I carefully crept away from the broken window of the warehouse to retreat back to the room where the rest of us were staying. It had been a full hour since the battle (if you could call it that) with the magi and night had fallen on the city. It was likely we would spend the rest of the night hiding in the building to avoid detection. I much would have preferred to leave considering how close we were to where we were last seen, but with Troper still in his near catatonic state, I didn't know if it was safe to move him. I still wasn't fully aware of just what his Reality Marble had done to him or why, and Tohsaka (as I started to call her to not confuse her with my Rin) had been too busy trying to heal him to elaborate.
I returned to the small room in the back of the abandoned warehouse where I found the women much in the same position I left them, with Tohsaka leaning over Troper's prone form, Rin standing over the two of them in careful study and Saber standing guard at the door. As a walked in, Saber relaxed slightly and gave me a small nod before relaxing slightly. Looking back at Tohsaka, I asked "Is he doing any better?"
She gave a sigh as she leaned back and took her hand of his chest, the glow from her strange jewel covered glove diming. "I've done all I can. While I would never use the word 'stable' to describe his current condition, it's more likely than not that he'll be able to recover on his own." Troper, lying on the ground with his duster pillowed under his head, almost looked like he was having a nightmare. He was pale, and his body and face occasionally twitching.
Rin arched an eyebrow at her counterpart. "Recover from what, exactly? For that matter, what the hell did he do?"
Tohsaka gave her a look of annoyance. "I don't see how that's any of your business."
"Excuse me? It's my business because he almost killed all of us!"
"After he saved all of our lives, you ungrateful twit!"
"See here you second rate copy, I-!"
"Rin Tohsaka!" I shouted, using their full names to grab their attention. "This is not the time to be arguing. Nor is it to be holding things back." I said, looking at the dimensional traveler. Looking back at mine, I said "You know how I had been studying to internally deploy my Reality Marble before I left? That's what he did."
Rin gave me a confused look. "So, it somehow went wrong? But you told me that he was actually better than you when it came to Reality Marbles. Didn't you say that he actually deployed it externally when he first got here?"
At this, Tohsaka shook her head. "It's not a matter of skill, it's the nature of his powers." She turned to me. "If I remember correctly, you're a Sword incarnate, correct? So I'm guessing that when you deploy it internally, your body turns into a bunch of swords or some such like that."
"Well, yes." I replied to her rather casual summation of my ability.
"Exactly. His," she said tilting her head down at Troper, "works the same way."
A frown settled on Saber's face. "Wait, so you're saying that his body turns into… tropes? I do not understand how that is possible."
"To be honest, I don't really understand it either," Tohsaka said wearily. "The best description I have for it is that he turns into some kind of quasi-metaphysical being, and his body stops obeying physical laws in favor of narrative ones."
"That… doesn't really help at all." Rin remarked.
Tohsaka gave an annoyed grunt. "Look, it's like this: if someone made a story about your life, would it be a very good story if it ended on that pier? After everything you've been through and everything you still have to do?"
"Not really." The other woman replied after a moment.
"Right. He couldn't be killed during that fight because it would have made for a terrible story otherwise." She shook her head. "However, that's not important. What is important is how that affects his mind."
"Why would it-" I began before a thought suddenly struck me. "Mental contamination."
When I had started to do research into my Reality Marble, I mostly had to do so from scratch given that it was a forbidden topic of research. However, there was a bit of information in the Clock Tower archives that had been made available about the results of some failed attempts by magi who tried to create one. It was likely done to serve as a warning for anyone had thoughts of researching the topic themselves; though it was anyone's guess as to just how effective it was (it certainly didn't stop me). While most suffered from general insanity, some who had gotten farther and had become partially able to manifest their world view had been, for lack of a better term, consumed by their own power. They had turned into twisted, inhuman things before meeting a rather gruesome end. I was dimly aware that I was risk of having that happen to me, but the memories I had gotten from Archer gave me enough skill to keep that sort of thing from happening.
"Yes." Tohsaka confirmed. "In someone else's case, that would only happen if they truly lost control and became overwhelmed by the very concept of their Reality Marble. But Shirou? When he deploys it internally, his body made of nothing but concepts. He essentially feels the entire weight of it on his mind and it eats away at him. Normally he can keep it contained or separate from himself, but he doesn't have that allowance in that state."
Rin began to nod in understanding. "So he can only hold it for so long before he… falls apart."
"And then his power spills out of him." Saber added.
Rin turned to me. "And that's when you figured that if you could deploy your Reality Marble, even if it was for such a short distance and time, you could suppress his power and let him get back to normal."
I gave a shrug. "It seemed logical at the time. It's a good thing it did work too, as I have no idea how he managed to stop himself the last time it hap-" I abruptly cut off as I realized that I was speaking of something that I shouldn't know about.
Unfortunately, Tohsaka still noticed and looked at me with a very suspicious and intense look. "And just what do you know about the last time this happened to my Shriou?"
"Uh," I said while I tried to think of a way around explaining that I had seen a very personal memory that I shouldn't have. However, I knew better than to try lying to Rin Tohsaka, so after a moment I slumped my shoulders and said "Did Troper ever tell you how he ended up absorbing Archer's memories?"
Tohsaka blinked in confusion at the apparent non-sequitur. "Yes, he said that when he and Archer were inside his Reality Marble, the two of… them…" she trailed off and her face became a shade paler. "Oh. How much did you see?"
"Bits and pieces, but that particular event was quite clear."
"Wait, I do not understand." Saber spoke up. "What happened?"
"Back when I fought Archer in his Unlimited Blade Works, the similarity of our souls allowed a sort of resonance between the two of us, causing memories to be exchanged." I explained. "Troper and I have had a similar connection ever since he got here, albeit a much weaker one given how different we are from each other. However, with both our souls manifested at the same time…" I trailed off as I tried to properly express what happen without accidently slipping into an innuendo that would cause both Rins to undoubtedly make fun of me. "Well, let's just say the connection was briefly increased, and the memory that I saw was the one most relevant to the situation."
"Ok, so what made him go all end of the world mode the last time?" Rin asked.
I didn't say anything, and looked to Tohsaka instead. It really wasn't my place to say, after all.
She didn't say anything for several moments, instead looking at Troper's prone form. Eventually, she simply said. "That was the day we lost Saber."
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence before Saber said "That is enough. You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
To my surprise, Tohsaka replied "It's fine. I haven't really talked about it with anyone other than him for the past few years." She gave a small sniff as she gestured at the man before her. "Though it's not much a of a story really. The Clock Tower found out that Saber was a Heroic Spirit left over from the war when an Apostle Hunt went bad, and she had to save everyone. The High Lords did not like the idea of me having control of such powerful spirit. So, they chose to eliminate her."
Saber gave a somewhat indignant huff. "I would hope that they had some trouble with that. I would doubt that any mage in this day and age would be able to bring me low easily."
Tohsaka let out a sad and bitter laugh. "Yeah, that's what they thought too. Which is why they captured the two of us first and threatened to kill us if she didn't submit."
"What! Of all the dishonorable, disgraceful-"
"That's was she thought, too," the dark haired woman said, a small bit of mirth shining through before she slipped back into melancholy. "Of course, you can guess what happened next. Saber sacrificed herself to save us. Shirou… lost it." A small grim smile crossed her face. "He made them pay for it though."
A silence settled among us. Rin and Saber reflected on what that must have been like, but I didn't have to. I had all but lived it. "So, how did he snap out of it that time?" I asked.
"Zelretch." Tohsaka replied. "I'm not sure if we got lucky or if it's just more evidence of Shirou's power's being absurd, but the Wizard Marshal appeared and did… something before things got out of hand. He took an interest in Shirou's power, and gave us an offer. If we turned him down, he would leave us be, but that would mean we'd have to deal with the Clock Tower on our own, and considering Shirou had just killed a fair number of them as well as showing the true nature of his powers…" she trailed of for a moment and shivered. "I wasn't going to lose him. Not after Saber."
"So what was the deal?" Rin asked, curious what a person like Zelretch would want with the pair.
"That we would go with him and become his apprentices, but it was more than that. He wanted something from us. Well," Tohsaka grumbled. "Something from Shirou. I was brought along as a sort of… clean slate, a fresh perspective to analyze the Second Magic. Even now I'm not sure of the full extent of what he has planed for us, but he promised us that by helping him… we would find a way to save Saber."
I blinked in confusion at this statement. "How could you possibly do that? She died. Were you trying to start the Heaven's Feel Ritual again?"
"Absolutely not." She replied with a small amount of venom. "I've had more than enough of that for one lifetime. Besides, I doubt that it would have worked. Saber had made her choice."
"What do you mean?"
Instead of answering Tohsaka gave a meaningful glance at Saber. The Servant shifted a little and she was the one to answer. "I believe she means that my counterpart chose to let go." A pair of stares from me and Rin got her to continue. "I have told you how I am different from the other Servants, how I still have my body. You know that I made a deal with the World to try for the Holy Grail in exchange for service. However, if I chose, I could nullify the deal at any time."
"What? What would happen then?" Rin asked.
"Between my manifestations of when I am summoned, I return to the moment just before my death. If I chose and the deal was nullified, I would simply return and die. I would only do so if I thought that I could never achieve my goal of restoring Britain." She shifted uncomfortably. "However, since I have come t be with you and lived in the world for some time, I have started to think that what I have done in the past is not something I should be ashamed of, or should be changed."
"And when Saber dies, her soul will go to the Fey land of Avalon, where not even the most powerful of magics can reach." Tohsaka said in a distant tone.
"But if that's the case, then what are you-" I started before it hit me. "You're trying to find a way into Avalon?"
Tohsaka gave a small snort. "If only it were that simple. No, while I imagine that Zelretch would like to try that some day, I don't think well ever be able to do that. What he wants us for, and what were trying to do, is related to an aspect of the Second Magic which the Wizard Marshal has yet to master: Time."
There was pause before Rin said slowly "You're trying to save Saber… using time travel?"
"…sort of." Tohsaka replied before she gestured in frustration. "It doesn't work like that. Time isn't a line that you can just go up and down. It's all probabilities and outcomes. And just looking at things, much less going to actual times, changes those probabilities and outcomes. You could almost never actually go to the past, as doing so would cause it to split off into a whole new parallel world. I say almost because she," she said as she pointed at Saber. "proves otherwise."
Saber arched an eyebrow. "I don't understand how my own situation helps you in this regard."
The other woman sighed. "It truth, it really just proves it possible. We have… well, Shirou has an idea, and it's the best one we've got." She turned to me. "You've been browsing that accursed website. Are you familiar with the tricked out time trope?"
I gave it a moment's thought. "That's the one where time travel occurs so people can go back and fix something, but make everything look like it happened the way it originally did, right?"
"Right. When Saber's soul went back for the final time, there are a few moments before she dies and the gates of Avalon are opened for her. With the sheath implanted in Shirou, we can find out when the gates where last opened. If we do it right, we can go back, save her before she dies, and bring her back with us, with history saying King Arthur died that day as he should."
Rin frowned at this. "That's… rather complicated, and sounds like its based mostly on conjecture and theories. Do you really think it'll work?"
Tohsaka didn't reply at first, instead looking down at Troper. She knelt down and began to wipe the sweat off of his forehead. "It doesn't matter what I believe." She finally said. "He believes he can do it. He believes with all of his soul." She turned to give me a meaningful look. "When a person like the two of you believes in something that much, what's actually possible isn't really a consideration."
There wasn't much else to be said after that. Tohsaka continued to tend to the man, and the rest of us stood around for a minute or two, thinking about the plight of the two in front of us. Eventually, Rin asked "Do you think we can head back now?"
I grimaced. "I wouldn't want to risk it. I still haven't completely recovered from my own Reality Marble, and we'd still have to carry Troper back with us."
Saber nodded. "Then you should rest for a while longer. I will take watch." With that, she left the room to go patrol near the other end of the warehouse.
I felt the weariness start to sink into my body, but I didn't want to collapse right there. I felt out of place being in the same room as my counterpart and Tohsaka, so I took my leave to find a place to settle down. I came across what looked to be an old office with a dusty couch in it. I briefly thought of going back to get Troper so that he could lie on it, but exhaustion won out and I flopped down on my back.
As I closed my eyes and got settled I thought about what I would have done if I had faced the same thing my counterpart had. Things had come very close back in London to playing out in a similar manner with me in place of Saber. Death was something I had accepted in my life, and yet the thought of losing someone I cared about in such a way… I tried to rid myself of such thoughts. With the way things are going now, I might lose the ones I love at anytime, I thought to myself. All I can really do is make the best of the time I have with them.
I was about to drift off when I felt a weight collapse onto my chest. I let out a wheeze and my eyes opened to find Rin, my Rin, lying down on top of me. Considering how things had been going between us as of late, I was rather surprised by this. "What… Rin, why-?"
"D-don't misunderstand." She grumbled into my chest. "I'm still mad at you. This doesn't change anything. I'm just tired and you're the only piece of furniture I can lay on."
"Don't you mean I'm on the only piece of furniture you can lay on?" I asked with an arched eyebrow.
"Whichever. Now quiet. Futons don't talk." With that she wrapped her arms around my neck and seemed to drift off.
I looked at her for a moment longer before a small smile crossed my face and I wrapped my arms around her in kind. It wouldn't last, but right then, we were able to shut out all the problems of the world and be together.