The fragrance of a spring morning permeated the surroundings followed by a stretch of blooming flowers turning the hillside into a vibrant rose. It was almost breathtaking if not for the ensuing storm of heat and fire as a massive bird of flames soared high in the sky above.
Morgan hastily shielded herself by compressing her magic and forming a dome of mystics in the air across from her which redirected a torrent of flame around her. The ground on her left and right grew singed and black, but the indignant caw from up high was far from done; the bird of flame firing again and again until it eventually stopped when it took in where it was.
Efret glided amidst the bronze horizon before carefully perching over the Ashton Anchor in melancholy. It then narrowed its eyes while trying to take in the current situation, and focusing on Shirou's figure followed by Mordred and Arturia's. It shrunk down in size, and swooped over to stand protectively in front, as Efret had its priorities.
Meanwhile, Morgan grimaced, her features shifting into vexation while taking account the odds now heavily stacked against her.
"It seems I won't be as trapped for as long as I assumed."
An all too familiar voice trickled into Morgan's ears, filling her with a sense of dread and resignation. Stiffly, she craned her neck around to stare into the cut in space etched out by the swing of Mordred's newest sword.
Merlin stood gingerly before her on the other side of the tear before walking out of the portal with hardly a single restriction placed on him.
That's impossible. No sinner may leave Avalon's vaunted fields.
Morgan backed away by instinct, her attention fully focused on the sword in Mordred's hands. What was it? She'd never seen such a sword before? No. It was forged right before her eyes in this space.
Curtana, was its name: A grand forging of Excalibur, Avalon, Clarent, and even Caliburn, all weapons rightfully belonging to the hands of the Monarchy. It was without doubt, a weapon that stands as the paramount of a ruler's status.
In essence, this sword was perhaps a key, Morgan analyzed quickly.
If Avalon could transport the user to its distant Utopia to shield its user from all harm, then it stood to reason that it locates the legendary garden. Combined with the might of the other swords, it can directly cut the way through.
Moreover, Curtana was symbolically the Sword of Mercy.
The spell which prevented all sinners from leaving Avalon's Garden could be forgiven, and let out even the worst of sinners. The light of selection Curtana exuded was matched only by its light of Victory and the promise of peace ushered in by the next successor of the King.
Morgan's complexion paled, her heart squeezing in her chest as if it were in a vice. It was hard to breathe when everything you've ever worked for was going up in flames right before your eyes.
In contrast to Morgan's growing unease, Arturia was the opposite, painting a vivid disparity between the two sisters.
Artus and Annabel were in Merlin's hands, and were the focus of Arturia's intense staring. However, much she wanted to bolt right towards them, she didn't want to leave Shirou vulnerable either. Shirou had collapsed unconscious after forging Curtana. She was in a conundrum, and like always Merlin seemed able to see right through her.
Arturia blinked only once, and when next she opened her eyes, Merlin was already standing next to her and pushing the twins into her arms as if he couldn't wait to get rid of them. If one looked closely at Merlin's white robes, they'd see many stains from drool, babbling, and the occasional unexpected number ones or twos. He'd been stuck with them for too long, and childcare was a hassle he no longer wished to deal with.
In comparison, Arturia felt her features softening when her babies were given back to her. Her sword was placed aside in favour of using her arms to effectively cradle them both, nuzzling her cheek against theirs while her eyes misted over. She sniffled while Mordred silently stood to guard everyone with Efret at the front.
As happy at the turn of events as Mordred and Arturia were, it didn't mean that the main problem had been dealt with.
Indeed, Morgan was meticulously analysing her options, but was quickly forcing herself into a corner. Inside a Reality Marble, she was effectively trapped, and now she had to contest against not only her little sister and Mordred, but Merlin too.
Merlin was the real problem, she concluded.
Merlin was nightmare, no matter how many times one killed him, he'll suddenly reappear on some impulse and give a new worst memory. The important thing was to stay away from Merlin afterwards, or risk getting fooled by skillful magic or his cunning way with words. This was why, the best she could do was lock him up, but even that had failed through intervention of a key to Avalon which shouldn't have existed. There was no point to a prison with an unlocked door.
"Give it up," Merlin voiced, the butt of his black staff echoing as he casually tapped it over the ground and the entire space filled with rose petals. "It's over Morgan."
The word repeated endlessly in Morgan's mind, her lips pursing, her breathing hastening.
She was the type of woman to curse at all who would reject her, after living a life full of rejection.
Morgan raised her left hand and summoned her demonic spear from a congregation of blue magical energy in silent protest. Even if she had her way with words, Merlin outclassed her by far, so she had nothing to say. If she was to die, then she would do so by her own standards.
"Oh, you wish to fight to your last breath?" Merlin acted ever so nonchalant as if to mock her and her efforts. It was infuriating if only for the fact that he was speaking nothing but the truth. "It's a feeble and stubborn act if anything."
Did Merlin really believe that Morgan didn't already know that? So why bother to keep talking?
Morgan readied herself, ripples forming in the air at the tip of her spear. Her spatial research and understanding of barriers elevated her combat levels to the point where she didn't even have to move to attack.
Condensing her magic energy, she fired a beam through her spear, and the energy directly entered the ripples, only to be expelled from a wormhole directly in front of Merlin.
Merlin did nothing to resist, the attack obliterating him into nothing. Yet, this was a misconception. Rose petals stirred in a flurry, and there Merlin stood hale and healthy.
Morgan attacked again and again as if it were a sport until the point where she was panting heavily. Across from her, a flicker of empathy flashed through Merlin's features.
Perhaps, no one understood Morgan more than Merlin did himself, having seen her grow up and the nature of his being allowing him to interpret Morgan's emotions.
"I admit that you'd be able to kill me, but you should understand how meaningless that is, yes?" Merlin shrugged, lips tugging downward as he shook his head. "Will you not just give up?"
Morgan gnashed her teeth. Finally, she could no longer hold herself back and spoke up in outburst. "So, you're saying I should just wait to be killed?" She laughed derisively, features glacial. She gripped her spear tighter with exhausted hands. "I'd rather take my chances."
Merlin took everything in stride. "Kill you? Since when did I-"
"Merlin!" Arturia interjected in alarm, her lips pursed, mouth dry. Knowing the danger Morgan posed to her and her family, she couldn't just let Morgan go like Merlin was insinuating. It was cruel, yet she swallowed and maintained her stance.
Arturia wasn't the only one aggrieved.
"She used me to kill Agravain!" Mordred's eyes reddened, emotion creasing her features as she shuddered just trying to hold herself back. Arturia was stunned at the admission, and then her features rapidly cooled into thinly veiled indifference while regarding Morgan.
The only reason Mordred and Arturia had yet to act was out of concern for Shirou who wouldn't last against Morgan's omni-directional attacks in his current state.
As for Archer, he was content to watch on the side.
Contrary to all expectations though, Merlin did something unconventional.
Without speaking a word, a confluence of magical energy congregated around Merlin before he once more tapped the butt of his staff on the ground. Petals and flowers danced, carrying with them the energy of dreams and illusion.
A startled Agravain formed in the storm of roses, his hands flailing and pressing over his chest where a sword should have stabbed right through him but finding no wound. Even as composed as Agravain generally was, experiencing death so vividly unnerved even him. Yet, perhaps it wasn't really death to begin with?
None in Britain could ever claim to be more far sighted then the Crown's illustrious Court Wizard.
"A slave driver Agravain could be, but his little operation wouldn't escape my notice so easily. I placed measures in place as my foresight isn't anywhere close to omnipotent." Merlin grinned while watching tears of relief trickle down Mordred's cheeks.
"Ah," the word echoed from both Mordred and Morgan's mouths at Agravain's appearance, thoroughly catching even Morgan off guard.
Mordred sniffled, while Morgan just stood in stunned silence, hand wanting to reach out, yet remaining in place all the same. Mixed feelings assailed her, yet through it all, one person could see her for what she was, and that in itself was terrifying. There were no secrets to be kept, nor lies to be accepted.
"And there it is," Merlin's voice broke Morgan's trance.
Morgan drew in on herself in an instant when she noticed Merlin regarding her with that 'all knowing' look of his. She raised her guard, her lips setting into a sneer, yet unable to stop the silent quivering throughout her body almost as if she was exposed.
This was one of the many reasons she hated being around Merlin.
"You're relieved that he's alive, aren't you dear Morgan," Merlin stated, features patient with a tinge of melancholy. The man tapped his staff, and a flurry of petals brushed across Morgan's features as if in gentle caress to console a child. "You were always the cold sort even as a little girl, but it never meant that you never cared. Your aspirations were always there."
"…" Morgan's features remained deceptively impassive, unfeeling, but more than just outer appearances, Merlin was a creature of dreams and emotion. Not many things may remain hidden from him should he exert effort, and in this case he did.
A little intrusion into Morgan's privacy was a small exchange for the bitterness she put her own family through. Moreover, it would be far more effective than any physical blow.
"Betrayed, cast aside, abhorred-" Merlin began to list, each word like arrows piercing into Morgan's heart. "-by your own sons and daughters, and yet you still-"
"Enough," Morgan cut in icily. "I'd sooner kill them now for their transgressions." She flailed her spear, a horizontal slash of energy tearing Merlin's head off, but still his voice continued unabated as he reformed like nothing.
"Another attempt to push them away and justify yourself?"
Morgan's pupils dilated in alarm. "I said enough you invasive creature! You're as bad as a hornworm!"
Merlin shut his mouth, but the damage had already been done, and Morgan's heated response practically an admission.
"I never did understand your dislike of the humble caterpillar, but that's besides the point." Merlin turned to stare at both Arturia and Mordred, as this matter was more personal for them than anyone else. Arturia was one thing, but Mordred was biting down hard on her lip in disbelief from what she'd just heard.
Merlin began to coax.
"Might you allow me to take responsibility for Morgan? I suppose I can be considered something of a grandfather to her as I watched her grow up."
"You're no grandfather of mine," Morgan disparaged openly, her lips curling. Merlin ignored her; his attention focused intently on Arturia then Mordred who both grudgingly acceded the issue out of numbness.
In Mordred's case, she nodded without even thinking, while Arturia decided that she owed Merlin a favour for the safety of her children.
"I won't kill you," Merlin stated to a silent Morgan before nodding. "It's too much of a pity, and guilt and regret are emotions I detest experiencing the most."
"A pity?" Morgan seemed unable to react. It almost sounded as if Merlin was acknowledging her capabilities. What a joke…
If Merlin noticed Morgan's derision, he acted as if he didn't mind it.
"Deplorable as your actions may have been, it is without doubt that you truly would have made a better ruler than Arturia or even Shirou," Merlin declared without an ounce of hesitation. "I'd even go as far as to say that you were even thinking about the country before anything else."
Arturia could barely hold herself back from interjecting, but could no longer utter a word after hearing the rest of what Merlin had to say.
"Vortigern's mysterious death, political sway to keep the aristocracy cable enough to mount a defensive against the Saxons, and now, even uprooting and exposing the corruption of the High Nobility." Merlin stared Morgan right in the eyes as if he could read the true nature of it all. "These are all attributed to you, no doubt. Arturia may be biased against you, but I have never been in that position. You've considered past troubles, present troubles, and even the future. These qualities alone are hallmarks of your capability to lead and rule. Even now, these Nobles you've swayed on your side to usurp the throne; they who are so easily misled and openly disloyal to their King, you would have killed them in the end, wouldn't you?"
Morgan's throat dried, her mouth opening and closing before she just holed herself up and began trembling, while Arturia appeared like she was in denial of it all.
"Uther had never failed to praise your wit, your resolve, your ability, and above all, your sense of duty for our countrymen." Merlin said in reminiscence while Morgan looked on stiffly. "If you had just looked upon it closely, everything would be clear. You were your father's pride, more so than even Arturia whom he'd hardly been able to hold before entrusting her care to Sir Ector."
Although Merlin's words sounded like consolation, they were nothing more than sharp blades peeling off Morgan's flesh bit by bit as truth was mixed in.
"Then why?!" Morgan's features twisted in agony and betrayal, tossing aside her demonic spear and letting it clatter over the ground. It would no longer do her much good right now anyway.
Merlin glanced at his feet ruefully.
Merlin knew what Morgan was really asking. It wasn't why she was married off and torn away from the political mess that was the past nobility; nor was it the nature of how things had turned this way; it was why she'd not been given the right to rule as the first born and more capable daughter.
The only thought Merlin could picture in Morgan's mind right now was 'favoritism,' an action that more often than not, alienates families and tears their bonds apart.
Yet, this wasn't the case, and Morgan just couldn't understand that which was frustrating.
"The reason why is simple." Merlin decided not to beat around the bush as the advisor whose prophecy and opinion took away Morgan's right of succession. "Uther had indeed considered to make you ruler, but I advised against this. What this country needed wasn't just a pragmatic or capable King, but someone who could capture the hearts of the people not just with beauty, but through their charisma. They needed a different type of King, not one like those in history that stood for their own gains, but a King for the people."
F-Father acknowledged my right? I-It was all Merlin's fault?
Morgan didn't know how to feel anymore, but if anything, she was definitely bitter.
"You can't reason that you weren't given a chance either," Merlin was covering all bases with this explanation. "Caliburn remained in that stone for you to draw at any time, yet you were never selected as you weren't the one who could save this country."
Morgan felt hollow.
"A sword devised by you and approved by father obviously wouldn't pick me…" she lamented with accusation that Merlin didn't rise to. Of course, Morgan would think this way considering how she'd led herself to believe Uther had cast her aside in favour of Arturia for all these years.
"You've strayed too far, little Morgan. Alas, lets no longer talk about what could and could have been." Merlin shook his head regretfully. "Your actions towards your own sister and family cannot go unpunished, and to satisfy the parties involved barring your death, there really is only one way."
Morgan glanced up, staring at Merlin, then to the tear in space in which Merlin had walked out from still glaringly open but slowly closing.
Morgan was no fool.
"You mean to seal me away," Morgan accurately deduced. She wasn't stupid, her hands grasping out once more towards her demonic spear. Once she was in Avalon and the gates sealed, she wouldn't be able to escape with her own power for she too was a sinner. "What if I don't want to?"
"Is this the way you'd wish your children to remember you?" Merlin countered without pause.
Morgan flinched inwardly and reviewed her options. She already understood that struggling now was pointless as she was cornered. There really wasn't much choice here with the other option being death. In which case, she'd rather save what dignity she had left in the face of defeat.
Moreover, Merlin's admission that she actually had some semblance of care for her children wasn't a lie. This made it so that she couldn't even look in their direction for fear of what she'd see. She really wouldn't be able to handle anymore rejection.
Resolutely, she dismissed her demonic spear and began walking towards the gradually closing portal Merlin had walked out from.
Her back was straight, her features regal, the very image of a proper Queen.
A sigh escaped her lips as her life's struggles and wants gradually ebbed away. She'd done many things, the most significant of which was assassinating the then King Vortigern who was a pest to Britain's survival. It was done to wrestle political control in the time before Arturia had drawn Caliburn, but inadvertently, she'd only made the path to Kingship that much smoother for Arturia.
She chuckled lightly, before laughing outright at the irony of everything that Merlin had put into perspective.
Perhaps the one who had smoothened and contributed the most to Arturia's path of Kingship was her. Ah, how lamentable a fate.
At the very least, the two sisters had the good of the country in common.
Soon, clarity returned to the woman who was once known as Morgan the Fair, Britain's most beloved for her beauty and character beyond even that of King Arthur's influence in Panhuman history.
Gathering her courage, Morgan turned back one final time, her fists clenched, her gaze impassive, but her eyes revealed the depth of emotion within; conveying all that needed to be conveyed. Mordred glanced away, Arturia stared her dead on, and Agravain could only sigh at his mother's folly.
Morgan then turned back in the direction of the portal and resolutely stepped through, saying not a single word as the portal to Avalon began to close, trapping her within likely forever.
Whether she had been wrong or not, those sentiments no longer mattered.
In a way Merlin was right.
Damnable Wizard. He really had his way with words that it could befuddle even her, yet this time she was willing to be deceived whether it was the truth or not.
Every action has its consequence, and every seed sown has its due.
Her children, hateful of her or not would be her legacy upon this earth. Even now, she couldn't imagine that she herself had birthed them. They were better knights and people than perhaps she could ever have been. This was a mother's pride, even if it was never admitted.
Unlike her, they would surely grow up to be great knights.
Jealousy, envy, denial, these emotions that plagued her could no longer move her.
Her ambitions were over.
As for Arturia, the brainchild of Uther and Merlin, even if she was innocent, Morgan could never forgive her…
Perhaps it was best that she remains locked away, for her little sister's sake if anything.
The portal sealed closed a second later, never to be opened unless through the use of the key to unlock the doorway into the Ever-Distant Utopia.
Silence ensued, broken only by Merlin's quiet lamentations.
"Truly a pity, old friend," Merlin sighed in memory of Uther. "Your first born and most cherished daughter did not know of your intentions even till the end, and had even developed a feud with your youngest. Yet, time may mend any wound," he muttered, staring at Curtana in Mordred's hands. "Yes, indeed. Perhaps this may not truly be the end of you."
Merlin was feeling oddly wistful despite the conclusion of this all. In tandem, he watched as the Reality Marble around him began to shatter and break. With Shirou unconscious, the shattering of the Reality Marble was only expected, and to have lasted this long was already a miracle in itself.
In the end, Merlin had played one last deception on Morgan. Had she stayed any longer, she truly did have a chance of escaping had she resorted to fleeing with all her might. Alas, his affluence was unmatched.
"Merlin, we need to go help the army," Arturia said, but couldn't muster the will to let go of her children in order to wield her sword. Hence, the reason she was looking to Merlin. If anyone could affect the tide of a battle, it was the Wizard of Flowers.
As for Mordred, she'd long since exhausted herself and was trying to catch her breath in this short respite while supporting Shirou's weight. It didn't help that Efret remained adamantly perched on Shirou's shoulder.
"There's no hurry," Merlin reassured while waving Arturia off. "Help always come from afar, and to those deserving of it." With those cryptic words, Merlin did nothing else but wait.
As Unlimited Blade Works fully shattered and revealed everyone back inside Camelot's grand chamber, everyone made their way to a large window overseeing Camelot.
Unbeknownst to them, but Merlin gestured lightly, and it was if they were right there on the battlefield, seeing and hearing everything first hand.
"Àirde na Gaoithe."
A voice echoed in the wind before an arrow shot out over the hills and into the line of magi Morgan had recruited. The turbulence produced gales of twisting wind that knocked back and shattered enemy formations like nothing.
From afar, an old friend carefully notched another arrow, beside him, a cavalry of charging Knights diving headlong into the fray.
"For the King!" The leading Knight roared.
Gerrard, The Swift Wind and Sir Anders of the former Knights of Wolfred had returned from their ventures.
Tristan plucked the strings of his harp, invisible wind blades incapacitating many Knights he used to call allies, but were led astray through Morgan's machinations. He alone was keeping an area clear, but was troubled with another matter directly before him.
"That's not enough!" Gawain parried the strike and retaliated with a gout of flames from his sword, forcing Lancelot back,
"We were brothers united through our Knighthood," Gawain spoke through clenched teeth, eyes bloodshot. "Kin slayer! Betrayer!" He accused.
"Gawain! You oaf what are you doing?!" Lancelot wasn't without a temper. He was the peerless Knight, and even with Gawain's sheer strength, the one with more injuries was Gawain. However, Gawain just wouldn't stop.
"You killed Agravain!" Gawain roared.
"Big brother, stop! That's impossible!" Gareth got in-between Gawain and Lancelot, forcing Gawain to halt his blade lest he kill his own sister. "Sir Tristan and I have not parted with Sir Lancelot once after Agravain tasked us with saving Sir Tristan!"
"…!" Gawain wasn't the quickest witted, but he wasn't dumb, nor did he think his little sister Gareth was a liar. However, where could he placed his emotions, his anger?
"Brother. Put away your sword. This is a misunderstanding," Agravain's sudden voices ended the dispute right there and then, large crocodile tears forming over Gawain's face as he searched but couldn't find Agravain anywhere. After all, Agravain's voice only reached him through Merlin's intervention.
Relief flooded everyone's features when Gawain finally relented.
Meanwhile, without Archer to occupy Emily, Palamid, and the Son of Wolfred, they began to decimate through the ordinary rank and file. Most magi who saw Emily gave up without resistance for fear of truly angering the apparent heir of House Barthomeloi.
Things were evidently wrapping up on all fronts, which only left one more variable to consider.
What have you done to yourself? Merlin mused.
Merlin ceased in his magic and drew everyone's attention back into Camelot's grand chamber. With nary a moment of hesitation, his gaze focused on the figure of a man who had been silently observing throughout.
"Now then," Merlin scrutinized Archer up and down, his mouth set into a solemn line. "How should we go about the end of this tale, Mr. Counter Guardian?"
-The choice made once done could never be undone, for a pact was sworn.
The way Merlin regarded Archer was with pity, then remorse when the answer was given.
"I already have something in mind," Archer shifted his weight from foot to foot, searching for the resolve within himself to something only he could do.
Merlin could only nod his head in comprehension, but there was something about the exchange that could only be described as miserable or tragic. As observant as Arturia or Mordred were with anything regarding Shirou and those associated with him, how could the two not notice? The only problem was that they didn't know what to say as they didn't understand the nature of the exchange.
So, Arturia just stared, moisture glistening in her eyes that affected Archer for more than he could ever let on. He could no longer remember the last he was stared at like that, and the thought that he'd once abandoned such people to pursue the path of his ideals only made him more restless.
"Don't look at me like that Arturia," he shook his head sadly, cutting off his line of sight with her. He never would have known just how well Arturia could read Shirou now, and by extension, Archer himself.
Arturia was in front of Archer before he could even react, Artus and Annabel whom she'd been keeping close tenderly pushed into Archer's grasp. He reacted by cradling them.
"A-Are children, hold them." Arturia didn't know what else to say. She could tell that Archer was troubled, but didn't know what else to do. "You've never seen them before, have you?" She tried to coax him.
If this was a Shirou who truly died to Morgan's machinations and her failure, then how could he have possibly seen their babies? At least, Arturia thought so. Still, one fact was true.
This really was the first time Archer had ever laid eyes on children technically his own.
Archer stared down at the two, then at Mordred idling awkwardly a distance away, not knowing how to get involved. An urge assailed him. He walked forward with the twins in tow, and tousled Mordred's hair with a bit too much force, causing Mordred to squawk in protest much to her chagrin and embarrassment.
Archer knew all that he needed to know about everyone present. It was vivid to him like his own memories from the moment he stepped foot into Unlimited Blade Works.
The hardships everyone faced, the bonds formed, and the motivations behind everything.
This was what he'd helped protect. This was the end goal of a 'Shirou Emiya' no longer bound to any fake ideals and had truly found a happiness of his own.
Tiny hands abruptly gripped around his fingers in the midst of his musing. Artus and Annabel babbled, recognizing the kindness of their father still apparent even in Archer's clouded eyes. These two were children of Shirou Emiya and Arturia Pendragon.
They had both their father's features and their mother's, and would surely grow up strong. Knowing Arturia, she'd probably put them through the wringer with training, while Shirou would be the less demanding one.
Artus and Annabel leaned their heads onto Archer's arms, trusting in him and growing comfortable in his presence, a feat Arturia took months to enact.
Was this what it felt like to be a father?
Archer felt somewhat conflicted in his choice, but for what its worth, even if he had second thoughts or regrets, this moment itself was worth its own price.
"They're beautiful," he said solemnly, a wry smile on his face while passing the twins back to Arturia's arms.
Unfortunately, the twins didn't have the desired effect Arturia wished they'd have on Archer to make him reconsider whatever choice he'd made.
"W-Why don't you stay?" Arturia called out, pupils dilated, lips quivering while cradling the twins. "W-We'll prepare you room and board, and everything," Arturia kept trying to insist, missing the way Archer and Merlin shared a knowing look.
It was a plea for help on Archer's part.
"I'm afraid he can't remain with what he plans to do," Merlin coughed into his hand and answered.
Archer remained silent, but Mordred couldn't follow suit. She didn't understand anything about Heroic Spirits, Counter Guardians, or whatever, but what she did understand was that Archer was still Shirou in some way, and that something bad may happen to him.
"Y-You shitty Wizard what's he planning to do?!" Mordred spoke up, pupils dilated, breathing quickened. She knew the type of person Shirou was, and 'reckless' was up there to the point that Shirou even outclassed her.
Archer was still Shirou in one way or another.
Evidently, Arturia thought the same as both Pendragon women stared intently at Merlin, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to raise in alarm when he felt the unsaid threat of force.
Merlin was going to cave, but was saved by Archer raising his hand.
"It's not for you to say, Merlin," Archer grumbled.
Archer watched the way anxiety slowly crept up Arturia and Mordred's faces. It was heartening in a way to see how much they cared, but all the more reason not to burden them when their Shirou was still there.
They don't need to worry on his behalf.
They don't need to concern themselves with his mistakes.
Archer burned their images into his memory; at Arturia cradling the twins; at Mordred pursing her lips; at Agravain trying to make sense of everything; and at Merlin hanging over them all like a silent protector.
He could see and understand what this Shirou fought so hard to protect in full.
This was as close to Avalon as Archer knew he'd ever see…
Alas a Counter Guardian's duty cannot be forsaken so easily. At most, a cost had to be paid to prevent the emergence of another Counter Guardian to take his place, and this would be Archer's problem to settle.
"This is goodbye," he nodded and gave a smile of farewell, Arturia and Mordred's breaths hitching in panic.
It was too late.
In a blink of an eye, Archer faded away into a shower of ephemeral golden sand swept away in the distant breeze. There was no way to track him, or tell where he allowed himself to be carried off to. However, they could be assured that Archer's actions were done with Arturia's happiness in mind and the dedication required to enact this miracle.
To Arturia, this Shirou had dedicated everything.
And at the very least, while seeing the tears glistening over Arturia's eyes at his departure, Archer had only a single thought for the one truly deserving of happiness more than any other.
-To your eternity.
If the Counter Force would come again, then he'd do his utmost to preserve this moment, this world, this joy.
'I am the bone of my sword.
Steel is my body, and fire is my blood.
I have crossed over a thousand lifetimes searching for the one.
Unknown to death.
Nor known to life.
Have withstood pain to enact this miracle.
Yet may these hands be able to protect anything.
So as I pray, Unlimited Blade Works.'
What was once set in stone had changed with the passage of time and the workings of fate, reflecting the inner reflection of a soul no longer the same.
Archer had kept these words reflected in that everchanging reality marble to heart and experienced their weight.
…The Sword had met its Sheath, a miracle born from dreams and the stars.
Epilogue next chapter!
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