Long Live the King
A ballad of swords and souls, sung throughout time. A woman whose honor, courage, and compassion transcend even Fate itself. History repeats and, in doing so, is distorted. Let those who seek a hero rejoice. Long Live the King.
Prologue: Break the Chains of Fate!
The Fifth Grail War had been a long battle. Less savage and destructive than the Fourth, but still... special. Unique. A lesser, more profane woman than Arturia might've even called it a clusterfuck.
But at last, it was all but over. Just one final target.
She was exhausted from her savage battle with Gilgamesh, but the King of Knights had power enough for one last attack.
Bringing down the Sword of Promised Victory with all her might, Arturia Pendragon screamed.
A storm of golden light erupts from the fey blade, and the corrupt... thing before her is wiped from existence.
I suppose it's ironic, she thought, that twice I've fought a war for this Grail, and twice I've destroyed it.
She turned, then, to her Master. The man who, despite herself, she'd grown to care for. No, she corrected herself, the man I've come to love. Shirou Emiya.
They'd only been together for a couple of weeks, and now they would part - without the Grail, her existence in the present as a Servant would end, and she would return to the past and die at Camlann.
After I failed my beloved country, even this much is more than I deserve.
As she faded into light, she recalled how Shirou had gone out of his way to interact with her at every opportunity, refusing to treat her as anything but his equal. As she took a moment to compare father and son, she mused, If Kiritsugu had told me about the corruption in the Grail ten years ago, I probably would've chosen to destroy it then. Indeed, had we spoken our thoughts to each other at all, we might've won the Fourth War with minimal effort and collateral damage.
She then recalled how nearly every Servant had been a match for its Master, but the King of Knights had never been able to figure out the commonality between herself and Kiritsugu, assuming that Avalon was the only reason he'd been able to summon her.
And that was when it struck her - they had both completely failed to communicate their ideals to others, and had suffered for it. Arturia Pendragon, as the King of Britain, had held herself away and apart from her subjects, believing that a King could not be a person, had to be an existence beyond those she ruled. And as a Servant, knowing that in the best case scenario she'd die after the current war, she'd wished to be treated as a weapon instead of a person.
And Kiritsugu Emiya had, now that she reflected on it, given her exactly what she wanted. She didn't speak to her sword, after all. And her previous Master had explicitly considered her as only a weapon like any other.
In her life, and in the Fourth War, she had wished to be treated as an inhuman existence, and each time she suffered for it.
For just a moment, the King of Knights allowed herself to wonder what might have been. If I understood then what I've learned since... that I can be a King or a weapon and yet still retain my humanity...
She had, by this point, completely faded into light. In the void of time en route to her proper body, content to die... all hell broke loose.
For one instant, she felt herself one with all of time and space. The universe heaved, and earth and heaven imploded.
After the cosmic fireworks died down, the blonde found herself on a platform of stained glass, surrounded by a pitch-black void. Looking beneath her, on the platform, she observed three different portraits. They were of herself, and herself, and herself.
King Arthur, the steel-eyed monarch who sealed her heart beyond anyone's reach; Saber, the stoic sword that smote evil; and Arturia, the little girl abandoned and alone, suffering in silence.
Despite seeing only darkness around her, there was a source of light somewhere, as she could see herself and the platform perfectly well - further evidenced by the presence of her shadow.
At that moment, however, the petite swordsmaster's eyes widened as her shadow began to rise from the surface, taking on a three-dimensional form until it had become a twisted reflection of herself in black armor; her eyes shone an unholy gold, her skin was unnaturally pale, and her hair was much less vibrant. In her dominant hand was a corrupt parody of Invisible Air - extending from the pommel of the sword was only a flickering shadow.
On edge, Arturia asked, "Just what are you, creature?"
It was in a complete monotone that the shadow replied, "I am self-righteous arrogance to those beneath me. I am wretched self-pity in the face of those above me. I am Alter, and I am... not enough."
Despite being utterly emotionless, it seemed bitter as it whispered, "I am never enough."
Without further preamble, Alter rushed at Arturia, each attack an attempted killing stroke. The King of Knights was saved at first by her well-honed instincts, but the exhaustion and injuries from fighting Gilgamesh had not yet healed, and even besides that, Arturia felt strangely... empty on the inside.
Even as she fought for her life, she wondered why she was fighting when she was going to die after this... whatever the hell was going on... subsided anyway. Is it because I want to live now that I've known happiness? she wondered.
As the apparent twins clashed, Arturia found scenes from her life rising to the forefront of her mind, unbidden.
Drawing Caliburn from the stone, declaring herself to be the King.
Turning her sword on Lancelot and Guinevere and condemning them to death as adulterers and traitors despite her own feelings, as her own laws demanded.
Destroying the Holy Grail she'd fought so hard for twice; once under compulsion, and once by force.
Falling in love with Shirou Emiya, despite harboring utter hatred for his father up until the end of the Fifth War.
I've made so many choices, haven't I? And though I now regret some of the things I've done and said, they're all my responsibility.
Alter said, "Give up and save yourself some trouble. As a King, you are without army or Kingdom. As a sword, you are broken. As a woman, you are loved only by a fool with no identity of his own. Just who are you, then, that you fight so hard for a life doomed to end, regardless of the battle's conclusion?"
Her strength fading, and too exhausted to use Mana Burst, Arturia matched Alter's apathy with a defiant scowl and countered, "And just who are you to make light of King Arthur?!"
At that moment, the flickering shadow vanished, allowing Arturia to properly see Alter's ebon blade. After a second of surprise, Arturia found herself starting to grin. Even though she was weakening under the black swordmaster's assault, now that she could properly see the enemy's blade, the azure knight could fight more efficiently and confidently. Now that she could accurately gauge the enemy weapon, she could begin a counterattack.
More memories flashed through Arturia's mind as she parried Alter's ebon blade and used her free hand to punch the shadow's face.
A neverending cycle of conflict, of taking and sacrificing lives in order to protect more lives. Losing battles to win wars.
Killing her own son Mordred, and being killed by him in return.
Battling Sasaki Kojiro on the steps of Ryudo temple.
Dueling Diarmuid at the docks.
Defeating Gilgamesh, the most powerful Heroic Spirit known to man.
So many battles, and so little else... Is this what my life has added up to? Still, I must admit that whenever I faced an honorable opponent, I sort of enjoyed it.
Arturia blocked Alter's overhead slash, the two blades grinding against each other and shooting sparks. For several moments, the King of Knights felt herself being gradually forced downward. "Why do you fight, when your death is eminent? Here or at Camlann, it makes no difference."
Gritting her teeth, she growled, "Even if I am fated to die regardless of the battle's outcome, you will not defeat me. My pride as a warrior will not allow it!"
With renewed vigor and strength, she pushed with enough force to send Alter skidding across the platform, coming to a stop several yards away.
In the brief pause of the battle, Arturia noted that two of the portraits - the King and the Sword - had vanished.
Sensing Alter's renewed attack, Arturia parried her counterpart's sword with almost no effort compared to her earlier attempts. While the black knight was still physically stronger, the blue knight had greater speed and skill, easily evading Alter's blade and countering fast enough that Alter could barely protect herself.
Eventually, Alter unleashed a pulse of energy that knocked Arturia back a few feet. "It ends."
Alter rested the tip of her blade on the platform behind her, and then drug it forward with more force than she had yet exerted in a single attack, flinging a massive spike of dark energy aimed at Arturia's throat.
More memories flashed before Arturia's eyes.
A banquet with her Knights of the Round.
Her brash older brother, Kay, doting on her when she had been ill as a child.
Intimate moments with Shirou.
I kept insisting on only being a King or a weapon, and yet even as the King, I was human all along, wasn't I?
With a fierce shout, Arturia deflected Alter's spike before firmly planting her feet on the platform and raising her blade into the air.
"And a reckless fool Shirou may be," Arturia proudly declared, "but he's my reckless fool! EEEEEEEX!"
The King of Knights stepped forward and unleashed her full power at point-blank range.
A storm erupted from Arturia's blade, wearing down Alter's defense until she cried out in pain, being swept away in the maelstrom of golden light.
The final portrait was blank.
When Excalibur's light died down, Alter was forcing herself to one knee, gradually fading into particles of black dust.
As the realization of her opponent's identity and purpose dawned on her, the time-displaced Servant absently verbalized her thoughts. "I understand, now, why I was abandoned and betrayed by others - it was because I kept abandoning and betraying myself as well."
Alter's emotionless eyes seemed to be pleading as she said, "I... I don't want to be alone anymore."
Smiling warmly at the other self before her, Arturia said, "You won't. I swear it on my word as the King."
Alter's face finally took a proper expression; becoming much softer as she smiled, a single tear of relief running down her face. "The word of the King... huh? I'll hold you to that."
Alter faded back into a black silhouette before merging into Arturia.
The King of Knights promptly blacked out.
"ARTHUR! OI, ARTHUR!"
Arturia awoke in a straw bed dressed in a thin shirt and breeches to a familiar voice calling her.
The door to her room slammed open, and her boisterous older brother stood in it. His grin nearly as big as he himself was, he said, "Get up, you lazy blackguard! Today begins the tournament!"
Still feeling mostly asleep, the crossdressed young lady groggily asked, "Tourna...ment?"
"What are you, still dreamin'? The tourney to choose the King of Britannia!"
Having been returned to her past by unknown means, Arturia finds her wish has been granted after all. Will the woman whose honor surpasses time allow the reins of rule to be in another's hand? Or will she force Fate to follow her own designs and become the King she felt Britain deserves?
Find out next time on Episode 2: BORN! Our King of Knights!
LONG LIVE THE KING!