "Is what true?"

"There are rumors that you slept with Ayako Mitsuduri last night." Issei narrowed his eyes. "And you seem more tired than usual, Emiya."

"N-no! It's nothing like that!" He shook his head, hands held up defensively. "I was out late last night with Kirito, and she followed me! But then she got into trouble, and I saved her before walking her home!"

A comical wide-eyed expression appeared on Issei's face. "...You were with that older man? Late at night?"

"NOT LIKE THAT!"

"Then what were you doing, Emiya?" Issei pushed his glasses up. "There are not many reasons to go out late at night with an older man, especially one as effeminate as this Kirito I keep hearing about from the girls."

"I-"

"Ah, Emiya-kun. There you are."

And when he couldn't think things would get any worse, the devil that could do just that appeared.

Rin smiled at him, once again in her perfect idol persona. "I've been looking for you. Oh?" She nodded at Issei. "Good morning, Ryuudou-kun."

"Tohsaka." Issei returned the greeting with a curt nod and then turned to Shirou. "Well, I'll just trust your word that you didn't then, Emiya. It seems you and... her have some business together. If you'll excuse me."

Issei walked into the classroom, leaving Shirou outside with Rin.

Shirou shook his head and leaned against the wall. "What is it, Tohsaka? Class is about to start."

"Hmph, is that how it is, Emiya-kun?" Rin tossed her hair to the side. "And after all I did for you too. Really, it's quite unfair."

"Tohsaka. If that's all you're going to say-"

"Meet me on the rooftop for lunch. I want to talk."

And then she was gone, before he could so much as protest.

"...Kirito's going to make fun of me for this later, isn't he?"

Shirou sighed and then entered his classroom, accepting the uncompromising turn of events.


Kirito looked around his surroundings with a wary eye. For some reason, after walking around the neighboring town, he had found his feet drawn to this area.

A cursed park. All around him, the grass, trees, even air held a deathly aura. If he had to describe it, the feeling was like a blight on the soul, expanded to imprint its malignant presence on the surroundings.

The swordsman knelt down and examined the ashy blades of grass. "What could have happened here, I wonder?"

The young man was dressed in simple clothes at the moment. He had unequipped his armor and swords for the moment, not wanting to be arrested by a passing cop, and replaced his 'Parry' skill with 'Hiding'. It was nothing compared to the 'Presence Concealment' his manual informed him Assassin possessed, but at the least it concealed him from normal people and made him feel human to other spiritual beings, if not strangely out of phase with reality.

That was why he almost missed the incoming attack.

An arrow- no, a sword that was modified into an arrow, rocketed towards him, gleaming silver in the daylight.

Kirito jumped back, thanking whatever miracle that had given him a body similar to 'The Black Swordsman' rather than his normal body, and avoided the arrow.

And then it exploded.

Kirito's eyes widened, and then he rolled with the force, a good thing as half a dozen arrows landed on the ground a fraction after he moved.

He sprang to his feet and glared at the one responsible, the opponent for this battle in broad daylight.

"Archer. You really want to fight?"

The crimson knight was standing in a tree 20 meters away, bow cocked with yet another sword-arrow.

"So that's how it's going to be." Kirito tensed, and then broke out in a sprint towards Archer, his right hand moving to begin a familiar motion to change his equipment.

More arrows flew towards him, as well as some actual swords that shot from thin air. It seemed that the red Servant was serious in trying to kill Kirito, and stepped up in his efforts to end him before the swordsman could gain his bearings.

He didn't count on Kirito being able to read him.

He's aiming to cut off my escape. Herding me to a particular area. But there's a gap. Kirito ducked and swerved through the rain of steel, his hand still moving to equip his blades and set his skills.

Predicting where the trajectory of a projectile would be an instant before it was shot, based solely on analyzing the opponent's actions. It was similar to 'Protection from Arrows', but different in that it was not a prediction by reacting to a sensory input, but a prediction upon patterns and probabilities, instantly analyzed and accounted for the moment before the projectile is shot.

Archer clucked his teeth and placed a sword by his bow. It was an eerie violet and red, and Kirito could sense that he wouldn't leave the area alive if he didn't prepare himself with everything he had.

"Go into the red plains, scarlet hound."

A soft whisper, only barely audible in the desolate park, and the sword became an arrow.

Kirito swept his hand, deciding at the last moment to change the swords he would wield.

"Hrunting."

Archer declared the name of his weapon, and the sword flew towards the swordsman at Mach 10.

The distance was now 10 meters, Kirito having closed the gap in his evasive maneuvers. At that point blank range, it was impossible for even the fastest Servant to avoid.

An explosion rocked the empty park, and blood splattered on the ground.

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