Chapter 10

Saber watched in the direction the arrow had come from as Shirou and Lancer left with Illyasviel. He watched for any sign that another attack was forthcoming while they moved behind the hill. As he did so, he gauged the direction of the attack as he eyed a building in the distance and let his sword shift form into a bow. He let his instincts guide him as he pulled back the string on the bow, not even watching the arrow form there. He considered carrying out the fight here, but instead started a run higher up into the hills, as he kept his eye on the skyscraper in the distance. Sure enough, a series of arrows dogged his steps as he made for higher ground himself.

He paused in his flight to take aim himself at the building in the distance.

Archer didn't know what to think for several seconds. His bolt had struck true, granted a different target had taken the hit, but it still should have obliterated the presence of that one sun standing among the others. Instead, the man's power had somehow merely become a smouldering glimmer rather than a brilliant shining beacon. This was a strange one. He'd thought that he'd seen this sun go out several times already, only to resurge again in full strength.

The other suns had gone behind the hill and out of his view. He could arch an arrow or a sun over it, perhaps, but he had no idea whether it would come down in their surrounding area. Besides, he'd rather save the suns for use against this Servant Saber. He turned to look back toward his other target and quickly shifted aside as a bolt struck through the window and stuck into the wall behind him.

"Another one," he commented to himself. "This war is filled with archers, it seems."

He returned the shot with a shaft of his own, aiming for the smouldering glow of power that was heading higher up into the hills. He smiled and drew forth a golden arrow and placing it on his string.

"Second Sun!"

"The world is scrabbling for my end it seems," Saber chuckled to himself as followed his instinct to turn aside his glance just before the bolt exploded in the air above him in a literally blinding display of light and fire.

He considered his position for a moment and whether or not to take the shot yet, but decided against it. He returned Archer's blinding shaft with a simple barbed and poisoned arrow of his own as he moved higher up the hill for a more advantageous position. Pausing again, he turned, watched for a tell tale streak and fired. In the distance, the death of a sun cascaded over the city in a light show of electromagnetic discharge as his hydra-blood dipped arrows collided with his enemy's shaft.

"To see such skill in one who has the Saber class," Archer noted. "One might think that I am facing a god such as myself."

"Ignore him, Archer," his Master instructed. "We only have to take his Master, not trade blows with him."

"It would be a mistake to let him run free," Archer repeated.

"Do not make me use another Command Seal," Rayleith returned angrily.

Archer considered it and then nodded reluctantly. He could move to a new vantage point and watch for the Masters and Servants to come out of the hills again. It was quite possible that that was what Saber was trying to draw him away from.

The giant paused as he felt a driving assurance that if he didn't strike now, that it would be too late. He stepped forward, sighted along the shaft.

"What are you doing, Saber?" Illya asked. She sounded weak already. Heracles shook his head at this evidence of the weight of Gilgamesh's soul. In all likelihood, she would be crippled in the next few minutes by the weight of souls coming.

"I am removing your enemies," he responded lightly and encouragingly.

He pulled back on his shaft and directed his will towards enacting his Noble Phantasm.

"When are you coming back?" Illyasviel asked.

"I'll be with you again soon, Illyasviel von Einzbern," he promised her. "Where you aware that was tasked to drive the chariot of the sun upon my deification?"

"Yes, I was. What does that have to do with anything?"

He smiled and let fly his shaft. "Nine Lives: Hundred Heads Shooter!"

Archer started to turn away from his perch when he barely caught sight of the smouldering lump of power wink out. Had it just taken time for injuries to kill that great sun then? No, the energy wasn't simply snuffed. It was expended and now there was a rush of projectiles streaming in his direction.

He rose up his bow and set an arrow to quiver, pulling it back. "Fifth Sun!"

The bolt released outward, and struck within the oncoming barrage, erupting into a point of blackness that drew in the central bulk of the onrushing projectiles. However, this was not a simple massed bunch of arrows. It was a hundred separate projectiles released in one instant to travel one hundred separate paths and unleashed by an opponent that knew Archer's bursting effects. While the Fifth Sun drew in and crushed perhaps sixty of the barbed arrows, it could not stop them all.

Nor did he have time to run.

"Master! C..."

He had no more time before the shafts pierced his body from as many as thirty different directions.

Saber smiled as his bow started fading into a series of motes. Containing that attack had been too much so soon after the fight with costly fight with Gilgamesh. Once upon a time, his wife had been tricked into making him a poison cloak using blood tainted by the hydra's own venomous blood. The venom that, in a much smaller dose, had even been enough to bring down the immortal Chiron still left him capable of building his own funeral pyre over the course of a day.

Lasting long enough for a final exchange was nothing compared to that.

The alternative would have been allowing Illyasviel to suffer whatever Archer had fired. She would almost certainly be torn to pieces in that case, which would have killed him even if the blow hadn't. Lancer and Shirou would likely have not fared much better, perhaps they might have survived long enough for Archer to kill them with a second attack.

His body started to fade away then and the only thing he regretted is that this would likely incapacitate Illya.

Illya gasped within Lancer's arms and shuddered, breathing growing heavier.

"What's wrong?" Lancer asked, looking down at the girl in her arms.

"Saber," she managed to say before she closed her eyes and fell limp, barely breathing.

Shirou looked back over his shoulder as he limped along. "He didn't make it?"

Lancer frowned and adjusted how she was carrying Illya. Her eyes drifted toward the bleeding injury in Shirou's side. He was holding it right now and dealing well, but it was still a bad injury and hardly the only one that he had received in that battle. Her own injuries were comparatively light, though probably looked as severe if not worse, given that she had never had the full focus of Gilgamesh's attention throughout the fight.

Down the hill, the sound of sirens started carrying their way to the sight and they started moving again, taking to the woods to avoid attracting attention from the coming emergency workers.

Rayleith felt her connection to Archer snap out of existence and screamed out in rage as she moved to overturn the desk in her hotel suite.

"The fool!" she snapped. "The damn overconfident fool! In the end he couldn't even remove one Servant?"

Her mind raced, trying to find someway to get around this seemingly complete failure of her plans. She was essentially a first generation magus in a battle being fought by the likes of the Matou, the Tohsaka and the Einzbern and now she didn't even have her primary weapon in this fight.

"I am not going to simply let this pass!" she declared to herself.

Taiga kept her face neutral as she checked Rin's pulse again. She was probably being paranoid but it felt like it had dropped slightly.

By the time Ria had carried her down from the dojo to this rather...creepy...sword-filled house, Rin's vital signs had been pretty good, almost perfect actually. She had seemed to be simply exhausted and needing rest. The reason for that exhaustion had put a mildly disapproving flush on Taiga's face originally.

The very idea of someone pushing them so hard in love making that they remained passed out for hours afterwards was...intriguing. Logically, it had been explained to her that was really more of a sort of exorcism and had involved significantly more effort and risk than just sex...but still...intriguing.

"Fujimura-sensei?" Sakura asked, looking downcast as she looked into the room.

Taiga turned around and looked to her, putting a smile on her face as she looked toward the youngest of her present students. "Ahh, Sakura. You shouldn't be up."

"Is Tohsaka-senpai going to be all right?" she asked in a low tone of voice.

"I sure she just needs some rest after the whole sexorcism thing," Taiga said, trying and failing to be delicate.

Sakura blushed and then nodded. Rin had taken the bulk of the damage during the ordeal in her mind. She would need more rest than Sakura did. Though from the conversation it sounded as if she'd temporarily had a healing relic implanted in her for a time, so she'd thought Rin would be better by now.

"Uhh...Sensei, about the..." Sakura fumbled over her words.

"Don't worry about it," Taiga said, gritting her teeth with each word. "I won't be telling anyone at school."

"Is it...all right?" Sakura wondered.

"No, no, I know there was a really good reason for it," the teacher noted. "So, I'm completely fine with the fact that you're still in high school and having this case."

Sakura nodded, the woman didn't sound at all fine with it. "So that's not the reason my room is all the way across the house?"

"Oh don't be silly," Taiga commented, escorting Sakura out of the room. "Now, let's get you back to your room and lie you down for the night,"

Rider did not travel that far before she found a place to pull off with her scooter and get out of sight. Carrying Souichirou's unconscious form inside a small but heavily wooded park, she laid him out. He had not fallen easily. Even if Gilgamesh and that priest had made sure to

"Do that and you'll likely use the last of your prana," a woman's voice noted.

Rider twisted to stare at this new person and saw a red-headed woman missing her left arm. "A Master who lost her Servant then?"

"Bazett Fraga McRemitz," the woman introduced herself as she stepped forward. "I have a proposal for you."

"Would this proposal involve becoming your Servant?" she asked.

"First things first," Bazett noted. "Let me heal the man there for you."

Ria frowned as Lancer laid Illya down on the floor. She looked up then toward where Shirou and Lancer both displayed the signs of being injured. They both had a rate of self-healing so likely the visible injuries were gone by now, but there could still be some internal damage that had yet to heal. Depending on the nature of what had injured them in the first place.

"We're not sure what's wrong," Shirou said, looking around at the obvious signs of a fight at the dojo. Most likely they weren't staying here long.

"She was alone with Rider at some point during the battle," Lancer noted suspiciously.

"No, I know what this is," the black knight noted. "I thought it interesting she never asked us about what happened to her mother..."

"What happened to her mother?" Shirou asked.

"She was the Vessel for the Grail," Ria explained grimly. "And now its Illyasviel. For her to be in this state, multiple Servants would have to have died."

"Saber fell to Archer," Lancer noted with quiet respect. "And we took down one calling himself Gilgamesh. He felt familiar."

At the name, Ria turned harshly to look at Lancer.

"Gilgamesh! He was in the Fourth War," the woman said quickly. "He was a Servant with a ridiculous amount of power. Perhaps his and Saber's death alone could do this much."

"What's happening?" Shirou asked.

"I never thought it would be her since the Einzbern tried to kill her," Ria noted. "She contains the souls that are killed in this war until there are enough to activate the Grail. In all honesty, we can end this now by killing her and burning her body to ash. It would be a mercy compared to what waits for her."

Lancer grimaced as she regarded the small, at least mildly psychopathic young woman and then looked to Shirou.

"Is there a way to save her?" Shirou asked.

"None that don't mean prolonging the war and probably seeing more people die," Ria commented. "And at this point I doubt she'd live long no matter what we do."

"She did try quite hard to kill us," Lancer noted. "But I rather dislike the idea of such a sacrifice. Not even trying to save her..."

"The thing that will rise out of her will be much harder to be rid of," Ria countered.

"She didn't choose this, did she?" Shirou asked.

"No, this is something that she had no choice in," Ria confirmed quietly.

"No wonder she was so desperate to hear answers," Shirou whispered. "Her time was running out. This is probably what she thought we meant about being the true nature of the Grail. This is what you and my father were talking about when you said I'd have to kill to protect sometimes. Not the ones doing evil..."

"...but victims who are integral to such plans," Ria finished.

Lancer spoke up, "I cannot think that killing the victim is anything other than a temporary measure."

Shirou looks to where Illya lies breathing shallowly and eyes closed. "If there is a chance we can save her, we should take it."

"In which case," Ria warned. "Say nothing of this from here on out. We've already had one...incident from Caster. He would likely be unable to refuse this temptation."

"What did happen here?" Shirou asked.

"I'll explain on the way," the black knight noted as she scooped up the little girl. "Let's go."

It was getting close to night as they arrived at Rin Tohsaka's house.

The basin between Illyasviel's arms was almost full now. A massive golden soul took up the vast majority of the space within her, taking up as much room as it could and pushing the other souls to the side here and there. Amongst those were two other souls that were great, though not so heavy or massive as that golden soul. One of those two, she knew was her Saber.

Three Servants and she was already close to enough power to manifest the Grail. She could feel it waiting hungrily below for her and the rest of these souls to fall down, feeding it and giving it shape. That was supposed to be the reason she existed, to point the way to the Third Magic, but she felt foul thinking about it now. She started to bend her face downward again, to dip into the pool of herself and look at the various souls within. If she could maybe convince the souls within herself to arrange themselves so that they didn't move so chaotically, maybe she could wake up again, enjoy her time in the world just a little bit longer.

She braced herself for the rush of memories that came as she made contact with the souls. Like the dreams she had about Saber, but only much more direct and intense. Much more...thought provoking. Before she probably wouldn't have thought much about the plight of people that she didn't know, but, having the memories of all the people who'd died for this ritual push over her in the nights since the fight in the Einzbern forest was wearying. She was getting to know these dead people...and it made her current helpless position that much worse.

One more Servant, and her cup would overflow...then the sacrifice of all these lives would bring that horror into existence.

Shirou had a brief moment's of disorientation as he moved from a tale of Lancer's life, she was living with a different magi now and apparently not in a romantic fashion. These images were less vague, and somehow Shirou felt these were related to the first set, as if Lancer had somehow been inherited like a crest in a fashion. The battles continued, however.

That image was passing though, he was an the path of swords again. This time he was closer to the door than before, but something was drawing him to look back toward the hill and the sheath at the top of it. He stood there in confusion for a moment by the split direction of the dream. He still felt like he needed to head for that door that stood in the open air, but there was a sense of urgency coming from the hill. Frowning, he turned back around and started to climb again.

He wasn't sure how long it was before he found himself standing at the sheath again, only this time there seemed to be a glittering gateway beyond which was a vast green field. Even looking at it felt relaxing and soothing. For a moment, he considered trying to step through the gate onto the other side, but he didn't feel that would be right somehow.

Glancing down, he found another sight to draw his surprise and attention.

"She needs it more than you do," a woman's voice noted firmly.

Shirou looked up but the light behind the woman made it hard to see what she looked like before she somehow stepped out of view.

Rin had never felt cold in these dreams before, but that didn't bother her as much as other things. Her sense of direction was...confused. It was like she could feel where she wanted to go, but the direction didn't exist anymore. So she was wandering aimlessly among these stacks of books feeling like she'd lost something and didn't know what. A third worry more distinct stood out closer to the front of her mind, however: She wondered whether Sakura was all right.

The climb up was easier, though the pit still stank of foulness, but the air was turning cleaner as she traveled upward. Slime still clutched at her feet, but she didn't seem as tired as other times she had this dream. The darkness itself held no distaste for her anymore. She still couldn't see, but she could still where most things sat within the darkness that surrounded her, at least within this dream, as if the darkness were a part of her somehow.

As she climbed, her mind started to drift towards the life of Assassin. The last few unenviable years of her life as that dreaded gorgon on the rock at the end of the world. Those memories were starting to blur into a uniform chaos now. Men one after another coming to find her and kill her, even though the primary thing they sought had been left behind long ago. It was in the end that Perseus came with the weapon that Assassin now wielded.

Rin woke up the next morning but didn't feel any less tired than she had when she'd passed out. She was usually slow to wake up actually, so she didn't really notice much about it as she struggled her way out of bed and mechanically moved toward the wardrobe. She was vaguely aware that she dressed in an over-sized shirt but it didn't really occur to her. Instead, she went about what she normally did in the morning after waking up at home: get ready for the day.

Had she been less tired, she might have noticed the fact that she wasn't waking up as quickly as normal. However, it was certainly clear to the others as the girl walked past them looking pale as she came into the kitchen looking for breakfast. It was almost a full minute before she seemed to notice the other people around her.

Among them, Taiga stepping forward to check her forehead as if looking for a fever. "She's too cold."

"What's everyone doing in my house?" she asked, breathing heavily. "Wait...what am I doing in my house?"

"My grandfather found us, Tohsaka-senpai," Sakura noted in a concerned tone of voice.

"Oh, that's right..." Rin noted, shaking her head as she looked to find everyone else in the room staring at her in a variety of fashions. "Where's the homonculus brat?"

"Illya-chan's resting," Lancer explained. "I think you should be as well. She had Avalon in her?"

"It was a copy," Ria confirmed with a troubled expression which briefly moved from Rin to Lancer at the other's use of the relic's name. "But yesterday she looked quite healthy when before I left to meet with you and Shirou."

"I am simply slow to wake up," the magus's words were slow but determined. "In a few minutes, I'll be fine."

Looking around, everyone had the same expression of concern on their face, except Shirou. Shirou's expression was very pointed. The sense of examination was colored by a sort of hesitation that she was too tired to easily analyze.

Ria stood up and walked over to Rin, taking her arm forcefully before checking the girl's pulse. "Your pulse is definitely weaker than it should be. Caster's version of Avalon was working perfectly last night, you should be perfectly healthy."

"There's nothing wrong with me," Rin declared, trying to pull her hand away. When the black knight released her hand Rin just about collapsed, breathing as if she had just run a marathon. Slowly, she tried to sit up again, panting before Sakura came up to her and gently pushed her back down. "Maybe there's a little something wrong with me."

"If Caster can copy it once, perhaps we should ask him to do so again," Lancer noted. "Until we find out what's wrong."

"We've got a better option," Ria commented, glancing toward Shirou. "Shirou, I have some instructions for you," Ria ordered as she bent down to scoop up Rin. "Follow me. Everyone else stay here."

Lancer crossed her arms and frowned as Ria left to another room with the two teenagers.

"What is she's talking about?" Lancer asked.

"Big Sister mentioned Shirou's father using a relic to save his life," Taiga explained. "Maybe they still have it somewhere?"

Lancer frowned in thought before muttering. "I thought it was Milady that was the catalyst that brought me here."

Shirou looked across at where Rin was sitting and visibly improving in health as she leaned on her knees. There was color in her cheeks again, though she still looked far too pale.

"Feeling better?" Ria asked.

"Yes," the magus admitted.

"What was that?" Shirou asked.

"Excalibur's sheath, Avalon," Rin answered. "It's supposed to confer immortality on the owner. But what was Shirou doing with it?"

"That man used it as a catalyst ten years ago," Ria explained. "I never learned about it until he used it to save Shirou's life."

"So that's been inside me for the last ten years?" Shirou asked.

"Will there be any problem for Shirou giving it to me," Rin asked hesitantly.

"I don't think so..." Shirou said, before Ria could answer. He grimaced and scratched the back of his head. "Last night, I had a dream that said you needed it more than I do."

"The dream said?" Ria asked.

"Well, it sounded like a woman," Shirou explained. "I couldn't really see her. But I saw Rin sleeping on the edge of a green field."

The black knight frowned, wondering if Avalon had a spirit manifestation or if maybe one of the faerie that made it had appeared to Shirou. In either case, had Avalon apparently told Shirou to give it to someone else. Looking toward Rin, the magus seemed to have hit the same implication and was frowning thoughtfully.

"Regardless," the girl said. "We have other things to worry about. We should..."

"One note, Rin," Ria interrupted. "Avalon only works for Shirou because he's lived with it for ten years. And it only works at its best when I am nearby. For you, to remain fully should stay near me. The closer to you I am, the better Avalon will work."

"You're the original owner, aren't you?" Rin asked. "Lady of the Lake?"

Ria grimaced, almost snarled.

"She doesn't have to say, Rin," Shirou insisted. "But how about Lancer? You seem to be related."

The black knight thought to Lancer's weapons and how Avalon seemed to working even better now than it ever had in the past ten years. "Lancer might be a viable option too. But try to stay with one of us until the problem is fixed."

"And if it can't be fixed?" Rin demanded. There was no answer and Rin grimaced.

"What went wrong anyway?" Shirou asked. "If it's not supposed to work that way."

"Could be a number of things," the black knight commented. "The duplication seemed perfect, but perhaps the Command Seal made the process of giving it to her unstable, or forced Caster to rush the issue. Avalon itself is finicky. Perhaps it demanded a price for what you wanted. Rin is better qualified to theorize than I am."

"It doesn't matter," the magus commented. "I'll deal with it later. Right now..." She blinked and frowned as the sound of a ringing cell-phone drifted to their ears from the empty gate at the front of the property. "Right now we may have more pressing issues."