Disclaimer: I do not own Fate/stay night. It belongs to Type-Moon.
Note: There is a part of this chapter which has been done as a deliberate homage to another anime. And by homage I mean almost a cut and paste of text. Oops!
Chapter 21: Resurgence
"Uh... damn it... Emiya..." As his home burned behind him, Matou Shinji stirred, and forced his tired eyes open. His vision was blurry, but he couldn't mistake the sight of the house he'd lived in all his life collapsed and broken.
He coughed, expelling a startling amount of ash and dust from his lungs. "What?" He groaned, and felt as if his dry throat could bleed any second. He tried moving his arms, and they responded clumsily. He forced them under his chest, and pushed upwards, trying to stand.
It was a chore. His limbs wouldn't move properly, as if he'd never used them before. Just standing took five whole minutes, and left the teen with a variety of new bruises on different parts of his body from his many falls. But finally, he stood, surveying the destruction in front of him.
"...fuck." He couldn't think of anything to say. Sure it had been his home. Sure he'd never known any other sanctuary in his entire life. Sure his grandfather and sister were most likely dead, with him soon to follow. But despite all that, he couldn't bring himself to say anything as he looked at all he had lost.
Abruptly, his body shook, and he coughed uncontrollably into the palm of his hand. However, instead of ash or dust, this time his hand came away bloody. His eyes widened as he saw tiny worms wriggling inside the blood. Slowly they stopped moving, and died whilst releasing high pitched squeals of pain.
"So grandpa's dead, and his familiars are gone with him." He murmured painfully. While he had never been taught by a magus, Shinji knew bits and pieces of the Matou magecraft. And just recently he had been taught about crest worms, his grandfather's greatest creations. Only hours, or perhaps days, ago, he had been granted the gift of the crest worms inside his body.
They had made him powerful. Powerful enough to utterly decimate a so called 'magus' easily. Yet he knew the power he possessed was not his. It belonged to his grandfather. It was only the power of the crest worms, and not of Matou Shinji. And that was what had led to his defeat.
He had lost, but despite that, Matou Shinji still lived. And he wouldn't let something like this hold him down.
Yet, as he collapsed to his knees and vomited a veritable torrent of blood and dying crest worms, Shinji forced a grin onto his pained face. And he stood up again, gazing into the burning collapsed manor he had once called home. When he thought of it again, he realized just how small it had been. Ridiculous. As if he could ever be held back in a place like that!
"My grandfather is dead." He whispered, pushing his bruised vocal chords to their limit. "He's gone, but..." Those crest worms... were his now. "He's right there, in my body, in my heart." Yes. As long as the worm in his heart was still functioning, there was a chance that even Matou Shinji could learn to use the crest worms for his own benefit. No, it was not chance, but certainty.
"The Matou lineage lives on as a part of me!" He yelled. Instead of growing weaker, his battered body felt stronger than ever. "If I'm going to be a magus, then I'll be the greatest, greater than the heavens themselves!"
He felt another wave of and worms coming, but swallowed them down. "No matter what's in my way... I won't stop. Once I've gained control of these creatures, it means that I've won!"
His body revolted. Pain blossomed all over his body, from every single nerve ending to every last blood vessel. It was even worse than taking the crest worms into his body had been. Instead of feeling the creatures latch onto his body, now he could feel them starving and dying all at once.
But this wasn't enough! He would survive this! "Just... who the hell... do you think I am!" He stood his ground. Despite the pain, he would not stop here! Matou Shinji's story was just beginning! "I'm Shinji. I'm not my grandfather, I'm me!" He screamed his vow into the clouded sky.
"I'm Shinji the Magus!"
"Oh? Who's a magus now?" Shinji froze completely in place as a bemused voice interrupted his monologue. He choked on his latest words, and frantically forced his malfunctioning body to execute a 180 degree turn.
Behind him a familiar figure came into focus. A person he was very familiar with. Someone he'd spent a great deal of time pining after, the idol of his school, and one of the only girls to ever deny his wishes. Her trademark pigtailed hair swayed in the light wind, and her smirk riled him up, forcing Shinji to calm down and speak with caution.
"Tohsaka." He said, frowning. "What are you doing here?" He tried to keep his voice and tone even, but it was a battle of willpower to keep from losing his cool. If Rin found out even a fraction of what had transpired at the Matou home in the past day, then he was as good as dead.
"I sensed a great discharge of magical energy in this area." She said calmly. "And I decided to check on it, as the supervisor of Fuyuki City." She smiled gently, sending cold shivers down Shinji's spine. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you, 'Shinji the Magus'?"
"Ah..." Shinji gulped. "Well... um... it's the business of the Matou family. You have no right to butt in, Tohsaka." He replied clumsily. Inwardly he cursed himself as he saw Rin's coy smile grow. Normally he'd be able to keep up with her in an argument, but all that fighting had tired out his mind as well as his body, and Shinji couldn't focus enough to put on a witty defense.
"Too bad, Matou-kun." She said. "But I'm making it my business. Now would you be so kind as to tell me what happened here? I heard you saying something about your grandfather dying earlier, and I'm very curious as to the circumstances of such a thing."
"He was..." Shinjii paused, planning out his next words carefully. "Grandfather was... one of the Masters in the Holy Grail War." He saw Rin's eyes widen, and had to hold back a smirk as he finally caught the girl off guard. "Master of Assassin, if you need to know." He continued, his voice getting smoother as his confidence returned. "Sadly, Gramps wasn't as good as he thought he was. He ended up getting killed, along with his Servant."
"Would happen to have seen the one who did such a deed?" Rin managed to say, even as she struggled to change her previous idea of who could be Assassin's Master.
"Why Tohsaka, how could you ask me that?" Shinji shrugged. "I am uninvolved in the War! Unlike my grandfather, I did not receive any command spells, and thus am not a Master! So why should I be involved in this dangerous War?" If he had to, he would swallow his pride this once. Just once.
"I find it hard to believe..." Rin replied carefully. "That Matou Zouken would tell you about his involvement in the War without involving you in some way. And you look markedly different than you did a few days ago, Matou-kun."
"...it's... Matou family business." Shinji said weakly. "And you have no right to go snooping around, Tohsaka."
"Do I?" Rin took a step forward, bringing her face close to Shinji's. She eyed the bloodstains on his clothing and mouth. "I think I have the right to investigate anything that might threaten the safety of Fuyuki city. And besides, I am a magus, Matou-kun." She smiled, but there was no gentleness in her eyes. "I know the rules. I also know how to... get past them."
"...what do you want to know?" Shinji growled. It took all of his strength not to attack the insolent girl in front of him, and in the end it was only the knowledge that he stood no chance against her that kept him from doing so.
"Ah, thank you being so cooperative!" She exclaimed, and skipped backwards a step, widening the distance between the two once more. "Now... where is Matou Sakura?"
Shinji blinked. "Her? Of all the things, you want to know where she is?" He frowned. "It's always her..." He muttered under his breath.
"Sakura should have been at Emiya's house." Rin said. "She wasn't when I arrived, and neither was Emiya-kun or Saber. What I did find, on the other hand, was a ruined living room and several puddles of blood." She narrowed her eyes, and Shinji was subjected to the full force of her glare. "So tell me, what happened to her, Matou-kun?"
"She returned to her home." Shinji said with an air of finality. "Back to where she belongs."
"...was she returned by force?" Rin asked. Her voice was gentle, but Shinji could hear the growing anger in Rin's words.
"Emiya was an idiot, as usual." Shinji replied. "He gave me no choice-."
His sentence was interrupted by a lightning quick backhand from Rin. His head snapped to the side, and he whirled, collapsing onto his back from the force of the blow. His head spun, and Shinji groaned as he tried to reorient himself.
Rin knelt down and grabbed the teen by his shirt, pulling him up until her eyes bored into his once more. This time, all pretenses of gentleness were gone, leaving behind only cold anger and professionalism.
"What. Did. You. Do?" She growled.
Shinji chuckled. "I just followed orders, Tohsaka. When he refused to return my dear sister to me, I followed Grandfather's orders and rendered him unable to fight me."
"I find it hard to believe that you, a non magus, could defeat three people, one of them a Servant." Rin said. "Explain." Her interrogation left no room for lies, and Shinji found himself telling the truth to the girl he'd once entertained delusions of conquering.
"I... Gramps gave me Assassin." He coughed, and continued speaking weakly. "He distracted Saber long enough for me to knock Emiya out and take back Sakura."
"How did you acquire enough strength do such a thing?" Rin pressed him. "Emiya-kun may not be very bright, but he was strong enough to fight Caster's familiars. There's no way for a non-magus like you to beat him unless... ah." She blinked. "So... it was Zouken that empowered you... but how could he boost a non-magus to such high levels?"
"Don't... underestimate the Matou magecraft." Shinji grinned. "Sure it may have had some unintended side effects..." It would be a while before he was good looking again, with his face ruined. "But I am definitely a magus now, despite your thoughts to the contrary, Tohsaka."
Rin clenched her fists tightly, trying desperately to understand what had happened. Shinji suddenly a magus, Sakura abducted, and Shirou wounded... how had this happened?
"Tell me what happened." She said. "All of it."
Shinji chuckled. "What's there to tell that you don't already know? I took back my sister. Emiya wasn't so happy about that, so he and his Servant pursued us and intruded upon my home." He looked back at the ruin. "In the end, despite all his big talk, Gramps lost and got killed. When I woke up I was lying here, and then you showed up. That's all that happened."
"...that's it?" Rin asked.
Shinji nodded weakly. "That's it. Can you let me down now?"
Rin sighed and released her hold on Shinji's shirt, letting the boy fall to the ground on his back. "So I'm back to square one... well, at least Sakura's probably okay with Emiya-kun." She shot a glance towards Shinji. "I should kill you." She said in her normal voice, as if speaking pleasantly about the weather.
"Are you going to, Tohsaka?" Shinji asked, and coughed again. This time there was less blood, perhaps signifying that the worms were ceasing to revolt... or that his body was beginning to die. "I'm uninvolved now. There's no reason for me to be killed." He said weakly.
"The fact remains that you abducted an innocent girl and tried to kill one of my friends." Rin said. "And you are from a rival family..." She pondered for a few moments, letting the boy on the ground sweat, wondering whether or not he would live through the next moments.
But in the end, Tohsaka Rin was too merciful for her own good, and she knew it. "I suppose Sakura needs at least one sibling..." She murmured to herself, and shot a glance at Shinji. "Even if it's this creep." She then raised her voice and addressed Shinji directly. "Rejoice." She said dryly. "For God has decided to bless you with the gift of life."
"You'll let me live?" Shinji asked, hopeful. It was bad enough that he had to beg Tohsaka for mercy, but if she said no, then he would die like a dog. And he refused to accept that.
"Yeah. Treasure your life while you still have it, Matou-kun. And I do hope you rethink how you treat your sister." She added lightly. "I've decided to take a personal interest in her, and I'd hate to see you trying to emulate your late grandfather."
"Ah..." Shinji nodded, trying to stay calm, and only barely keeping himself from doing something rash. He only had to swallow his pride and beg this once. Just one more time letting Tohsaka walk all over him, and he'd be able to surpass her and return the favor in the future. "Understood."
"Good." Rin turned away from the fallen boy, and took a single step away.
However, it was only one, and no more, as she was stopped by hand clutching her ankle.
"Wait..." A voice that sounded almost nothing like Shinji's greeted her. It was completely unfamiliar to her, yet she felt like she should have known almost instantly who it was.
She turned once more, and looked at Shinji. His hand tightened around her foot, and she resisted the urge to screams as she felt her bones shift. Instead, she directed all of her reinforcement to that foot, keeping it from breaking under Shinji's suddenly powerful grip.
"...what is this?" She said.
"Ha." Shinji chuckled weakly. "Oh... I don't want to die." He confessed. His eyes were empty, and though they functioned and gazed at Rin, she could tell that they didn't see her. "I was... so close. Just a little more, and the Grail would have been in my hands!" Those were not the words of Matou Shinji. The style of speaking, the intonation, it was all wrong.
Rin frowned. "Who are you?" She asked curtly.
"So close... so close..." The new voice moaned. "How disappointing... I was almost there." He whispered. As his voice became quieter, his eyes focused, and he finally seemed to notice Rin's presence.
Their eyes made contact for a single moment.
Abruptly, he laughed. A distorted noise from a distorted throat, Shinji, or whoever possessed him, laughed. "Ahahaha! I know you, Tohsaka! I have never laid eyes on you, yet I can recognize the scent of the Tohsaka blood even in this condition! You may be young, you may be foolish, but I can smell your bloodline! Are you here to laugh, Tohsaka? Are you here to laugh at the last of the Makiri? Do you think you can mock me so?"
"I..." Rin paused. "You... you're Matou Zouken, aren't you?" She had never seen the man before, but her father had told her the names of the Matou as a child. This was Shinji's grandfather, speaking through the body of his own flesh and blood. "Is this... the Matou magecraft?"
"...so you don't know." Shinji, or Zouken, spat blood onto the floor to clear his throat before continuing to speak. His voice was already noticeably raspier. "No, of course you don't. You are but a child, still ignorant to the cruel reality of the world around you."
"I'm no child!" Rin retorted before she had time to think. "I am a magus! I have walked with death!"
"To think it would end this way..." Zouken continued to talk, forgetting about Rin's presence completely. Shinji's eyes had clouded over once more. "In the end, although the False Grail was completed, I never had time to assert my control over it. It is a pity. Only a few more minutes... and I would have finally been able to see my wish granted."
"False Grail..." Rin frowned. "This is too much for me to handle... what is going on here?" First Sakura's had been abducted by her own family, who possessed Assassin, then Shirou and Saber had killed Matou Zouken, something she found hard to accept. Even though she knew almost nothing of the Matou magecraft, her father of all people had talked about Zouken with a modicum of respect. And someone her father respected shouldn't have been able to lose to a no-good magus. But even more curiously, Zouken still lived in his own grandson, and now he spoke about a Fake Grail? It was too much. Everything was moving too fast for her to comprehend.
"...well, it doesn't matter now." Zouken spoke through Shinji one last time. "Now that the False Grail has been freed from my control, it will destroy everything unless it is stopped. And then you'll be left to pick up the pieces, Tohsaka." He chuckled weakly one more time, and released Rin's foot. He forced Shinji to roll onto his back, and stared at the cloudy sky.
"...just... von... ...bern..."
He took one more rasping breath, and lay still. The death Matou Zouken had sought to escape finally caught up with him, and his old, rotten soul collapsed.
Rin looked down at Shinji's still body. She knelt down and felt for a pulse. Surprisingly, it seemed that Shinji was still alive, but she could tell that the possession had ended. Zouken was dead for good this time.
"This is... not good." Yes. While it would no doubt take at least an hour of reviewing her memories to come up with a viable hypothesis as to what had happened, Rin knew that whatever this development was, it was definitely not good. And right now, there was one very important thing she had to do.
"I have to talk to Sakura." Rin said to herself, as she set off running back into the city.
"Haah!" Shirou swung with all of his might. He pushed his aching muscles to their limit, ignoring the burning pain in his stomach, and the dozen other wounds covering his body. He pushed forward, swinging the weapon in his hands towards his target, aiming to strike!
With a clang, the gigantic axe smashed through the Monohoshizao, destroying the inferior weapon as if it was made of glass. However, Shirou's swing had been enough, and the crude axe sailed over his shoulder, embedding itself into a wall and not the boy's head.
Shirou didn't pause. As soon as he felt his weapon break, he activated his circuit and recreated it from memory. The sword was back in his hands, and the boy swung it once more, pushing aside a golden rapier aimed at his throat. The thin sword was deflected more easily than the axe, but simply touching it was enough to melt through Shirou's sword and break it once more.
"That makes thirteen." The golden man said casually. He reclined against the wall by the street lazily, not moving as his armoury slowly cornered Shirou. "Congratulations, you've surpassed your previous status as a worthless whelp. You are now fit to lick the ground beneath my feet. Come, if you survive until fifty I might keep you alive as my slave for a few days!"
Shirou didn't respond. Instead, he took the brief respite to look at Saber. The first thing he had done when the golden man arrived was step in front of her, but the mysterious Servant's attacks had slowly pushed him back until he could feel her body behind him. She hadn't reacted all that time, and Shirou could only hope that she was alive. Sakura, on the other hand, had been completely ignored, and was still lying next to the wall, only a few meters from Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh snapped his fingers, and another weapon soared from his Gate of Babylon, this time aimed at Shirou's chest. It was heavy golden hammer, and Shirou knew instinctively that he would not be able to redirect it with any amount of skill. He simply wasn't powerful enough, and neither was his weapon.
Still, even though he had grasped that it was impossible, his sword sliced through the air as if following its own will. It made contact with the offending weapon, and shattered, unable to do any more than slightly nudge the hammer off course.
Shirou raised his hand in a futile effort to defend himself, but there was no need. Just before the weapon could hit him and end his life, it bounced off the suddenly solid air in front of Shirou.
"Huh? Saber!" Shirou's exclamation went unheard by his Servant, who staggered to her feet with her unseen weapon as a crutch. Her breathing was heavy and uneven thanks to the two rapidly healing holes in her lungs, but she could stand and fight, even if only barely.
"You..." Her gaze was fixed on the golden man. "Why are you still in this world, Archer?" As she tried to control her voice, Gilgamesh chuckled.
"There is no need for a reason. All that matters is that I remain. I have waited ten years for you, King of Knights." He stopped laughing, and his smile became a frown. "Yet all I see is you constantly failing!" He snapped his fingers, and two almost identical weapons shot towards the wounded Saber.
With a pained cry, she twisted and swung outwards with her sword. Both weapons struck, and bounced off her invisible blade, embedding into the wall behind her. She panted, trying to regain her breath from a movement that would normally be nothing to her.
"Again I see such weakness in you." He continued. "You failed so many times that it was almost unbearable for me to watch. Are you truly the woman I chose all those years ago?" His gaze was like an unbearable weight pressing down on Saber, and if it had been anyone else they would not have been able to stand up to it, but Saber returned his glare with one of her own.
"You failed against Berserker. You lost to Assassin. And worst of all, you degraded yourself to serve such a pathetic Master!" Three weapons shot from the air behind him, this time aimed at Shirou. Saber positioned herself in front of the boy, and stopped two of the three with her sword. But the third slashed open her shoulder armour, drawing blood again. Only the tightening of Saber's eyes signified the pain she was in. Despite her already heavy wounds, she stood straight and true against the interloper threatening Shirou's life.
"The woman I saw ten years ago was more than that. She was worthy of becoming one of my treasures!" Gilgamesh continued, launching more and more swords towards Saber. She struggled to stop them, and couldn't help but take more wounds as she tried desperately to protect both herself and Shirou. The flow of her enemy's attack was too erratic and rough. She could not move forward for fear of leaving her Master undefended, and so she was forced to stand her ground and weather waves and waves of weapons, like a rock against the approaching tide.
"So... even now, you seek me." Saber grunted as she parried an especially heavy spear. She felt the heavy wound in her back reopen, and almost lost her already precarious balance. "Ah!" It was only the steadying arm of Shirou that kept her from falling to the ground.
"Saber... I don't know what's going on, but I won't let you fall!" Shirou said. "I'm not going to lose you too!" With that, he stepped in front of his Servant, and projected Sasaki Kojirou's blade once more. He pointed it towards Gilgamesh, and growled. "I don't care who you are, I won't let you hurt Saber anymore! I've already failed once today, and I won't do so again!"
"Shirou... I will protect you as long as I can move." The warrior in his arms was in pain, yet she couldn't stop a small, weak smile from appearing on her face. It only lasted a fraction of a second, but the golden king noticed it instantly, and it only bolstered his rage.
"...you." Gilgamesh's gaze was now fully concentrated on Shirou. Simply the pressure from the King of Heroes was enough to almost send the young magus to his knees. It was only because of Saber's support that he managed to withstand it. "I was going to spare you, but you have forced my hand. Although it will be a pain to keep Saber in the world after you are gone, there are other options. But thanks to you I have been forced to rid myself of the easiest one."
He pointed his fingers towards Shirou, and brought them together. The golden king's crimson eyes burned. "Be gone from my sight!"
As he snapped his fingers, the rain came.
It was not a rain of water, but weapons. A torrent of swords, spears, and axes sprung from the air itself to slash apart Saber and Shirou. If the sword rain had been a faucet, then previously it would have been leaking droplets of water one by one. But now that it had been opened, there would be no stopping the flow.
Saber pressed forward, moving in front of Shirou and knocking away two twisted lumps of metal apparently meant to be blades. However, at the same time she opened herself up to be struck by a small dagger that had snuck underneath. She braced herself for impact, but the weapon never reached her. Shirou's blade flicked underneath and around, and redirected the flying blade to the side with almost unnatural skill.
Her Master took a step forward, moving in front of his wounded Servant with a suicidal determination. He slashed three times in the blink of an eye, and a trio of weapons, an axe, lance, and sword, all flew upwards into the night sky. But behind them was a staff built like a battering ram, and Monohoshizao had already shattered from deflecting the previous weapons. He nonetheless pressed forward, intent on blocking the offending weapon with his own body.
It never came to that. Wordlessly, Saber pushed forward, knocking the staff away with her supernatural strength, but at the same time putting her in a position to be struck by a silver claymore coming from the side. Shirou saw that and knocked the weapon away with his newly recreated sword.
It was an almost suicidal charge. Against the great number of Noble Phantasms, the duo instinctively realized that they stood no chance of winning. No matter what they did, no matter how they fought, in their conditions they would not be able to defeat the golden king's treasury, only delay the inevitable.
In the end, it was their bond that let them survive. The weak boy and the wounded warrior could not have lived by themselves, so they charged together, each compensating for the other's weakness. As Shirou slashed upwards, Saber swung low. What they could not stop apart, they somehow managed to survive together.
Each recklessly threw themselves into the line of fire. Saber charged into a bad position to stop the weapons heading for Shirou, and her Master disposed of defending himself altogether just to stop his Servant from being impaled. The teamwork born of instinct and desperation went up against an unstoppable onslaught, and somehow endured against all odds.
But the king was not so easily stopped.
"Don't get cocky..."
For he had used only a fraction of his true power!
The gate opened wide. The tap cracked open, releasing an unstoppable deluge of weaponry. It could not be compared to the previous attack. The number of weapons had doubled at least, and Shirou could tell just by looking at them that the quality was ridiculously high. At least as high as Lancer's Gae Bolg had been!
Still, he and Saber moved. The wounded girl swung and struck three tiny knives that had been flung towards Shirou's vital spots. The bounced off her sword, but the barrier of invisibility that covered it was ripped apart from the strain, and faded, revealing a beautiful golden blade for a second. Even as his eyes were drawn to the magnificent holy sword, Shirou projected Monohoshizao in one hand, and a wooden sword in his other. He swung wildly towards the air in front of Saber, and for a moment it looked to him as if he had slashed three times in one moment, enough to redirect the weapons flying towards his Servant.
For a moment they were safe. For a tiny period of time the space around Shirou and Saber was clear of weapons.
Then a curved and twisted dagger slipped through, stabbing Saber in the shoulder and knocking her back. Immediately, a sword struck Shirou's stomach, reopening his old wound and pushing him backwards, until he was on his back, lying next to Saber and coughing out blood.
"Hmph. I dislike leeches that do not have the decency to die." Gilgamesh said as the flow of weapons stopped. "But at last you see how worthless your efforts are. You can no more survive my attacks than the moon can outshine the sun." He made to step forward, but hesitated as he saw one of his fallen foes still moving.
Shirou growled, and his hand grasped the hilt of the sword that was not yet there. As Monohoshizao materialized in his hands, he used it as a crutch to prop himself up. Breathing heavily, he confronted the Golden King once more. "Don't think... I'll let you... harm... Saber." It was a struggle just to get the words out, but Shirou persevered nonetheless. He couldn't die. He couldn't let Saber disappear. He couldn't fail... again.
Gilgamesh actually paused, and scrutinized the boy. "I suppose cockroaches are tenacious creatures, at least." He admitted. "But you cannot defeat me, whelp. Just stand still, and I will be done with you in a moment."
"Eh?" Shirou blinked as Gilgamesh closed his eyes, not attacking at all. "What?" Why had the golden king stopped? Shirou was almost dead, and Gilgamesh could have wiped the boy out at any time!
"...as sloppy as ever." Gilgamesh said, just before a bolt of crimson shot towards his head.
It stopped, inches from his head. The red spear called Gae Bolg was plainly visible, and Gilgamesh examined it with some interest as it hung mere inches from his face, embedded in a crystal shield and hanging in the air.
Another blur shot towards Archer, blue this time. Lancer moved faster than Shirou had ever seen the man go, slamming his feet into the crystal shield and gripping his lance with both hands. He pressed forward, and the shield Gilgamesh had put up cracked more and more, until it only barely stayed together.
Lancer jumped backwards, yanking his spear out of the shield and landing on the ground next to Shirou. At the same time half a dozen weapons materialized where the spearman had been moments before. Had he been any slower, there wouldn't have been any bits of Lancer left.
"I was waiting for that." Gilgamesh remarked as Lancer frowned. "Really, for such a quick man you sure are awfully slow when it comes to going for the killing blow."
"Just making sure I was aiming for a person and not a bunch of gaudy jewellery thrown together." Lancer retorted dryly. Shirou blinked, unable to comprehend the reality in front of him. Why was Lancer there? Hadn't the spearman left? Hadn't the argued? Wasn't their alliance over?
Lancer didn't even look at the wounded boy behind him. He only narrowed his eyes as he beheld Gilgamesh. "Who... are you?" He said slowly. "I saw you earlier, before that bastard of a Master sent me out, but your body is dissimilar to a Servant's. Are you some kind of monster?"
"Hah." Gilgamesh smiled cruelly at the blue spearman. "It appears I almost forgot to inform you. Your Master sends a message. We are allies now, Lancer. And your next order is to finish off Saber's Master. Come, if you accomplish your task quickly enough I might see fit to reward you."
"..." Lancer frowned. He looked back at Shirou, who tried to work up a glare but only managed a pained grimace. "What the hell... are you his Servant?" Sure, the aura was similar, and normally Lancer would immediately peg the blond man as a Servant, but there were already 7, and he had met all of them. It was impossible!
"I serve no one." Gilgamesh said coolly. "But I am the victor of the previous War, and I saw fit to grace your Master's abode with my presence for the last few years, as we are similar people."
"Why didn't he tell me about it?" Lancer asked, still suspicious.
"Heh. Why should he have?" Gilgamesh said. "Or would you have wished to cooperate with me?"
Lancer's grip on Gae Bolg tightened. He had almost no idea of what was going on. Kotomine suddenly possessed a second Servant, who he was supposed to accept? He could tell that the golden man wasn't lying, but it was a hard order to choke down. Cooperate... with someone like him? It was...
"No way. I'd rather die than cooperate with you, Goldie. Besides, didn't I say it earlier?" Lancer grinned madly like a man with a death wish. "You're on my list! And I'm going to beat Saber fair and square, not by killing her idiot Master!"
"As expected, even someone like you has pride." Gilgamesh murmured, and he couldn't hold back a smile. "Fine. Don't cooperate. I'll kill Saber's Master myself, and keep her alive with one of my artifacts. You'll be able to fight her at full power and get slaughtered later. You have my word, Lancer. Is that to your satisfaction?"
Lancer paused. Even though it had previously looked like he'd oppose Gilgamesh, he suddenly relaxed. "..." He didn't reply to the golden Servant's offer, but stepped away from the wounded people behind him. He sighed, and leaned against the wall next to Gilgamesh. "Hurry up and get it over with." He said. "Before someone does something incredibly stupid." He said with a nod to Shirou, whose eyes still burned with a stifled hope, and Saber, whose wounds were already closing.
Gilgamesh frowned, and moved away from Lancer's bloodstained body. "Do not approach me." He said. "I do not wish to be tainted by your filthy presence."
Lancer didn't reply. He closed his eyes, and the only sign of his barely suppressed anger he allowed to show was the slight tightening of the hand holding Gae Bolg.
Meanwhile, Saber had recovered enough to speak, and whispered to Shirou. "Shirou..." She looked at the two fearsome warriors before her. Even at her best they would be difficult opponents, but in her condition she stood next to no chance of victory. Still, she did not give up. "I know that I'm asking for something impossible, but please believe in me."
Shirou nodded weakly. "Don't worry about me." He lied, as he ripped the dagger out of his stomach wound with only a slight grimace. "I'll do my best to follow you."
Saber paused. "I... trust you." She said quietly, in a voice that seemed more suited to a shy young girl than a powerful king.
The tension stretched on. Lancer was like a statue against the wall, unmoving and ignorant of the world around him. Saber and Shirou, on the other hand, were prey betting their lives on a single chance to escape from Gilgamesh. His ruby eyes bored into Saber's, and she felt as if her entire life had been laid bare before him just from one glance. Nevertheless, she hardened her resolve.
The moved, and the world froze once more.
Saber froze with her sword raised to strike. Lancer and Gilgamesh had both reacted identically to Saber's move. Gilgamesh had slashed to his right with a longsword, at the exact same time Lancer's spear had thrust towards the golden king's head. The two attacks canceled each other out, as both killing blows repelled each other completely.
"...Lancer, there was no need to interfere." Gilgamesh said softly, nothing but amusement shining in his eyes.
Lancer shrugged. "Sorry, my hand slipped. I mistook your ridiculous face for a pest and naturally swung before I could think."
"Are you breaking our agreement?" Gilgamesh asked, still eerily calm.
"Agreement?" Lancer tilted his head quizzically. "I don't recall ever agreeing to anything. All I said was that you'd better hurry up before someone does something stupid. It looks like you took too long, Goldie."
"...so you have chosen to disobey your Master's orders and betray him?" The golden king's eyes glowed. "Is that it, Lancer? Are you going to protect these two even after they rejected you?"
"Lancer..." Saber gasped. "Even after all we've done to you?"
"Don't you start." Lancer shook his head. "If you're thinking of saying some stupid sentimental stuff, you might as well keep your mouth shut. I'm not helping you. Our alliance is over." He opened his eyes, and glared directly at the golden king without flinching. "All I'm doing here is following my beliefs!"
He grinned, and raised his weapon. All hesitation had disappeared from his eyes. Yes, Lancer already knew what had to be done. He would fight his enemy, and win. Nothing would stand between him and his wish, not even some smug Kings! He would beat this man, then duel and defeat Saber, and finally he would have his wish and bring her back...
He frowned. Why was it that when he thought of it, something seemed off? As if it didn't fit in his mind? What was he forgetting? Was it the sheer impossibility of his actions? No, he was used to surviving unwinnable battles. It must have been something else, something inherently wrong with his plan.
Before Lancer could remember what it was that irked him, he was forced to raise his lance, barely deflecting a silver knife that was aimed straight at his face. He glared at Gilgamesh, who merely smirked.
"What? Do you wish for me to grant you even more time to think? You've already wasted enough of my time, mutt, and I shall not allow you to take even more! I shall finish you here and now!" Gilgamesh snapped his fingers, and the gate opened once more. Lancer saw dozens upon dozens of weapons floating in the abyss, and instinctively knew that he could not allow even one to strike him. In his condition, a single wound could mean death.
Two mouths curled into identical grins.
Lancer flew forward.
The weapons approached.
The clash began.
"Ah..." Shirou stared numbly as the two warriors dueled. It was amazing, and he could honestly see the difference between his clumsy movements and Lancer's. As Gilgamesh attempted to pummel the spearman with weapons, Lancer jumped around like an energetic cricket, always one move ahead. He moved to places free of weapons, choosing the best path to avoid being struck. Occasionally he would deflect a weapon with Gae Bolg, but most of the man's focus was on avoidance and not being struck. "It's... amazing." Even as he watched, the two's battle drifted away from the wounded couple, and down the street. He had no idea how no one had discovered the battle, but frankly didn't care at the moment.
"Shirou..." Saber said in front of him as she all but collapsed. Shirou dived to his knees and caught his Servant in his arms. Her wounds had almost all closed, save for the recent one in her shoulder. "You must... run." She said weakly. "Hurry, before Archer realizes you're still here and comes back to finish you off."
"I'm not leaving without you." Shirou said firmly. "C'mon, you should have recovered enough strength to stand up. I'll get Sakura, and we can go home together." He grabbed Saber around the waist and stood her up, making sure she could support herself. She seemed stable, if slightly unfocused, but as soon as he let go she collapsed again.
"Saber?" He asked, slightly more worried this time. "What's wrong? You were almost healed a moment ago!" His voice shook as he saw the light in Saber's eyes begin to dim. Her form seemed to waver for a moment, and his heart skipped a beat as it seemed she would disappear.
But the girl grunted, and raised a hand shakily. She grabbed the dagger in her shoulder, and yanked it out with a muffled cry of pain. "Shirou... look at this." She whispered.
The boy took the weapon from Saber's hand, and cradled it in his hands like a dangerous explosive. At first glance it looked less like a knife and more like a work of art. It was crooked, bent, and obviously not originally meant to wound. If he had to, he'd say it was more of a ceremonial decoration than something meant to kill. In fact, it looked very familiar...
Another, almost identical dagger flashed through his mind. He'd seen this before. This weapon was something that one other person had drawn out. "That's... impossible." It hadn't been a man, but a woman. In fact, he'd seen the dagger very recently. The memory of it was burned into his mind, as he had been close to death when he'd seen it. He knew this blade. He knew its name.
"Rule Breaker." He gasped. The weapon clattered to the ground as he turned his hand over to look at his command spells. No, that was wrong. He looked at where his command spells should have been.
They were gone. As if he had never received him, the back of his hand was completely clean of any imperfection.
He looked back up at Saber. She smiled weakly. "Sorry... Shirou." She managed to say.
"We can restore the contract!" Shirou heard himself yelling. It's not too late, Saber!" He clutched her hand desperately. "Come on, we can't waste the chance Lancer gave us! Become my Servant again!"
"It... won't work." She said quietly. "You are no longer a Master, Shirou. Our contract no longer exists. Go, you have no need for me anymore. Take Sakura and run. I shall assist Lancer until I disappear." She forced herself to her feet, once more using her invisible blade as a crutch. She closed her eyes and looked within at her remaining levels of prana.
"I will be able to remain in this world for a few minutes longer." She said after a moment. "That should be enough to distract Archer. Shirou, if you run now you will be able to flee."
"Shirou, you must!" Saber shouted weakly. "Don't let my sacrifice be in vain. I am a Heroic Spirit, and I shall be summoned in another War, but I will not let you die!"
"No, it's not that." Shirou replied. Saber looked up, and saw what the problem was.
Shirou's face had gone white. His eyes were wide, and close to tears. He was looking at Sakura's body.
Or rather, the spot where Sakura's body had been. Now there was nothing but empty wall and a trail of blood leading around one of the street corners.
"She's gone, Saber." He whispered. "She's gone."
Saber grabbed Shirou's hand, and with difficulty dragged the numbed boy down the street, following the trail of blood. "Come on, we can still find her!" The two followed the direction of the bloodstains, which just happened to be the direction that Lancer and 'Archer's' battle had moved.
They rounded the corner, and the previously dim sound of weapons clashing intensified as they did so. Once more the pitched battle came into view. At one end of a short street stood Lancer, and at the other was Gilgamesh, still firing swords without breaking a sweat.
Lancer swung his lance wildly, knocking weapons away from his body with reckless speed. He had seemingly forgotten his previous tactic of focusing on evading, and charged forward, trying to break through the waves of weaponry launched his way. He was like an arrowhead struggling against the wind, sharpening his body to become a smaller target. Gae Bolg pushed away swords left and right, somehow surviving the onslaught of weaponry. Every time a sword struck the tip of Lancer's spear, tiny chips of red flaked off the legendary weapon. It was a testament to his skill that Lancer had managed to keep it from being shattered by Gilgamesh's superior arsenal.
"Hah! An interesting performance!" Gilgamesh called out, his arms folded. "If you manage to reach and strike me, I may consider remembering you afterwards."
"Thanks... for the compliment." Lancer grunted as he knocked away an especially heavy staff and took a step forward. "But I've got a lot more than this, Goldie. Don't disappoint me by being a one trick pony now."
Gilgamesh responded be increasing the number of weapons trying to eviscerate Lancer. The spearman halted momentarily as he tried to adjust to the superior amount of killing tools. Several blades brushed past his armour, cutting shallow gashes into his flesh. But soon enough he resumed his slow charge forward.
Knives and rapiers cut gashes in his flesh, but still he continued.
Axes and hammers threatened to obliterate him in one blow, yet he dodged by a hair and pressed on.
Lances and staves sliced off more and more of his body, yet the spearman did not retreat a single step. He had already long given up hope of surviving. He knew that if he Disengaged from the battle now, it would go against his beliefs, and that was not an option. He would not retreat, even if all that awaited was death. He had no choice but to move forward!
"No matter what... we always... have... a choice..."
He blinked, and a ducked as a decorative kukri almost took one of his ears off. "Gah... whatever! I'll break through no matter what!" He continued with renewed determination, trying to banish the weak thoughts from his head.
"He's... insane." Shirou whispered as he saw the spearman continue his charge into Gilgamesh's sword spam. "I thought what I did was crazy, but this is many times worse!"
"If anyone can do it, it's Lancer." Saber said weakly. "He is certainly fast enough, but in his condition, there is little chance of success."
"What? Sure he must be low on prana, but he's as fast as ever!" Shirou protested.
"It's not a matter of speed." Saber sighed. "Ever since Sakura's death, he has not been the same. You might not have noticed, but I saw it the second you struck him."
"I... you lost me." Shirou confessed.
"Just watch." Saber said. "You'll see soon enough, if you still refuse to flee as you should."
The youth focused his eyes on Lancer's movements, barely able to follow them even with Monohoshizao in his hands, and in seconds he saw it. Lancer was about to flawlessly deflect a heavy axe, but for a moment his body stiffened and it sliced into his shoulder before he could knock it away. A few seconds later, Lancer failed to stop a slow moving staff, and it struck his knee with a sickening crack. The spearman tightened his mouth and continued, but Shirou saw exactly what the problem was.
"Why... why is he hesitating?" He asked his former Servant. "He's better than this! Even that gold guy knows it!"
"It was his oath, Shirou." Saber said miserably. "Breaking an oath like that... its effects on Lancer were more than psychological. It has weakened him, and he knows it."
"But... can he win like that?"
Saber shook her head slowly. "No, Shirou. No he can't."
"Ah..." Shirou fell to his knees. "Damnit, and after all I said to Lancer, he's still helping us even though he knows he can't win..."
"I did not say victory was impossible, Shirou." Saber stood with difficulty. She breathed once more, and opened her eyes. Once more, her aura of royalty returned. Just from staring at her Shirou knew that his Servant would be able to fight at full power regardless of her wounds. "Alone, he will fail. But if I help him..." She clenched her invisible blade. "We might be able to win."
"But you..." Shirou couldn't finish his sentence. He bit his lip until he drew blood. It was frustrating. Being powerless was frustrating. Knowing there was nothing he could do... knowing that Saber would inevitably die trying to buy him time to live... knowing that even though there was someone in front of him in need of saving, he could do nothing was... horrifying.
Saber smiled at him one last time, and Shirou swore to himself that he would never forget that smile. As she turned from him and to the one sided battle, Shirou slammed the ground with his fist.
And then, he did something he had never considered before. With all hope gone, with his body barely able to move, with someone he cared about ready to die before his eyes, Shirou prayed for a miracle.
The ground rumbled.
The flow of weapons from Gilgamesh's gate stopped almost instantly. Lancer dug Gae Bolg into the ground for support as his wounds threatened to disable him. Saber almost lost her balance. Shirou looked up.
The wall behind Gilgamesh collapsed, dissolving into black flakes as if it had never existed. The Golden King whirled around, and stared with surprise at the creature behind him. He took a step back involuntarily just from the sight of it.
It moved with no grace at all. It was a puppet, being controlled by forces beyond humanity. Whatever intelligence or life had existed inside it was long gone, leaving behind only an empty shell that moved clumsily and jerkily.
Its head snapped up, almost breaking the puppet's neck. The hole in its heart was easily visible, yet Gilgamesh and Lancer both saw as flesh bubbled and knit together, closing over the wound. In seconds, it was as if the blemish that had ended a life had never been there.
It giggled. The sound was wrong, as if the puppet's vocal chords could not function properly. The laugh could have been a scream, and it wouldn't have sounded any more agonizing.
Finally, it seemed to have figured out how to move the puppet to its liking, and it spoke.
Matou Sakura's mouth opened, her empty eyes captured Shirou's wide orbs, and her lips curled up into a mocking grin. Matou Sakura's vocal chords rang out, and her throat shaped the sound as it exited her mouth.
The creature that was not Matou Sakura spoke words that did not belong to Matou Sakura.