By: James D. Fawkes
Chapter XII: Tragedy and Fate
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
It hadn't taken them long to get moving after Rin had revealed the probable identity of the strange Assassin's Master, especially once Shirou realized that it meant Sakura could be in danger. Shirou had never met Zouken, not even when he was younger and he and Shinji were best friends. In the Matou house, there'd been no hint of an elderly figure, nor even (after Byakuya died) of any adult at all. He supposed that Zouken had simply hid himself out of the way, for whatever reason.
There was something that bothered him, though.
"I thought you said that the Matou line had dried up, Tousaka!"
Rin grunted. "I said the recent generations!" she corrected defensively. "Zouken isn't exactly recent!"
He supposed she had a point, but he didn't think that a few generations back was all that old, either.
"He's Shinji's grandfather, isn't he?" Shirou asked. "That may not be recent, but it isn't exactly ancient, either."
"I agree with Shirou," Saber put in. "Rin, you said that the Matou line had gone dormant within the last few generations. Should that not apply to Zouken as well?"
Rin let out a hollow, mirthless laugh. "There are mentions of Zouken in my family records going back more than two hundred years." Shirou nearly stumbled. "The person known as Matou Zouken has been alive since the first Grail War nearly three centuries ago."
"But that's…" Impossible was the word he wanted to use, but a glance at the blonde-haired, green-eyed girl next to him reminded him that there were no less than two methods of agelessness that she had possessed — the first had simply been agelessness granted by Caliburn, which had simply served to stop her from aging, while the second had been Avalon, Excalibur's sheath, which had given her a level of regeneration that actually stopped the aging process.
Except…Zouken was an old man, wasn't he? Or was he?
"Shirou," and if she wasn't running, Rin would have doubtlessly assumed her (in)famous lecture pose, "I know you aren't very well-versed in magecraft, so I can't blame you for not knowing, but considering everything else you've seen this past week or so, is it really so hard to believe that there's a way to use magic to extend your lifespan?"
"…No, I suppose not."
"So then," Saber started, "he was alive during the first Grail War? He was a participant?"
"It goes a little bit farther than that," she said dryly. "I wish he was just a participant from the first war, but…Matou Zouken, Justeaze Lizrich von Einzbern, and Tousaka Nagato — these are the names of the three founders of the Fuyuki Grail system, with help from Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg. Zouken wasn't just a participant of the Grail War. He built the damn thing!"
This time, Shirou did stumble.
"Are you alright, Shirou?" Saber asked him worriedly.
He mumbled a "fine" and kept on going.
"So if there was one guy in this city," Shirou said, "who knew exactly what to do and how in order to take advantage of a loophole in the Grail system —"
"It would be Zouken," Rin confirmed grimly.
He wanted to ask why this hadn't happened the last time. He wanted to ask why Zouken hadn't done anything before, when he had been far more ignorant and far easier prey, but of the two girls with him, which one could answer him? Saber and Rin — which of them could tell him the reason why Zouken hadn't been so active the first time through?
So there wasn't any point in voicing his frustrations.
The only answer he could come up with on his own was that he had dispatched Rider sooner this time than he had the first time. That was the only answer that made any sense to him. And if it was true, had he saved those students at the school from one monster, only to spur another one into action?
Damn it all. Why couldn't things have been simpler?
"So…what do we do?"
Rin grunted. It might have been surprise, it might have been anger.
"What do you mean, 'what do we do?" she demanded, half incredulous, half furious. "That slimy old bastard has finally given me a reason to flay his ass alive! I'll tell you what I'm going to do — I'm going to roast his ass on a spit!"
She lanced him with a glare. "And don't you dare tell me we're going to spare him, Shirou!"
…If he was honest with himself, it hadn't really crossed his mind. For that matter, he hadn't really given any thought whatsoever about what they were going to do once they reached the Matou home. All he'd really considered was that Sakura could be in danger; everything else had seemed rather unimportant.
"Don't think that just because this is the first time he's done anything against us that it means that he's not that bad of a guy!" Apparently, Rin had taken his silence to mean that yes, he did intend to spare Zouken. "You've seen how Shinji used to treat Sakura! Do you think that he'd get away with that if Zouken didn't let him?"
She made a good point, Shirou thought, but all that proved was that Zouken didn't care much for his family. It made him feel a little indignant about how Sakura was treated, but by itself, it wasn't enough reason to kill a man.
"But still —"
"Shirou," Rin began lowly, with venom, "Zouken just tried to have you killed not too long ago. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
Shirou blinked and was silent for a moment as he absorbed what she'd just said.
"So you want to kill him," he said slowly, "because he tried to kill me?"
Saber made a funny noise that Shirou had never heard from her before. "Rin," she said, "I was not aware that you were so concerned for Shirou's sake. Forgive me for not thinking better of you."
"Of course I'm concerned! Shirou's a trouble magnet! It's like the day's not complete until three different people try to kill him!"
Concerned…? Ah, so he and Rin were officially friends again, then? "It's okay, Saber. Tousaka has a hard time showing people that she cares. Yelling and scolding are just her ways of showing that someone is precious to her."
This time, it was Rin's turn to stumble. When Shirou looked back at her to make sure she was okay, her face was a bright, cherry red.
"I-idiot!" she shouted. "D-don't say something that can be so easily misunderstood! And anyway, it's not just about you, Shirou! There are other reasons why I want to kill him, you know!"
"Other reasons?" Shirou asked.
Rin didn't reply. For a long moment, there was only the sound of their footsteps as they raced towards Miyama and the Matou house located therein. If he didn't know any better, Shirou might have thought that Rin had left them.
But when he looked back again, she was still there, so he decided to ask again. "Tousaka?"
She refused to look at him, and her face, though not as red, was still flushed.
"…just shut up."
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
The Matou house seemed strangely ominous when they came upon it. Despite the dying rays of sunlight that streaked across the roof and the yard, as Shirou, Rin, and Saber entered the gate, there was an eerie feeling in the air — a sense of being unwelcome, or maybe the thick feeling of hatred and disgust, or even the rotten, roiling stench of decay.
"How are we going to do this?" Shirou asked quietly.
"Unfortunately, it looks like it's no longer a possibility to keep Sakura uninvolved in the War," she said regretfully. "It's likely that we'll run across her at some point. The easiest thing to do will be to remove her from the situation — send her to your house or something, Shirou. With Zouken being who he is, I have very few doubts that he'll put up some kind of fight. Sakura can't be in the crossfire, understand?"
"No, I agree," Shirou assured her grimly. "If we can do this without getting Sakura involved, then we definitely should."
"I think your worries are perhaps a bit extreme, Rin," Saber put in. "This Zouken person is still just a human, no matter the extent he's gone to in order to prolong his life. Without a Servant, there should be no trouble defeating him."'
Rin hummed. "I wish I could share your confidence, Saber, but Zouken isn't going to go down that easily. It'd be best if we were prepared for high-level magecraft — this is his home, remember? Attacking a Magus on his own territory is usually suicide."
"I hear what you're saying," Shirou acknowledged, "but I don't think we should have too much trouble. Saber's Magic Resistance is incredible, remember? Nothing Zouken could throw at her should be effective."
"So you have been paying attention after all," Rin mused with a small smirk. "Yes, that's true, Shirou, but even so, the point you made the other night is equally valid in this case — Saber might be immune, but all he has to do is target you and he can defeat her, as well.
Shirou grimaced. "I guess you're right."
They fell into silence as they came upon the front door to the Matou house, which was really more of a mansion. Nothing had jumped out at them yet, no defenses had activated — it was a little unnerving. Shirou was well aware that most Bounded Fields were far more powerful and intricate than the one around his home, so the fact that they hadn't even triggered one yet was a little unnerving.
"You go first, Saber," Rin whispered.
Saber reached out, twisted the knob, and pushed. The front door swung open slowly and silently — it didn't creak or groan in the slightest. Beyond, the interior of the house was quiet and still. They waited a moment, the three of them, huddled around the front door and each of them tense and prepared for a sudden spell to crash down upon their heads.
For one long, long moment, nothing happened.
"This is creepy," Rin murmured. "Why hasn't something happened yet? I at least expected Sakura to come to the door when it opened."
Shirou grimaced. The different implications of what could have happened, or even could be happening at that very moment, made him anxious.
"Let's go," he said. "We won't get anything done just standing here in the doorway."
Rin nodded. "Let's go, then. Just be careful."
They entered the house, with Saber in the lead. It seemed as though all the lights had been turned off, which left nothing but the long strips of golden sunlight streaming in through the windows to light their way.
"What all do you know about Zouken?" Shirou asked as they walked.
"Far less than I'd like to, that's for sure," Rin told him. "Most of what I know is limited to the stuff written about in my family's old journals — that he was around in the beginning, that he helped create the Grail System, that sort of thing."
"What does that mean, 'helped create the Grail System'?"
Rin hummed thoughtfully.
"Well," she started, "it worked out like this. Over two hundred years ago, three families came together: the Tousaka, the Einzbern, and the family that we know now as the Matou. The Tousaka family provided the spiritually rich land on which to host the ritual — Fuyuki — the Einzbern created the Greater and Lesser vessels of the Grail, and the Matou family used their specialty to create the Command Seals for the Master/Servant system. The goal, at the end of it, was the Holy Grail, which the Einzberns planned to use to recapture the magic they lost centuries ago."
"Magic?" Shirou asked a little confusedly. Some indignation was swelling up inside of him. The Einzbern were willing to endanger an entire town for the sake of some magic they lost?
"Sorcery," Rin clarified, "or True Magic. The Five Laws. Whatever you want to call it. The Einzbern had the Third Magic, the Heaven's Feel, over a thousand years ago, and somehow, they lost it. They've been trying to get it back ever since."
"And so they built the Grail system," Saber concluded.
Rin nodded. "Yes. The Einzbern constructed the Grail system with the single purpose of regaining what they'd lost. I couldn't tell you what my family or the Matou hoped to gain from it, but even saying so, an omnipotent wish-granting device that's capable of reaching Akasha is a pretty tempting prize all on its own."
So the Einzbern had some super-special-awesome magic, lost it, built the Grail system, and had spent the last two hundred plus years trying to get it back? It seemed like such a colossal waste.
"So where does Zouken fit in all of this?" Shirou asked. He couldn't figure it out. What did Zouken want from the Grail?
"I really don't know," Rin said with a shrug. "I couldn't tell you what he really wants with the Grail, Shirou. Maybe he'll wish back his family's magic heritage. Maybe —"
They all stopped. There, having just come from around the corner and staring at them with surprise, was Sakura, unharmed and unworried.
"Is — is something the matter, Senpai?"
Shirou felt his shoulders sag with relief. She was okay. "Sakura."
"Senpai, Saber-san, Tousaka-senpai," Sakura listed them each in turn as she glanced at them. "U-um, did I miss dinner or something?"
"It's nothing," Rin said. She spoke so casually that even Shirou, who knew why they were there, was almost convinced. "We're just here on some business, nothing to do with you —"
It wasn't Shirou, Saber, or Rin who said it. The voice came from behind her, from the hallway she had just left, and it belonged to the decrepit old man that hobbled towards her with a bald head, hunched back, and gnarled wooden cane. He looked at them with unnatural black eyes.
The instant he gazed upon the figure of Zouken, something buzzed in Shirou's body. It filled his limbs, from his fingers to his toes, and hummed in his ears like a swarm of angry bees. It felt like an instinct, a knee-jerk reaction, to the presence of the crone in front of him, a reaction that said, "This thing doesn't belong."
The old man grinned grimly, a disgusting parody of a smile that twisted his features grotesquely.
"So," he drawled in a ragged, scraggly voice, "the Tousaka heir has finally paid me a visit, hm?"
"G-Grandfather," Sakura whispered.
"That's right," Rin said brusquely. "We have a problem with you, old man, and we've come here to solve it."
"Oh?" the old man leaned heavily on his cane. "But I'm just a poor, decrepit old man. What quarrel could I have with you?"
"I was wondering the same thing myself," Rin declared confidently. "After all, what could Shirou have done to you to warrant your attempt to kill him?"
Sakura gasped. "Grandfather!"
"I'm afraid I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about," Zouken lied shamelessly. "I haven't left the house in quite some time, and these old bones are quite fragile, so attempting to do bodily harm to someone so young and full of life —"
"Your charade is fooling no one," Saber interjected with a fierce look on her face. "How long do you intend to feign ignorance, cur? Are you attempting to deny that it was your Servant that tried to kill Shirou, Master of Assassin?"
The air froze. Sakura looked halfway between anger and horrified surprise. Rin looked somewhat annoyed that Saber had taken the lead. Zouken frowned as his bald brow knitted together.
"…It seems that I made the same mistake as Shinji and underestimated you, Tousaka, Saber, and Emiya Shirou," Zouken said at length. "You have no idea of the scope of my disappointment. My Assassin, who I went to such efforts to secure, eliminated so quickly and easily by the most incompetent magus I have ever seen, next to my grandson, Shinji, that is."
Rin's smile was forced. "Yes, well. A lot of people in this War learned the hard way that underestimating Shirou is a bad idea, even me."
"So it would appear," Zouken agreed grimly. "But that still does not tell me what it is you hoped to find here. Assassin was killed. Therefore, I am no longer his Master. Aside from that single event, a natural thing for two competitors in the Grail War, I have not made any other offensive overtures against you. There is no reason why you should be here, Tousaka."
"Isn't it obvious?" Rin asked haughtily. "I've decided that you've overstayed your welcome, Matou Zouken. I'm evicting you from my territory."
"Oho?" Zouken grinned his grotesque grin again. "I'm afraid I'm not quite ready to leave this town just yet. There are still things I want to do, after all."
"And I don't really care," Rin told him callously. "You see, Zouken, you've made things a bit complicated. Caster used a loophole in the Grail System to summon a Servant for herself — an Assassin, as it were — but that Servant was nowhere to be found when we confronted her last night. We thought that a little strange, but mostly we just counted our blessings."
Zouken grunted. "And what do I have to do with all of this, girl?"
"I'm getting to that," Rin said bluntly. "So, Caster's Assassin disappeared — if he hadn't, then there's no way he would've passed up the opportunity to try killing me or Shirou when we went through the Temple gate. It would've been fine if that was the end of it, but just a few short hours ago, a Servant in black wearing a skull mask tried to kill Shirou — an Assassin. As we just said, Caster's Assassin disappeared, and the only way that could have happened was if he'd been killed. And yet, a day later, an Assassin tried to kill Shirou."
"And somehow, you came to the conclusion that I was the one at fault? Couldn't another Master have simply earned Assassin's allegiance?"
Rin smirked. "To do that, they would've needed to kill Caster first so that Assassin had the freedom to leave her, but Assassin disappeared before Caster was killed. That means that he was killed first, and yet an Assassin attacked Shirou no less than a few hours ago. The only way for there to be two Assassins in the Grail War is if someone took advantage of Caster's loophole to summon their own Assassin using the body of the first without destroying the spiritual core. The person who did that would have to have intimate knowledge of the Grail system, and there are only two people around here who have that kind of knowledge: Ilyasviel von Einzbern…and you, Matou Zouken."
Zouken grimaced. "You're very well informed, girl. I see the rumors of your genius aren't exaggerated."
"Of course," Rin said haughtily.
"So you want to kill me because I know so much about the Grail?"
"Of course not. If you'd just left it alone, we wouldn't have come here, but you didn't. You summoned Assassin and had him attack Shirou. You gave me the excuse I needed to come here and evict you."
Zouken chuckled. "I'm afraid," he said as he lifted his cane, "that I'm not going to be defeated so easily. You're out of your league, girl —"
Saber reacted first. If she hadn't, the combination of his body's reaction to Zouken and the tension that had thrummed inside of him since the fight with Archer would have pushed Shirou to act instead. But he didn't. It was Saber who moved as Zouken lifted his cane. It was Saber who rushed forward faster than any human could, it was Saber who lifted her invisible sword, and it was Saber who cleaved Zouken in half. The pieces fell to the floor with a pair of meaty thuds.
That should have been the end of it. Shirou could not say that he was entirely pleased with her reaction, but the humming that filled his chest dulled any sense of indignation or anger.
That should have been the end of it.
But it wasn't.
"How callous of you, Saber," Zouken's mouth moved. In spite of having been cut in half, Zouken's neck craned and he looked up at his killer. "To strike down a defenseless old man…"
"That's not…" Rin whispered disbelievingly.
There were no words to describe the impossibility of what was happening, even as bits and pieces of the decrepit, gray skin flaked away and the old man's body slowly disappeared. The sense of wrongness that buzzed in Shirou's ears exploded into a howl, and he stood frozen to his spot as Zouken's wrinkled face twisted into its grotesque grin.
"So easily you struck an old man with intent to kill," Zouken went on. "But I wonder…will you perhaps find it so easy to strike down a friend?"
With that last parting shot and an echoing chuckle, Zouken vanished.
A moment later, Sakura stiffened. Her entire body went rigid, her face froze in surprise and terror, and her arms and legs started to tremble. A thrill of dread coiled in Shirou's belly, and he knew, whatever happened next, it couldn't possibly be good. Whatever happened next…
The trembling stopped suddenly. Sakura grabbed herself, hugged herself, fell to her knees, and opened her mouth to let out an earth-shattering, ear-piercing scream. Rancid energy coiled around her and wrapped itself like a cloak about her shoulders and chest. Strips of black cloth danced about her, ephemeral and ghostly, and lashed out at the walls and floor like tentacles.
"Damn it!" Shirou cursed.
"This is bad!" Rin called to him. "Zouken's doing something — I don't know what!"
"Sakura!" Saber cried.
Sakura turned, suddenly and swiftly, to look at Saber. The tips of her hair began to change to a pale, purplish white, and there, all at once, appeared three red-trimmed black ribbons that shot out like lances to strike Saber, who blocked or dodged all of them.
But Sakura didn't stop there. More and more ribbons appeared and lanced out at Saber, who blocked and dodged despite the narrow hallway. The white tips turned into white streaks. The rancid energy turned into a foul, decayed odor more akin to a corpse than a living person.
"Die, die, die, die!" Sakura screamed.
"Shirou, do something!" Rin shouted.
"I'm thinking!" he shouted back.
But it was a lie. His mind was utterly blank. He couldn't think of a way to save Sakura, and the buzzing in his chest and in his ears only made it so much harder to concentrate. He may as well have had cotton for brains, for all the good it would have done him.
"Shirou!" Rin's voice sounded panicked.
"DIE!" Sakura shrieked.
"Sakura!" Saber called.
"Damn it!" Shirou cursed again.
He couldn't think of anything.
He couldn't think of anything, and Sakura was going to die.
He couldn't think of anything, and because he couldn't, Sakura was going to die.
He couldn't think of anything, and because he couldn't, Sakura was going to be killed.
He couldn't think of anything, and because he couldn't, he was going to have to kill Sakura.
"Dost thou accept this sword and pledge?"
"You entered a contract!"
" — Rule Breaker, which negates all magecraft and contracts."
The words were out of his mouth before he'd even considered what he was about to do. His body was already in motion before he'd thought about what he was about to do. Before he'd considered the consequences, before he'd considered the ramifications of his actions, before he'd even considered whether or not it would actually work, Rule Breaker formed in his hands, and Shirou plunged the twisted dagger straight into Sakura's back.
Red light poured from the wound and danced all over the half-destroyed walls. Magical energy erupted like a fountain. In a single instant, every magic and contract binding Sakura was cancelled.
A moment later, it was all gone — the light, the energy, all of it — and all that remained was Sakura, who hung like a limp puppet for a second, then collapsed to the floor like a ragdoll.
Rin was at her side in an instant, muttering what might have been a diagnosis and might have been an incantation. Rule Breaker faded from existence like dust in the wind, but the buzzing in Shirou's ears and chest, the sense of wrongness that had bothered him the entire time, did not.
After a short while, Rin stopped muttering and let out a sigh. Carefully, gently, she looped her arms around Sakura's shoulder and knees, and stood up. Like that, with her younger sister held protectively in her arms, Rin turned to him and fixed him with a dead serious stare.
"We need to get her back to your house," she said. Her tone brooked no argument.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
They left the Matou house without further delay and returned back to the Emiya compound slowly and carefully so as not to risk hurting Sakura further. Rin insisted that she be the one to carry her sister the entire way back and didn't relent, no matter what argument Shirou or Saber tried to use to convince her otherwise. Rin simply wouldn't hear of it.
The house they came back to was still as quiet as when Shirou and Saber had left in the morning. Miraculously, Fuji-nee was still sleeping in the room that had been set up for her; she hadn't woken up at all.
Ilya wasn't any better when Shirou went to check on her — in fact, she seemed worse, if he was any judge. It worried him, but he supposed that there was nothing he could do about it, and when he gave it some thought, it seemed only natural anyway. After all, two more Servants had been killed since he had left her on that futon in the morning.
It hurt, having to watch her like that and not being able to help, but he hardened his heart and told himself that there were still other things to do.
They took Sakura to an empty room and Shirou set up a futon for her to sleep on. Saber hovered helplessly in the background, silent but agitated. He imagined that she was feeling the same way he did, like there was nothing she could do, and she hated it.
"She's sedated for the moment," Rin explained as she set Sakura down on the futon. "I've put her in an enchanted sleep until we can figure out what to do."
Shirou watched her as she tended to Sakura gently and lovingly, the way an older sister should. She made sure Sakura was comfortable, adjusted her younger sister's arms and legs so that they wouldn't cramp while she slept, swept the hair out of her face, and pulled a soft blanket over her body.
"What's wrong with her?" he asked quietly.
Rin frowned and stood.
"I don't even know where to begin," she said with an undertone of anger. It was hotter and more honest than the outraged indignation he'd seen far more often. "I knew it wasn't good. I knew that Sakura wasn't happy in that house, that she was suffering, that something was wrong — but even I never imagined…!"
She sighed and sagged.
"Inside of Sakura's body," she said tiredly, "are a number of worms."
Shirou and Saber both recoiled. "Worms?"
Rin nodded. "It's not uncommon for certain types of magecraft to have a physical effect on the body — that's why Sakura, despite being my younger sister, looks more like Shinji's sister."
She looked at them as though she had expected them to be surprised by the fact that Sakura was her sister, but Shirou (and Saber, too, it seemed) had already known. Rin frowned at them both, but didn't comment on it.
"Anyway," she went on, "I thought that it was just the Matou family magic that changed her appearance, and in a way, I was right. The worms in Sakura's body are actually a type of familiar, and apparently, they're Zouken's. I imagine that this is how he stayed alive all these years, by attaching himself to his familiars and inhabiting them while he strung along a puppet body made of his more disposable worms."
"And he did this," Saber asked dangerously, "to Sakura?"
Shirou couldn't blame her. He was beginning to feel angry, too — angrier than he thought he'd ever been, even when he found out that Kirei had been responsible for Kiritsugu's death.
"The most important worm is here," she rested her finger atop the upper part of Sakura's left breast. "It's either right next to her heart or inside of it, I couldn't tell which. If we destroy that worm, then that should kill Zouken."
And, like that, with a deadly calm, Rin proposed killing her own sister. Shirou suddenly felt incredibly hot, but his chest felt frigid and cold. He was burning up, but he was also freezing. His limbs were on fire, but his heart was frozen. He couldn't find any words to describe exactly what was happening — his head was foggy and blurred, and his mouth couldn't seem to come up with anything to say.
Saber said it for him.
"That would require killing your own sister!" she shouted. "Rin, how could you —"
"I don't like it any better than you!" Rin screamed suddenly. "But we don't exactly have any better options, okay?! The moment she wakes up again, Zouken will try to take control of her! As long as that worm is inside of her, Zouken can keep taking her over like a puppet! The only way to save her, the only way to kill Zouken, is to get rid of that worm, and damn it, we don't have to resources to do it carefully enough to save her life!"
Something wet and hot dripped onto the floor. In the dim light, Shirou hadn't seen it before, but as Rin lifted her head to look at him, as the dying sunlight streamed across her features, Shirou could see the tears that were rolling down her cheeks in spite of the resolved expression on her face.
"The only way to save Sakura," Rin's trembling voice gave her away, "is to kill her."
The silence that fell was deafening. Shirou wanted to say something, he wanted to refuse her, tell her that there had to be some other way, but her eyes shimmered and her lip wobbled and his mouth wouldn't work. In his head, numerous Noble Phantasms popped up and offered themselves for use, but he dismissed all of them as powerless to help him.
All but one.
Gáe Bolg, the Barbed Spear that Pierces with Death.
No matter how desperately he refused it, Gáe Bolg remained firmly rooted in his head. It wouldn't go away, it wouldn't leave him, because he knew, deep down in his heart, that it would be the weapon he would use to save Sakura.
There was nothing else to use. There was no other choice. Zouken had to be killed. If they left him alone, he could do far too much damage using Sakura as his host. If they didn't kill him, then he would kill them, and there was no telling exactly what sort of evils he would unleash upon the world in his quest for the Grail.
The only option, the only thing they could do to prevent Zouken's monstrosity from being unleashed upon the world, was to kill him. The only way to kill Zouken was to destroy the worm that was his core. The only way to destroy that worm was to destroy the part it inhabited. That part was Sakura's heart.
For such a task, the only weapon feasible was the spear that always pierced the heart.
He hated himself. He hated that he would have to do it. He hated that there wasn't any other choice, but…
"There's no other way?" he asked reluctantly, hating himself with every word.
Rin's head drooped, and he pretended not to notice it when she sniffled. "No."
Shirou felt cold. The room felt cold. With a single word, Sakura's fate had been decided. With a single word, the fact that Sakura was going to die became unavoidable. With a single word, Shirou became an executioner.
And still, the alternative was even more ghastly.
Shirou sighed. The hammer in his head cocked back and fired.
It was Saber who said it. She looked at Shirou with a hard, meaningful stare.
"There is another way," she told him.
Rin wasn't amused. "Sakura is going to die, Saber. Don't — don't say something like that when it isn't true. We have to destroy that worm, and there isn't a way to do that without killing Sakura! So —"
"Shirou," Saber cut her off, "we can save Sakura's life. Please, if you care anything for her, then you cannot keep it a secret any longer."
Rin turned to him with a look of betrayal on her face, like he had purposefully not mentioned this earlier, but Shirou honestly didn't know what Saber was talking about.
"Saber," Shirou started, "I don't —"
"The sheath heals any wound," Saber told him solemnly.
Shirou froze. His mind wound back and played her words over and over again. In the bubble that was his inner world, a golden light rose up and formed into a magnificent sheath that glowed with "Utopia." Its name, history, function, everything about it, appeared in his mind's eye.
"Yes," he said simply. He didn't bother to wonder how it was Saber knew he had Avalon. He didn't care. All he cared about was that it was a method of saving Sakura. All he cared about was the fact that it would allow him to save Sakura.
He looked at her. He looked at Saber, squared his features, and said, "Let's do it."
She strode over to him and pressed one hand against his chest. "Then you bring it forth, Shirou," she said, "and I will give it form."
He nodded, let out a breath through his nose, and closed his eyes. "Trace, on."
In his head, the image formed. Avalon, the Ever-distant Utopia. The golden sheath of the sword, Excalibur, which healed any wound, no matter how severe, and protected the life of King Arthur. Name, history, function, concept of creation, manufacturing process — it all appeared in his mind's eye. He could see it as clearly as if he had gazed upon it his entire life.
This was the one thing he could never make a mistake on.
The golden sheath, Avalon, had been a part of Shirou's body since the moment of his birth — since that fire, the blaze, the conflagration that destroyed so many lives, that moment where the person "Emiya Shirou" came into existence, Avalon had been a part of his body. He knew its shape and form as well as he knew his own hands. There was no way it would be anything but perfect.
"It is done."
Shirou opened his eyes. There, Saber stood, and cradled in her arms was Avalon, perfect and golden. For a moment, Shirou missed it. For a moment, he missed the perfection that had been inside of him just a moment ago. The ideal that Saber strove towards, the ideal that Shirou strove towards — for a moment, he missed its presence in his body.
And then, he remembered that it had been engraved into his heart and his very being. Even though the sheath was gone, its image, its memory, and the ideal that it represented all still existed inside of him.
"So that's how you healed so quickly."
The moment was broken. Rin was gazing upon the sheath with understanding and a bit of wonderment.
"Avalon, the sheath of King Arthur's Excalibur," she said. "An artifact said to heal any wound, no matter its severity. Heh — with an artifact like that, there was no way I was ever summoning Saber, was there?"
"With this, we can kill Zouken without killing Sakura," Saber said. She didn't bother answering Rin's question — it was mostly rhetorical anyway, Shirou figured.
"Right," Rin nodded. "That thing only works with your Prana, right? Then we'll need to create a pass between you and Sakura after we put it in her — Shirou, you can recreate Gáe Bolg, right?"
Shirou blinked. "Yeah."
"Then hurry up," she commanded. "Trace Gáe Bolg. The sooner we get this over with, the less likely we are to have Fujimura-sensei walk in on us. I'd rather not have to explain all of this to her, and it'd be a hassle to hypnotize her again."
Shirou grimaced. Yeah, even if they did hypnotize her, Fuji-nee would flip out about everything, first. That would alert the entire neighborhood.
So then…first, he would have to Trace Gáe Bolg.
The red spear appeared in his head.
Under ordinary circumstances, he'd simply pull the image from Unlimited Blade Works — that was how Archer did it. It was faster and easier and far less draining, and it resulted in a somewhat flawed image, but Shirou had to have perfection in this instance. If he screwed anything up, then he might make a mistake in the process of destroying Zouken's worm. If that happened, then things could get worse than they already were.
So, he needed a perfect Gáe Bolg, a perfect recreation.
Judge the concept of creation.
Visualize the basic structure.
This spear would be piercing Sakura's heart. There was no point making it less than perfect. It had to be the epitome of what "Gáe Bolg" was. It had to be indistinguishable from the original. No mistakes. No flaws.
Duplicate the component materials.
Match the original craftsmanship.
For Sakura's sake, it had to be the best work he'd ever done.
Sympathize with the experience of its growth.
Reproduce the accumulated age.
Excel every manufacturing process.
The image became reality. A heavy weight appeared in Shirou's hand, and when he opened his eyes, there it was — the red spear, Gáe Bolg, the lance of the Irish hero, Cúchulainn.
Rin was looking at him. Saber's cheeks were a little flushed, and she and Rin had propped Sakura up so that he had a clear target. The thought made him briefly sick, and a small part of him wondered why he was the only one who seemed bothered by the fact that they were going to be stabbing Sakura with what was usually a sure-kill weapon.
"Are you ready, Shirou?" Rin asked solemnly.
Shirou nodded. He hefted the spear, and suddenly, the air froze. The tip vibrated, and the entire lance came alive with a horrid, cursed malevolence. Shirou hardened his heart. He knew what he had to do. He knew what must be done in order to save Sakura. Even if it hurt him, even if he hated himself for the rest of his life, he knew what he had to do.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
To be continued
Disclaimer: I don't own Fate/Stay Night.
Warned you, didn't I? Some Heaven's Feel territory.
So, I got 5 rather nasty anonymous reviews ("Flames," as they are called in fanfiction) last chapter by someone calling themselves "iluminious" or something like that. Don't bother going to look for them — they've been deleted. If they'd had any grounds, I might have left them up, but they were just a waste of space, and the person who left them has obviously never read the VN, nor has any idea how the Nasuverse actually works.
To be specific, one point the reviewer brought up was "Caster's teleportation takes 1-2 seconds." That's a fallacy. Logically, we could say that, yes. But as far as the Nasuverse is concerned, Caster's magic (the "High Speed Divine Words" skill) is done with the speed of a Single Action. A Single Action spell takes less time than a One Liner, by how much, I'm not sure (but I'm betting "half"), and a One Liner takes one second. According to Nasu, anyway.
Another point brought up was Shirou's incompetence. And I admit that this reviewer did have something of a point about it. But Shirou isn't Rin. Rin, if she'd been shunted back in time, would've remembered all the important details and changed everything she wanted to change, but Shirou is Shirou, and Shirou isn't a genius like Rin is.
As for how I know this reviewer didn't read the VN…Well, they said that Shirou's inner monologue in Chapter Six about time-traveling and respecting the pain of those who'd died was OOC, and I took most of that monologue directly out of the VN. So you can see why I know just how ignorant that reviewer was.
Now that that's all out of the way, which ending do you guys want to see, first? Good or Normal? I admit, I originally planned to start with the Normal end, but I'm going to leave it up to you guys. Poll's in my profile.
That's why I'm here.
James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes
James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes(Signature best viewed in Wendy Medium font style)