A/N: Shush, I'm getting back into the swing of things. Chapter 5 of Bahamut is in work.
The grey haired woman sighed as she felt the last of her strength fading from her body, energy sapped away not by battle or Magecraft, but simple time. A quiet death due to old age, a much better end for her than she had expected.
But an almost sad smile was on her lips. "At least I saved you, Shirou."
And with her final words, Rin Tohsaka slipped from life.
She looked at the fallen Grail as Saber destroyed it, Promised Victory actualizing. As she watched the last moments between Shirou and Saber as the Servant faded away, she recalled her own Servant, lost to protect them.
And she looked at Shirou, knew the path that he would eventually follow.
"If only I could save you, Shirou."
The young man in question turned, almost as if hearing her, and an alarmed look came over his face at something behind her.
Quickly spinning, the words of a curse upon her lips, Rin's face drained of all color as the sludge of the Grail made one last spurt. "Granted." And then Rin knew no more.
"Upon your summoning I have come forth. I am Servant Archer. I ask of you, are you my Master?" The man in red kneeled in a circle of Magecraft, looking at the woman who had summoned him. In his mind he collected himself, realizing that this would be one of the worlds that he kept his memories. Excellent.
And then he looked up, as the woman he knew would be his diminutive Master was not speaking.
Whiter that a ghost, Rin Tohsaka stared at the back of her hand, trembling. "Impossible." She whispered.
What world have I been summoned to, if Rin did not expect the summoning to work? Archer questioned himself. "I ask again. Are you my Master?"
"How? Again? But, you got what you wanted, Shirou." Rin breathed out, and Archer's face went slack in surprise. "You agreed to die by your own hand. You paradoxed yourself out of Existence. I watched the Command Seals VANISH!" The tiny magus was almost hyperventilating and Archer stood, touching her shoulders. She jerked back. "Three Excaliburs destroyed the Grail and then you killed yourself. I nearly killed myself and burned out my Crest, providing enough Prana!"
"Master?" Archer slowly asked, trying to get a grip on exactly what was happening as well. He could remember dozens of times being summoned and that had never happened before.
Rin looked at her Servant. "You are still a Counter Guardian then?" Archer looked as if he had been slapped, barely managing a nod. "Then yes, I am your Master. Come on, Shirou. We have a lot to talk about."
Ten minutes later found the two sitting in front of tea, as Rin tried to collect herself. Archer sat quietly in front of her, waiting.
"I saved you." Rin said quietly, and again Archer jerked as if slapped. "Funny, how it seems to always come down to saving, doesn't it?" She didn't wait for him to say anything. "This is my third time through the fifth Grail War."
This time, Archer did not start, if only because he was starting to dread the words of his tiny Master, his friend, instead of just being surprised.
"The first time, I watched as Saber destroyed the Grail. Then I foolishly spoke words that could be considered a wish, and the remnants of the Grail reacted. I found myself where I did earlier. With you summoned as my Archer."
Her voice seemed to almost curl lovingly around the possessive 'my.'
"I found myself back, and panicked. Probably worse than I am now." Rin let out a half-sobbing laugh. "It took me days to figure out what had happened, and by then I almost missed the fight between you and Lancer. I healed you, and then watched as you summoned Saber without having Lancer's fight distracting you."
Archer reached out, a hand laying over Rin's trembling one.
"The summoning wasn't flawed this time, because of it. Saber had full access to Shirou's unused prana in his circuits while he would have continued to use his converted nerves. Then you pulled him aside. I couldn't hear the whole conversation, but it was something about Sakura and being a Counter Guardian."
She shook, terrible tremors that had Archer out of his chair, wrapping arms around her shoulders to steady her.
"You broke yourself. The incarnation of the sword shattered. Shirou agreed to let Archer kill him." Rin turned, sobbing into his chest. "What did you tell yourself, Shirou?"
He thought he'd had all his memories. Indeed, thinking on it this was the first time he'd ever remembered that he had been summoned multiple times. But whatever had happened, he did not remember that summoning. Perhaps only that portion of him had been able to remove itself from Alaya's grasp.
If that were true, then he could never free his true self from the Throne, only the portions that were summoned copies.
"There are many ways this Grail War goes, Master." He retreated into Servant Archer to distance himself from his own pain and realization. "I have been your Servant dozens of times, and tried multiple ways of ending things. Some of them end very poorly. I do not recall the summoning you speak of, but if I told myself of Sakura, then it was one of the very poorly ended times, that ended with no one and nothing winning, except the Black Grail that Sakura became." He did not wince as Rin's nails dug into his arms. "I likely explained that his very existence caused no one to be saved, but everyone to die."
Rin slowly pulled away. "Sakura did not turn into this Black Grail thing, either time. But killing yourself doesn't work, so no more attempts at that. My wish was to save you from becoming what you are, and it didn't work. And now I'm back here again."
Archer nodded. He could see he would never be freed from Alaya's control now. And the Grail had trapped Rin as well, in a wish that could never be fulfilled. "Then do we continue?"
Rin shook her head. "Three broken Excaliburs destroyed the Greater Grail and the mountain itself before Ilya had a single soul."
"Like I said. I nearly killed myself providing the Prana for you to break your copy of Excalibur. Shirou traced his own copy under your instruction and burned out his entire nervous system." Tears gathered in Rin's eyes once more. "And it took two Command Seals for Shirou to force Arturia to break the original. And the final one to utterly destroy the Grail."
Immediately Archer reached into the Unlimited Blade Works. Sitting on the hill was Excalibur as he recalled, but a single crack ran down its impeccable length. Its breaking had echoed even into his reality marble and through the Throne of Heroes. He wondered if when she was summoned once more, if she would still wield the Sword of Promised Victory or if it had been destroyed as well.
"I truly cannot end my bargain with Alaya then." Archer's spoken words hurt both Master and Servant.
"No." The word blazed from the small woman. "I refuse. Even if I have to reach the Akashic Records and rewrite them to say you ascended to the Throne without Alaya. I spent my entire last life doing everything short of rebuilding the Grail to ensure it was truly gone. I know enough about it to cheat like Zouken never thought to."
"And that does what for us, Master?"
"As absolutely perfect for me as the Knight of the Bow, as my Archer, you are still the incarnation of Sword." Rin stepped back, her mind whirling and going through thousands of thoughts. "Arturia is not going to be summoned this time. You are going to take her place as the Knight of the Sword. We're going to drain every last bit of power from the Grail, and then your mortal self is going to ascend to the Throne of Heroes by himself after a long life of proving himself." She thumped his chest. "Do you understand me?"
"Truly, my Master is a frightening woman." Archer chuckled.
Shirou Emiya, fake janitor, burgeoning Magus, and one day to be Ally of Justice, centered himself. There was nothing but himself and the target. Even the space between was as nothing, and as he released the bowstring he could already tell it was an exact bull's-eye.
So it came as a complete and utter shock when his arrow was splintered mid flight by a flying sword of all things, which took his arrows place at center bull's-eye. And then vanished, leaving only the damage to the target and arrow as proof.
There was a laugh behind him and Shirou turned to find Rin Tohsaka, the school idol, with a hand covering her mouth and a laugh in her eyes as the white haired man beside her held an absolutely huge bow, string still quivering from being fired.
It was at least two hours before anyone else would normally take the field, but Shirou bowed even as he apologized. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you had this part of the field reserved, Miss Tohsaka."
"Oh Shirou, don't ever change." Rin smiled, before elbowing the man standing next to her for some reason.
Shirou blinked once at the familiarity she used his name with and then twice more at the warmth she put into it. "Ah, alright?"
"The fifth Grail War is about to start. And if you're going to be a proper," The man sighed and his next word was strained, "hero, then you have to be prepared for it."
Shirou looked between the two, eyes wide as the few details his father had given him came to mind. "Tohsaka, you're a Magus? And…" Even as Rin was nodding, Shirou looked back at the mostly destroyed target. "You're a Servant?" Shirou prepared himself. He might be a third-rate magus, but even then he wouldn't let anything stop him from becoming... "Wait, what?"
Rin sighed. "Come on, Shirou. You're missing school today and we'll explain. Then you're summoning a Servant for this farce."
An hour later after Taiga had been politely hypnotized into leaving and explanations had been gone through, Shirou looked at Archer with a hopeful look.
"So I did become a hero then. One great enough to be called from the future!"
Archer sighed, rubbing his temples. "No. At best, you could call me an Anti-Hero, one unsuitable for being summoned for the Grail if it was not corrupted. And I only ascended because of a bargain I made with Alaya, the Spirit of Humanity. The ideal we follow is flawed."
"How can saving people be a flaw? Protecting people is a good thing!"
Rin was quiet. She had been unable to argue Shirou from this thought in her first life, and her second Archer had driven his younger self to self-execution. There had to be a middle ground, she only hoped Archer could find it.
"Everyone in the city is an innocent bystander in the Grail War, correct?" Archer asked, receiving a nod. "I can save them all. Would you like to know how?"
Shirou grinned. "Of course."
"Only a handful people have to die. The seven Masters of the Grail War, plus anyone else tying the servants to existence. Of course, that does mean that I'll have to kill Rin, Sakura, and your sister Ilya as well as you. Mind you, at this time Rin, Sakura, and Ilya are all innocents as well, but they are Masters."
"Sister, wha?" Shirou stared at the Servant of the Bow.
"This is where the ideal we have inherited from Kiritsugu has lead us. To wish to save someone, you wish them to be in danger and needing to be saved. To save the city, you must sacrifice those whose worst deed may be that they have been chosen as Masters for the Grail War."
Shirou's eyes widened and he looked at Rin who seemed a bit white as well. "You're supposed to defeat the Servants, not kill the Masters!"
"Ah, but a battle between Servants has a very high chance of destroying the local area and harming or killing people that get caught in the crossfire. The Archer class is generally the only one summoned with Independent Action, so by killing the Masters the Servants are almost immediately defeated."
Shirou slumped. He wanted to save everyone.
He could accept saving as many as possible.
He could accept killing a bad guy to save someone.
A sharp edge in his mind. He could accept dying to save someone.
But could he accept killing a few innocents to save even more? Could he let someone kill Sakura, who had never hurt anyone, just to save more people?
He looked at Archer, who was him. Could he personally kill Sakura, watch her eyes as she died?
Archer could. It resonated between them. Archer would. Had. Did. Does.
The edge in his mind sheathed. "I won't accept that. There has to be a way of saving everyone that doesn't involve killing anyone innocent to save more."
Archer let out a somber chuckle. "This is normally the point where we fight, you the new edge of the blade of your ideals, and myself the final end of it. Shattered, broken, and betrayed. You assume that overcoming me means you are stronger and that you can uphold our ideal better than I. I've finally recognized that it's the first chip in the blade." Archer pointed at Shirou, a traced knife in his hands, but holding the blade in his own hands. "Because in killing me, I betray myself. Regardless of who wins that battle."
Shirou stared at the hilt pointed at him.
"It's not going to end up that way." Rin butted in finally, both mortal and Servant looking at her. "We're going to break the rules of the Grail and save everyone in it." She looked directly at Shirou. "And you're going to prove to yourself that you can do it. No compromise. Do you understand me?"
The summoning circle had been cleared out, and the three stood before it.
"You know who he's going to summon. Avalon won't allow him to summon anyone else, unless you plan on taking it from him first." Archer said quietly. "Is that what your plan is?"
"No." Rin shook her head. "Stand in the circle, Archer. And when we're done, you'll be Saber instead."
Nodding, Archer stepped forward, making sure not to step on any of the circle lines.
Rin held up her hand, Command Spells radiating. "By the power of this Command Spell, I direct my Servant to declare who stands in this room."
As the Command Spell faded from her hand, Archer felt it take hold of him. For a moment, he wasn't sure exactly what she wanted. And then the pulse of magic from the Grail hit, forcing him to answer.
"Rin Tohsaka. Master of the fifth Grail War."
"Shirou Emiya. Prospective Master of the fifth Grail War."
He tried to answer with his class for himself, but Rin's Command Spell was insistent and then he realized what she was doing.
"Shirou Emiya. Servant of the fifth Grail War."
The summoning circle under his feet seemed to pulse with magic as the Grail enforced declaration distorted something.
Rin nudged Shirou. "Start the summoning as soon as I do this." A second Command Spell flared. "By the power of this Command Spell, I direct my Servant to summon his Reality Marble in conjunction with the summoning of a Servant."
Prana seemed to explode in Archer and the words tumbled from him. "I am the bone of my sword."
"Silver and iron to the origin. Gem and the archduke of contracts to the cornerstone. The ancestor is my great master Schweinorg."
"Steel is my body and fire is my blood."
"The alighted wind becomes a wall. The gates in the four directions close, coming from the crown, the three-forked road that leads to the kingdom circulate"
"I have created over a thousand blades."
"Shut (fill). Shut (fill). Shut (fill). Shut (fill). Shut (fill). Repeat every five times. Simply, shatter once filled."
"Unknown to Death, nor known to Life."
"I announce. Yourself is under me, my fate (doom) is in your sword."
"Have withstood pain to create many weapons."
"In accordance with the resort of the Holy Grail, if you abide by this feeling, this reason, then answer."
"Yet, those hands will never hold anything."
"Here is my oath. I am the one who becomes all the good of the world of the dead; I am the one who lays out all the evil of the world of the dead."
"So as I pray, Unlimited Blade Works!"
An unburning fire exploded from Archer as reality was overwritten by the soul of Shirou Emiya, even as the last of Shirou's chant finished.
"You, seven heavens clad in three words of power, arrive from the ring of deterrence, O keeper of the balance!"
The three found themselves on the hill in front of the cracked Excalibur, planted directly in front of Archer. The flickering form of Arturia seemed to be trying to form, but unable to pierce the distance between realities with one servant already in the summoning circle.
Rin's final Command Spell flared. "By the power of my final Command Spell, accept this contract as yourself."
Unlimited Blade Works seemed to reverberate with the Command and Arturia form winked out.
Hundreds of thousands of images of Archer appeared, each one standing at a sword around the hill, all looking at the Shirou and Archer standing in front of Excalibur.
Every sword was drawn.
Under the power of a Command Spell, even as it was the last one thus severing the bindings between Master and Servant, the red clad Servant and prospective master clasped hands.
He who had been Archer spoke, every copy shouting. "Under the name Shirou Emiya."
The young man smiled. "I accept this Contract."
The Reality Marble fell, and Gaia interposed once more. Shirou fell to his knees screaming, alone in the room except for Rin who screamed his name, diving for him as well.
The Greater Grail is an artifact of immense power, made even greater for the fact that no wish had been granted in previous wars.
However, there were still rules that were created by the founding families.
All seven Masters were to be Magus.
Only spirits from the Throne of Heroes were to be summoned as a Servant.
Masterless Servants could form a new Contract with a Servantless Master.
Rules had not been put into place to stop a Servant from changing class, for after having been summoned their stats would not change. Therefore it would be near suicide for a Servant to change Class.
However. It was never expected that a Master would summon a Servant outside of the rules of the world Gaia imposed. Rules where things such as Archer or Saber didn't exist, only Shirou Emiya and not-Shirou Emiya.
It should have been impossible to be both Master and Servant for the Grail War.
Rin knew that a Servant Caster could technically summon a Servant as well, as she had seen in her original life, though it would not make a full connection to the Grail.
But a Master trying to Contract a Servant when both were the same, the partial connection as a Magus Servant tried to bypass the rules, but was actually a Master... The Grail overcompensated and kept throwing power to fully seal the Contract.
As she held onto Shirou as he screamed in pain from the Contract, Rin prayed for his sanity and life. Archer should have just been pulled completely out of the Throne of Heroes, then they could have made him into a true hero as Saber.
Not this. Tears fell from her as she tried to figure out anything to do for him.