"Not even death can stop Fate."
By: James D. Fawkes
Chapter I: Reunion
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
The sun rose behind her and he was forced for a moment to close his eyes against the light, and when he opened them again, she was gone. The wind blew about, and even the grass that had bent around her feet, the last visible sign that she had ever been there, straightened back to its natural shape.
For all intents and purposes, Servant Saber had never even existed.
He could not help the bittersweet smile that curled his lips. She was gone, then, well and truly gone. She wasn't coming back.
"That's just like you."
Something in his heart thrummed painfully.
It had been difficult to make the decision, difficult to decide to let her go when he wanted so desperately for her to stay. He'd just found her, the one woman who completed him and who felt so familiar that he could have known her his whole life, and just like that, she was gone.
It wasn't fair.
It wasn't fair that the one time he wanted to be selfish, he couldn't. She couldn't stay, no matter how much he wished it were so, and he couldn't follow her back. She belonged to that time, and he belonged in this one. Two souls, stretching across eternity, touching so briefly, and then separated.
It hurt so badly that he wouldn't have been surprised to look down and see his heart had been torn from his chest. It hurt so badly that Lancer's spear hadn't been nearly so bad. It was a cursed wound that bled and bled and didn't stop. It would heal, he knew, with time, but it would still bleed. It would bleed for the rest of his life, until the day he could look her in the eyes again and see her smile.
But there were other things to worry about now, like Illya and Rin. Saber was gone, but they were still alive. He needed to focus on them for now.
"Right," Shirou told himself. He slapped his cheeks a few times as though it would drive thoughts of Saber from his head, just hard enough to hurt. "I can't stay here."
He turned to leave, paused, and glanced one last time at the spot where she'd been standing. She was still gone, and there was still no sign she'd ever been there. He sighed, turned back away, and shook his head. No, she was gone. No more distractions.
"I need to go back."
He lifted his foot to start walking, but met resistance immediately. His foot was stuck. He glanced down, and his stomach lurched. A black sludge was bubbling up from the dirt and grass and frothing over his shoes. He tried to lift his foot again, but it was like he was standing knee-deep in a thick, mushy mud. No matter how hard he tried, every time he lifted his foot, it was sucked back down into the sludge, which was growing larger and thicker and slowly bubbling up over his legs, then his knees and his thighs.
The Grail. The mud from the Grail, which carried inside of it a terrible curse, the very curse that had inevitably taken Emiya Kiritsugu to the grave. This was that very same mud, and it was reaching for him, trying to consume him — to exact upon him the very price that it had placed upon his father.
He wouldn't let it.
He struggled desperately, thrashing about, even tried the dangerous, unpracticed magic of reinforcing his muscles. He projected Kanshou and Bakuya and cut at it, sliced through the molasses-like ooze, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not pull free. The sludge consumed his torso, then his arms and crept up his chest slowly but surely. It slid over his shoulders, slimy and gooey and disgusting. His neck was next, and as the sludge reached his chin, he tilted his head back and thrust his mouth upwards as though he were trying keep his head above the water.
He screamed. No one heard.
"If that is what you wish, Champion," a gurgling voice whispered in his ear. Then the sludge rose up over his face and everything went black. He was blind and deaf and insensate. He could hear nothing, see nothing, smell nothing, and his entire body was numb.
"It has begun?" a regal-sounding voice asked from out of the darkness. It was everywhere and nowhere all at once, and it seemed to be coming from both the vast emptiness that surrounded him and from deep inside himself.
"Yes," a second voice answered. "The journey starts now, and we shall be his guide."
And then he was spiraling down, down, down, or maybe up, or maybe to the left or right, or maybe backwards or maybe forwards. There was no sense of time, duration, no sense of distance or space or direction. All he knew was that he was spiraling through emptiness along an invisible, indeterminate path, approaching something vast and incomprehensible, going down, down, down the rabbit hole, passing a canal of stars, a large red figure that watched him as he went, passing through intangible gates and barriers, through metaphysical checkpoints, above walls that he couldn't see, beneath unseeable traps and blockades, until, finally, he stopped.
He wondered, for a moment, if he was dead.
"I am Servant Saber," a familiar voice declared suddenly.
His heart stopped. His brain skidded to a halt.
There was no way.
And yet, Shirou opened his eyes and looked up upon the beauty he could have sworn he'd just said goodbye to. She stood in front of him, clad in her trademark blue dress and her silvery-gray armor. Her golden blonde hair was done up in its usual style, and upon her face was the fierce, unreadable look he'd come to associate with her in battle.
She was beautiful.
The numbness in his limbs faded, it melted away like so much ice on a hot summer day, and his hands stung from the abrupt coldness of the concrete upon which he was propped. His chest ached, ached both in his heart and his lungs, and he realized that he hadn't been breathing. He inhaled sharply. The scent of burgundy, fresh water, and wet dog swirled together and up his nose. He'd gone, somehow, from the Ryûdô Shrine to the small shed in his own home's backyard that served as his workshop.
"Upon your summoning, I have come forth," Saber continued stoically. The familiar coldness in her eyes, which had only thawed after they had stood side by side in battle against Berserker three times, looked down upon him calmly. "I ask of you: are you my Master?"
His mouth was wrenched from his control and the words left his lips of their own accord. "I am," he told her. He swallowed. His throat was suddenly dry.
She glanced down at his left hand, and so did he, and there, etched into his flesh in red ink, were his Command Seals. All three of them.
And yet, by his count, he'd just used the last one no more than ten minutes ago.
"Yes, you summoned me," she said. She looked back into his eyes. "And as a Saber, I heeded your call. My sword will be at your side from here on forward. From now on, whatever fate awaits you awaits me. The accord with us has now been struck."
And then she stiffened, and Shirou was flung from his stupor as she turned and leapt for the open door (no, now that he remembered it, the door had been torn from its place when he'd been flung through it by Lancer). Shirou lurched to his feet.
"Wait!" he cried, and latched onto her wrist. She looked back at him. Startled bewilderment was written all over her face, and he had the sudden realization that he didn't know why he'd stopped her or what to say now that he had.
And then the memory came flooding back. Lancer. The Hound of Ulster. Gáe Bolg.
Saber injured, Saber bleeding, Saber near death. Tousaka Rin. Archer.
Berserker, Berserker, Berserker.
"This — this guy, Lancer," he said haltingly. "He uses a cursed spear. Gáe something or other."
Saber's face lit up, first with surprise, then with recognition. Somehow, by the power of the tainted Grail, he'd traveled back in time. Shirou had realized that the moment she'd made to tear out of his workshop after Lancer. He could hardly believe it, but the evidence was staring at him with her brilliant, verdant green eyes, and if there was one thing he just had to change, it was all the senseless violence that had been unleashed during the course of the war.
Because he was Emiya Shirou, and that's how he worked.
"I see," she said neutrally. "Thank you, Master."
Then she tore out of the room and out of his grip, and he was left standing there with his empty hand outstretched.
His palm tingled pleasantly.
He lunged through the door and out into the yard, where Saber and Lancer were dancing about each other, stabbing and slicing and twirling like acrobats. Lancer's skill was obvious — he handled his spear with expert ease, and it moved in his hands like it was an extension of his arms — but Saber knocked every blow aside and pressed back with powerful, two-handed strikes that would have broken a normal man's arms. Then, with a final war cry, they swung at each other and were forced apart by the blow.
"Tch!" Lancer growled. "What are you, a coward? Why don't you stop hiding behind that weapon and reveal it?"
Saber's only answer was to leap at him again and drive him backwards with three more strikes, each of which rang loudly and clearly through the night air. Lancer grimaced, and Shirou could see the barest of nicks in the shaft of Gáe Bolg.
"Come now, Lancer," Saber said coyly. "Are you going to attack, or should I? If you retreat now, you'll disgrace your class."
Lancer twitched, but, with the appearance of a man reigning himself in, did not retaliate for the insult.
"Answer me a question, first," Lancer's lips pulled into a tight grin. "Your Noble Phantasm — it's a sword, right?"
A strange sort of half-smirk pulled at Saber's mouth. It looked vaguely creepy, Shirou decided.
"Maybe," she said mysteriously, "maybe not. It could be an axe. Or not. Maybe I have something completely different, like a bow."
"Get real, Saber," he said. He crouched low and poised the tip of his spear a few inches above the ground. "This is just our first encounter. Whaddya say we give it a rest and call it a draw?"
"Sorry, Lancer, but I finish what I start. Once two Servants meet in battle, necessity dictates that only one may walk away," Saber declared. "Besides, now that I've determined your identity, you're obligated to stay and finish, Hound of Culann."
Lancer twitched violently and grimaced. "Oh? And how did you manage that one?"
"The last Lancer I fought possessed a different weapon, and I can tell by looking at you, and the fact that your spear has had no effect on my Invisible Air, that you're not him," Saber said. "You're a Lancer, and your Noble Phantasm is a cursed spear whose name begins with Gáe. You are not Diarmuid of the Radiant Face, therefore, the only person you could be is Cúchulainn, the Hound of Culann."
That wasn't true, Shirou realized. Ildánach Lugh, Cúchulainn's father, also possessed a spear with the name Gáe — Gáe Assail, the Lightning Spear.
No, wait, that was wrong. Gáe Assail wasn't a cursed spear. It utilized teleportation magic to strike instantly at its target, but it wasn't cursed so that any wound inflicted couldn't heal.
"Well, now, I'm impressed," Lancer said. "All that with nothing but the barest of information. Bravo. But still," he grinned maliciously, "that won't save you! Not from my spear!"
The air froze. The spear in his hand began to vibrate, and he threw himself forwards at Saber. The distance that had separated them disappeared in an instant. It was going to strike. In a moment, Lancer would shout the name of his Noble Phantasm and the Spear of Impaling Barbed Death would strike Saber's heart. Once the attack began, there was no avoiding it.
But it was possible to stop it.
The moment Lancer kicked off the ground and shot his body forward, the words of his incantation left Shirou's mouth. In his hands, Kanshou and Bakuya appeared, twin swords of black and white.
What he was about to do was Archer's technique. He could not say how he knew it, only that he did. Either way, the how and why wasn't important at that moment.
Saber began to backpedal. For all her speed, however, Saber wasn't as fast as Lancer, who was the fastest Servant. Her Luck might be enough to spare a fatal blow, but there was no way for her to dodge the full attack.
Shirou wound his arms close to his chest and swiftly calculated his trajectory. It needed to work right. One mistake and he might hit Saber instead.
Shirou's arms swung out. Kanshou and Bakuya scissored and twisted through the air, curving around like boomerangs. Lancer, too distracted by the activation of his technique, didn't see them slicing towards his face as he thrust forward.
At last, he saw them, and Lancer jerked his torso backwards to avoid the sharp edges as Saber pushed herself back and out of his range. Kanshou and Bakuya smashed together and blew apart into tiny fragments that disappeared before they even hit the ground.
"My only objective tonight was to observe," he said. "I had no intentions of tangling with another Servant. Then you showed up, and as long as I was around, I'd figured I'd enjoy a good fight. But I ain't stupid." He shook his head. "You've got a pretty competent Master back there, Saber. I know better than to mess with you while that guy is hanging around doing high-end projection magic like it's nothing. Later!"
"You're leaving?" Saber demanded furiously.
"You're welcome to follow me!" Lancer called over his shoulder as he leapt away. "But if you try, I might just have to take advantage of the opening and finally kill that little master of yours!"
And he was gone.
Shirou rushed up to Saber and gave her a quick glance to make sure she hadn't been injured while her back was turned. It took all of his control not to reach out to her, touch her face, run his hands through her hair, and make sure she was real and not a dream or hallucination. Then she spun around and fixed him with a fierce glare.
"That was incredibly reckless of you," she scolded. "Normal humans, no matter how skilled, cannot stand up to a Servant. You were better off leaving that fight to me."
"I wasn't just going to stand there and let him attack you," he retorted. "If I have the power to make a difference, then shouldn't I? And who are you, anyway?"
Rin had often told him that he couldn't lie, so Shirou hoped with all of his heart that his feigned ignorance seemed genuine.
"Must you even ask that? I am Saber, your Servant," she said. "As I recall, you are the one who summoned me, so you should know all too well why I'm here."
"Servant…?" Shirou mumbled. He hoped he sounded like he was thinking about the term, like he was trying to remember some fact that lay in the back of his mind. He needed to sell this. He needed to sound convincing — competent, but still a little clueless.
After all, there was no way anyone would believe he'd time traveled.
"Oh, yeah," he said finally. He put on a frown. "Dad mentioned something about that a while back. What was it…The Holy Grail War, right?"
"Yes," she said. "A competition between seven Master-Servant pairs for the prize of the Holy Grail, and the wish that it promises. We are one of those pairs. You have summoned me, a Servant of the Saber class, and so it is probably best that you call me Saber, Master."
"Don't call me 'Master," Shirou said. "My name is Emiya Shirou. And I don't know about the rest of the competitors, but I don't intend to be your Master."
Saber's eyes turned frigid.
"What?" she demanded tersely.
Uh oh, Shirou thought. Misunderstanding. Back up, explain.
"Look, I'm not just going to sit around and let you do everything," Shirou said. "I don't really have anything I want to wish for, so I don't want anything from this Holy Grail thing, but if you do, then I guess you can just consider us partners, alright? And partners don't call each other 'Master."
The tension eased from her shoulders and her eyes. "I see," she said. A small smile curled her lips, and his heart gave a great lurch. She was right there, and he could not hold her, could not kiss her, because she didn't know him yet. He was only her Master; he had not yet become the man she fell in love with. "Yes, I understand. Shirou, then. I like the sound of that much better."
"Good," he said. "But I want to get one thing out in the open, before we do anything else. I'll help you get the Grail, but I'm competing only because I want to limit the number of casualties. I understand that Servants have to be killed to be defeated, so there's only one rule that I'm going to ask you to follow: we don't kill the Masters, not unless it's to stop them from hurting innocent people. Okay?"
Saber closed her eyes, let out a slow breath through her nose, then opened them again. The first time through, she'd been furious that Shirou refused to kill enemy Masters. This time, she accepted his decision without argument. Shirou was thankful for that.
"Very well," she said. "I can abide by that rule. Yes, even, I can understand it. If that is your order, Master, then I shall obey it."
"Thank you," Shirou said gratefully.
He paused. He was struck by a sudden thought. Last time, the first real effort he had put into trying to woo her had been the day they'd spent on a date. What if...?
"You know," he began casually, "Saber's just a sort of codename, right? Can you tell me your real name? I mean, I can't think of too many stories I've heard about beautiful, female knights." Saber blinked and her mouth fell open. She looked surprised, dumbfounded, that someone thought of her as beautiful — again, Shirou cursed the circumstances that had spurred her to seek the Grail, the heartless people of Britain who had turned her into an ideal rather than a person, but forced himself not to show it. "Jeanne d'Arc is the only one that really comes to mind —"
"I'm not the Maid of Orleans!" Saber burst out with sudden anger. Shirou tried his best not flinch, but didn't think he was very successful. Saber flushed and looked away, clearly embarrassed about her outburst, but Shirou could not help thinking she looked rather cute. She fidgeted a little, then looked back at him. Her cheeks were still a little pink. "I apologize for my sudden rudeness. It's just that another Servant mistook me for her the last time I was summoned. The things he did to try and capture me for himself were —"
Then she stopped cold, eyes wide, and spun around.
"Two more?" she asked herself quietly. "I see. Judging by their presence, they shouldn't be a problem." She turned to address Shirou. "Shirou, another enemy is nearby, but it shouldn't be too difficult to defeat them. Please wait here."
She leapt away, over the gate of his home, and off into the darkness of the night. Shirou hurried after her. He sprinted to the gate, fumbled a moment with the latch and lock, then flung it open and ran out into the night.
Where is she going? The question echoed in his head. There shouldn't be anything — Rin!"
He turned the corner just in time to see Saber crash through Archer's projected Kanshou and Bakuya and carve a slice along his chest — not fatal, but certainly debilitating. Archer stumbled backwards and fell to his knees, gasping for breath, and Saber lifted her blade to deal the final blow.
"Archer, vanish!" Rin's voice called out. Archer disappeared like dust in the wind as Invisible Air bit into the ground — he'd been forced back into spirit form, or maybe back to Tousaka's house. Shirou wasn't sure.
Saber didn't stop. She charged forward as Rin backtracked, and Shirou might have been concerned but for the rule he had just set down a minute before — and Saber, above all else, was honorable. Rin tossed one of her jewels out, but Shirou watched as it vaporized mere inches from Saber's face. She was incredibly magically resistant.
The first time around, Saber had made to cut Rin down and Shirou had stopped her (and was prepared to do so again). This time, he watched as she came upon Rin and backhanded her across the face and into the wall protecting Shirou's home. Rin crumpled like a sheet of paper and was still for a moment, and when she opened her eyes again, Saber's invisible sword was pointed at her threateningly. Shirou was definitely satisfied — Saber had stuck to his rule. He released the mental grip he'd had on his Command Seals.
"Yield," Saber said coldly.
Rin said nothing for a moment.
"I suppose," she began, "I could have been happy if a competent Magus had been the one to summon Saber instead of me, but you, Emiya, of all people…"
"And I wonder what the school would think to find out that the star student is actually a Magus," he retorted. "Issei'd probably say something like, 'I knew it all along!' or 'Just as I thought!"
Rin huffed, stood slowly and wobbled just once, then straightened to her usual confident stance. She put her hands on her hips and smirked. It was ruined by the angry red mark on her cheek.
"I don't suppose you'd like to take this conversation somewhere more comfortable, would you? After all, I'm going to have a bruise on this cheek tomorrow, so you'd better take some responsibility."
"Wait a minute," Saber said. She looked at Shirou with a frown, though she had not let her sword drop. "Shirou, you know this girl?"
And Shirou remembered that he had traveled back in time, so no, not only did he not know Tousaka, but Tousaka and Saber were also complete strangers to each other.
"Know of her is more like it," Shirou corrected. "She and I go to the same school, although she's in a different class than I am. In fact, before today, I don't think we've talked at all."
"How cold of you, Emiya," Rin said sarcastically. "Anyway, if my suspicions are correct, then you're rather clueless about what's going on here, aren't you? And I don't think you're much of a Magus, either, considering how easily Lancer took you down the first time — no magic used in your own defense at all."
She turned and strode away haughtily. "The least you could do is offer me something to drink," she called over her shoulder. "After all, I did save your life earlier today."
Saber glanced at him with a look of uncertainty about her face. He sighed and shrugged. "She's like Fuji-nee, I guess," he said. "Once she's got an idea in her head, there's no stopping her."
He made to follow Rin. Saber trailed behind him dutifully.
"I suppose I can understand that," Saber said. "However, is it truly such a good idea to allow another Master into your home?"
"Maybe not," he admitted. "But really, I don't think Rin will be any trouble. After all, you beat her Servant — Archer, I think she called him — in one attack, right? It'd be pretty stupid of her to attack me in my own home when you're standing right next to me, and a girl like Tousaka Rin is anything but stupid."
"Yes, I suppose you're right," Saber conceded quietly.
They found Rin standing before a window that Shirou had forgotten had been broken and looking out onto the courtyard where Lancer and Saber had battled. She picked up a piece of shattered glass and ran her finger over it. Before Shirou's very eyes, the window reformed as though it had never been damaged in the first place — there wasn't even the slightest crack.
"Better," Rin said. "I expect that you're at least capable of that, Emiya."
If he hadn't seen much more incredible magic, Shirou expected that he would have been (and had been) much more impressed by her display than he actually was. Instead, he felt only the sharp lance of embarrassment.
"Sorry," he said sheepishly. "I can't do anything like that."
Rin whirled around. "What?" she asked incredulously. "You've got to be kidding me. That's like the first thing they teach you!"
"Sorry," he said again. "I only know the stuff my dad taught me and whatever I managed to figure out myself, and even that's nothing formal."
"So you can't even control the five elements or anything?" she asked disappointedly.
"Nope," Shirou declared bluntly.
"You can't make a Pass or set up defenses around your workshop, or - or anything like that?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Can you even make a magic circle?"
Her brow furrowed.
"So you're a complete novice," Rin concluded.
"Well, I wouldn't go that far," Shirou said. "I mean, I can do Reinforcement pretty well, but I'd have to say that I'm best at Projection."
There it was, another major change. Before, the first time through, he'd started off with nothing more than Reinforcement and he'd muddled his way on with that. If he was going to do this, though, and take it seriously, then he couldn't handicap himself by pretending he was only good at Reinforcement. Hiding away his best ability, Projection, and pretending to slowly get better at it through the course of the War would only make things harder.
But if he could establish his skill at Projection from the very beginning…
"Of all the magics you decided to learn, it had to be the two most useless," Rin lamented. "And you're sure there's nothing else you can do?"
"No," he said. "That's it."
"How is it someone like you managed to summon a Saber?" she glanced over at Saber, then turned her eyes back on Shirou. "So I'm guessing you've got no clue regarding the situation you're in."
"Situation?" Shirou feigned ignorance. "If you mean the Grail War, then no, I've only got a pretty vague idea — bits and pieces of what my dad told me and the stuff that Saber's told me."
"You've been shanghai'ed into a tournament of a kind called the Holy Grail War," Rin informed him bluntly. "The Grail itself chooses seven Masters and grants each of them a Servant and three Command Seals — those markings on the back of your hand, there. They designate you as a Master. I am a Master as well, as I imagine you've probably already determined. As long as you have those three Command Seals, your Servant will continue to obey you — lose them, and your Servant can do whatever she likes to you."
She glanced over at Saber as though considering exactly what fate would await him if he used up all three of his Command Seals, but Saber only stared back stoically. Shirou fidgeted a little impatiently — he'd already gotten this lecture once, so it wasn't exactly fun to sit through it again.
"Each Command Seal represents one absolute command that your Servant cannot disobey," she went on. She adopted a sort of lecturing pose. Over the course of the first time through, Shirou had become intimately familiar with it. "You can even force them to do something that they don't want to or something that's beyond their natural capabilities. That's why you use them very sparingly and always keep your very last one in reserve."
A sharp retort balanced on the tip of his tongue, but he reigned it in — after all, hadn't Rin herself already used two Command Seals?
"Servants are the spirits of legendary heroes summoned from across time," she explained. Shirou, who already knew this, would have stopped her if he thought she would let him. "They can come from any time period — past, present, even the future — and are given a body to fight with. They're sort of like familiars, but on a whole different level."
She walked over to Saber and gave her a long look over.
"It looks like you still haven't fully materialized," she declared. "I'm guessing it has to do with your Master. His incompetence has probably interfered with your summoning."
Shirou felt like that insult should've hurt a lot more than it actually did, but after spending the better part of two weeks with Rin shooting insults at him at least as bad, if not worse, he figured he'd developed a sort of immunity to them.
"Correct," Saber said in her usual cold, calm voice. "Shirou possesses a significant amount of Prana, but the bond between us is not stable enough to complete the process. With time, perhaps that might change, but for now, I cannot take spirit form, and regenerating my own energy will take more effort."
"Good grief!" Rin cried. "If I were your Master, I could take care of both those problems easily!"
"So you're saying I'm not fit to be a Master," Shirou clarified.
"Not even close!"
Shirou couldn't say he blamed her. If he didn't know the things he knew about what was to come, he would have put his money on Rin, too. He might have summoned Saber, but Rin was a far more competent Magus.
Rin sighed. "Very well, then. We should get going."
Shirou's hands curled into fists. The Church. The tortured orphans in the basement. Kotomine Kirei. The very man he had, from his perspective, killed no more than half an hour ago.
"Where are we going?" he asked. He tried desperately to keep the tension out of his voice, but judging by the suspicious glance Saber threw his way, he had not completely succeeded.
"We're going to pay a visit to the man who oversees this whole War," Rin said. A smirk curled on her lips.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
They walked through the silent town and said little. The houses around them were all dark and the streetlights offered the only light besides the stars and the barely-there moon. It was only natural — it had already been late when everything had started, and the church was quite a ways away from the Emiya house. Shirou spent most of the journey mentally preparing himself to face Kirei again, and so forgot to take the shortcut to the bridge. Rather than cut through the park as they would have if he had had the presence of mind to lead, Rin took them the standard route and led the way across the bridge to Shinto.
She must have seen how distracted he was, because she didn't say anything again until they'd climbed up the hill and reached their destination.
A grand-looking church stood before them, looming out of the darkness like some great beast standing guard over the gates to hell.
"So this supervisor-guy lives here?" Shirou asked. It was annoying, he could not help thinking, that he had to keep feigning ignorance about the things he knew. He wished that he could hurry things up — take care of Shinji right away, take down Caster before she could hurt Sakura, skewer Gilgamesh from behind, and end Kotomine's little game before it could even get started — but he was not a fool.
Again, no one would believe he time traveled.
Even then, it was in his nature to discard the consequences to himself, but he wasn't stupid enough to think he could accomplish all he needed to do to stop the more sinister players in the War before someone reacted and killed him — and what would that accomplish? If he died before he could stop Kirei and Caster and Gilgamesh, then who would stand up to them when the time came?
The advantage of knowing about those threats gave him an edge that even Rin, genius that she was, couldn't beat.
"Yes," Rin said, "this is Kotomine Church."
"Shirou," Saber said suddenly, "I think it best if I stay out here."
He looked back at her over his shoulder, but he couldn't blame her. The church had never struck him as a particularly pleasant place, even before he had discovered the basement. If Saber could sense even a portion of the wrongness that pervaded the walls, then it was only natural that she'd want to stay as far away as she could.
"I accompanied you to this place so I could protect you," she explained. "If this church is where you'll be tonight, then I'm sure I'll be able to find you within its proximity."
Shirou gave only a nod.
The church was as dark and spooky as he remembered it as Rin threw open the doors. The pale light of the waxing moon cast their shadows across the floor. As she led him inside, Shirou felt like Gilgamesh would jump out at him from one of the spots too dark to see into, or maybe the people dying beneath his feet would reach up through the floor and drag him down.
"Tousaka," he began, mostly to put some sort of sound into the eerie silence, "just how well do you know this priest?"
It was a question that he had probably asked the first time, too, but it had an entirely different meaning, now. She couldn't have known, of course, but he was asking if she realized just how twisted Kotomine Kirei actually was.
"Well, I can tell you that he's a Magus," Rin said coolly. "And he also happens to be my legal guardian. You see, he's…kind of served as my second teacher."
"A Magus, huh?" he mused. "Is there anyone in this town who isn't?"
Another question that had more meaning to it than Rin would ever realize. It was kind of fun, in a twisted sort of way. All these innocent questions that only had deeper meaning if you knew what Shirou did. It was kind of fun, but also a bit frustrating — all the truths were on the tip of his tongue, and only knowing that it would be futile kept them from spilling out like a waterfall.
"Yes, he's a Magus," Rin said. "And that's why he can be such a pain in the ass. His name is Kotomine Kirei. He was one of my father's peoples. We've been basically forced to put up with each other for ten years, now. If it'd been up to me, we would've had nothing to do with each other."
Kirei stepped out of the darkness like some sort of phantom. A small smirk was curling on his lips.
"And I would have preferred not to have a student who can't show her teacher proper respect."
Then he stood straight and the smirk was gone. Shirou tried desperately to keep his hands from curling back into fists. He only barely succeeded.
"So, what brings you here, Rin?"
"I've brought the seventh Master to meet with you," Rin said. She looked back at Shirou and frowned. "He's technically a Magus, but he's so unbelievably inept that it pained me to ignore it."
Kirei's lips curled again and he leaned forward to meet Shirou's eyes. "Tell me, my son," he said silkily, "what would your name be?"
Shirou bit his cheek to halt the more venomous retorts that tried to escape and tensed the muscles in his legs to stop himself from taking a step back. He wouldn't show any weakness. He'd already killed Kirei once. When the time came, he would do it again.
"Emiya Shirou," he said firmly. He had to fight away the mental image that popped into his mind right then, the picture of Rin leaning against a blood-splattered wall, barely alive, barely conscious.
"Well…Emiya," Kirei smiled. A chuckle rumbled up in his chest. Of course — Kotomine had always known exactly whose son he was, hadn't he? "And you're certain that you're Saber's Master?"
"As I understand it, yeah," Shirou said. "But that doesn't mean that I get everything that's happening here. The only thing I've got to go on are a few stories from my dad and what Rin and Saber have told me."
A bold, bald-faced lie, and Shirou felt that it should have been ridiculously easy to see through, but neither Rin nor Kotomine seemed to recognize it as anything but the truth. Maybe, just maybe, he could do this.
"Ah," Kirei said. "Yes, that is a problem. Very well. Seeing as this is the first time Rin has ever asked for my help, I believe the least I can do for you, Shirou, is to oblige. Listen, then: being a Master is not something you can simply hand from one person to the next. And once you become a Master, you can't just walk away from the fight. Those symbols on your hand are a stigmata. The role of master is a trial that has been awarded to you. You can't turn away simply because it's inconvenient."
Kirei gestured with his hand.
"If you truly want to give up your role as Master, your only choice is to win the Grail and make your wish."
"You say that like it's easy," Shirou retorted. It left his mouth before he could stop it; it was the only thing he could think to say.
"Anything but," Kirei agreed. "The reward, however, is anything you desire, anything at all. If you win the Grail, you'll have the rare chance to have the contents of your soul wiped clean. In fact, if you wanted, you can even go back in time and start your whole life all over."
Shirou stiffened just the slightest. Did Kirei actually know about Saber's wish, or was it simply a coincidence?
Or worse, did Kirei, somehow, know what he'd done?
"So, if you get the opportunity to make your wish, you'll be thanking your lucky stars you were chosen to be a Master. If you want to rid yourself of those invisible burns, your only choice is to accept your stigmata."
"Would you please get to the point?" Rin said impatiently. "I only brought him here so that you could explain the rules to him."
Kirei huffed. "I suppose I'll cut to the chase, then. Here are the underlying principles behind the Grail Wars: it's a series of battles to be fought by seven Master-Servant pairs. Participants in this war are not chosen simply because they wish to be; they are chosen as part of a ritual to determine who is most worthy to possess the Holy Grail."
He looked back a Shirou, and Shirou felt a sudden surge of hatred. "Trust me," he said. "This is the genuine article, the real Holy Grail. Perhaps not the Cup of the Messiah, but it is capable of all the things I've said it is. The miracles that the Servants perform should be proof enough of that fact. They themselves are either legends or historical figures summoned forth by the Holy Grail and materialized here in physical form. In theory, they should remain in spirit form and stay close to their Master's side. They are to materialize and fight only when the need arises."
"Yes, but Emiya's Servant is a bit different," Rin interjected a bit disdainfully. "Because her Master is a complete novice, she can't take spirit form."
"The Grail's ability to resurrect spirits can certainly be considered real magic," Kirei said. He ignored Rin. "In light of that fact, questions about its authenticity are moot."
"I get it; the Holy Grail is the real thing," Shirou said tersely. He took a breath and forced the animosity boiling in his chest away. "But if it really has all this power, why do you have to kill people over it? Why not just share?"
Or why not just destroy the whole thing? If it was so powerful, it was equally dangerous. Everyone would be far better off if it was just dismantled.
And that was ignoring the fact that the damn thing was tainted, too.
"A logical question," Kirei admitted. "The answer is that the seven Masters are the people the Grail feels have the most potential to possess it, and the Wars are to determine which of those Masters is the most capable of all. Everything is carried out by the Grail itself."
"But where's the rule that says you have to kill the Masters to obtain the Grail?" Shirou demanded a little hotly. It had bothered him the first time, too, that everyone seemed to think you had to kill the enemy Masters, even after their Servants had been defeated. Even Saber had originally had that sort of attitude.
"There isn't one," Rin said. "Servants are the key: only Servants can actually touch the Grail, so Servants are the only ones you really have to target."
"There's no rule, no," Kirei informed him. "However, tell me, Emiya Shirou, do you think you could defeat your own Servant?"
"Of course not."
A lie, but an easier one. There was probably a treasure in the Gate of Babylon capable of giving him an advantage against Saber, so all he'd have to do is Project it and he could probably beat her.
Probably (but if he were entirely honest with himself, not likely).
The question, then, before anything else, was not if he could beat Saber but whether or not he would want to, and the answer to that was a simple "no."
"Exactly," Kirei agreed. "Servants are very powerful. It's difficult for other Servants to defeat another Servant. Without a Master, however, Servants cannot exist in this world. Therefore, the easiest way to defeat a Servant is to eliminate its Master."
"But even that isn't a guarantee," Rin butted in. "Servants don't always disappear immediately after their Master is killed. A Master who's lost his Servant, and a Servant who's lost his master, can create a new pact and rejoin the battle. Similarly, a Servant whose Master has used all his Command Seals is free to find a new Master and make a new pact."
"And the Master who's used up his Command Seals is relieved of his title of Master," Kirei took over. "Of course, a Magus who's used up his Command Seals will be thought of as a complete fool. If, however, that should happen to you, then I will personally guarantee you sanctuary here at the church."
He gestured grandly to the open air.
"In the past, Masters butchered each other indiscriminately. At the beginning of the Fourth War, the Mage's Association appointed a supervisor from the Holy Church. That was my father, so you could say I inherited this position."
"So, what would happen if one of the Masters attacked this place and killed both the Masters in sanctuary and you?" Shirou asked. "What prevents a determined Master from killing everyone in the church?"
Because sooner or later, there would have to be a confrontation between Kirei and Shirou, and Shirou would be an idiot to disregard how much of an advantage it would be to get the first strike in on Gilgamesh and Kirei. There were other threats, to be sure, but at the end of it all, the final battle would come down to two enemies.
Kirei's lips pulled into a frown.
"As I said, the Mage's Association takes a great interest in the Grail Wars. Any Master who ignores the right to this church as a sanctuary will be hunted down as a Heretic for the rest of their lives. Mercilessly."
Kirei turned away.
"The last Grail War ended in a sort of stalemate," Kirei said. "Someone unworthy touched the Grail, and from that arose the great conflagration of ten years ago. Before even that Master was rejected, another Master tried to grasp the Grail as well, but this Master had tried his hardest to spend the entire War avoiding battle. He, too, was deemed unworthy."
"I see," Shirou said quietly. For an instant, the image of that hell had appeared before his eyes. He squared his shoulders to give the illusion of mustering his confidence, but his decision had been made long before he had set foot in this church for this iteration of the Fifth War. "All right, then. In order to stop another such tragedy from occurring, I'll do it. I'll become a Master in this Holy Grail War."
"Very well," Kirei said grandly. "All seven Masters have been chosen and acknowledged. I now declare the start of this Fifth Holy Grail War!"
Rin smiled, that small, fake little smile that would never fool Shirou, but could put nearly the entirety of his classmates under her spell.
"Well, all right, then," she said sweetly. "That takes care of that. Let's go, Emiya."
Shirou took one look back at Kirei, then turned to follow Rin out of the church.
"Rejoice, my son, for at last your wish will be granted!" Kirei called dramatically.
Shirou just kept on walking.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Saber was waiting outside. At first glance, she looked calm and nonchalant, but Shirou had long learned to read her posture and the nonverbal cues in her stance. She wanted to know if he had decided to stay a Master, or if he was giving up his Command Seals. Shirou set his stance straight and looked her in the eyes.
"Let's go, Saber," he said. "There's nothing else to do here tonight."
"I see," she said. The smallest of smiles curled her lips. "Very well, then."
The trip back was nearly silent. They said nothing to each other, and only their footsteps broke the eerie stillness of the night around them. They walked back down the hill, across the bridge, through the park, and stopped at the intersection that stood between the old fashioned Japanese neighborhood that Shirou lived in and the newer western-style neighborhood where Rin lived.
"I've helped you as much as I can," Rin told him. There was an eerie silver mist creeping along the pavement, and Shirou was only half paying attention to what Rin was saying. "After this, we'll be enemies, Emiya. I've repaid my debt to you."
"You're a good person, Tousaka," he commented distractedly. He cast about discreetly for the hulking form of Berserker, but there wasn't a single sign of him. How could a monstrosity that big manage to hide so easily?
"Oh, please," Rin said amusedly, "don't flatter me. I don't respond to it—"
Shirou felt it then, the icy chill that swept down his spine, a moment before Saber called his name.
He spun around just as the first titters of Illya's laughter echoed through the fog, and from out of the mist appeared the muscle-bound Berserker and the petite, violet-clad form of Ilyasviel von Einzbern.
A dozen different plans burst through Shirou's brain, each one more ridiculous and less feasible than the last. It was certainly true that Saber was better off than she had been the first time, but he certainly wasn't confident enough to imagine that Saber could beat Heracles with anything less than Excalibur's full power.
And even then, he wasn't sure if she could take all twelve lives in one go. If she didn't, then Heracles would wipe the floor with her afterwards because she'd be far too exhausted to even fight back.
"Hello again, Onii-chan," Ilya said innocently. It contrasted with the vicious, confident glee that danced in her eyes and the vaguely evil smirk that curled her lips. "This makes it the second time we've met."
And Shirou realized, for the first time, just what a daunting task it would be to make it through the Fifth Holy Grail War a second time.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
To be continued
Disclaimer: I don't own Fate/Stay Night.
For those of you who are joining us on this adventure, I ask you to please keep an open mind. There will be a lot of things going on that will not make sense until we get rather far into the story, and I know it's a very real possibility that some people won't want to wait around if/when they read something that doesn't immediately make sense. All I'm asking is that you don't leave, and that if you have an issue with something, you bring it to me so that I may tell you whether or not that issue is ever solved. There will undoubtedly be a few mistakes here and there, but the really big issues will most likely be taken care of later on.
A number of things are happening in the background that Shirou is as yet (and may always be) unaware of, and a number of those things won't be revealed until rather late in the story (this is supposed to be like a novel, after all, so you're not going to get six different POVs; we might diverge to Archer here and there, but for the most part, it's all Shirou). There will be a number of things that will happen in here that no one in the FSN fandom has actually experimented with, so even though a lot of things will look really familiar, there's gonna be huge sections of uncharted territory that we'll be exploring.
This story was inspired partly by "Fate ReNight," hence the very similar beginnings, but will diverge greatly. The Shirou of this story went through the Anime route, but you can expect this story to have fragments of all three VN routes as well. This will be predominently "Fate," but there will be parts of "Unlimited Blade Works" and "Heaven's Feel" in here, too. HF will be the smallest bit, but it will be there.
I am the bone of my sword.
James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes
James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes(Signature best viewed in Wendy Medium font style)