Heroic Spirits were heroes of mankind whose legends and feats were forever remembered and enthroned even in death. They are woven from the ideals of humanity and are spirits made of particles of energy focused around a power source known as a Spirit Origin. As beings of a higher existence, they are categorized more as an Elemental rather than a lingering ghost or wraith. They range from a variety of seven classes and extra classes, and all have parameters far beyond the capabilities of a single human.
They disappear without a power source to tie their Spirit Origins down which was why Magi thought of Heroic Spirits as glorified familiars of the strongest calibre, but each Heroic Spirit is their own person. They have emotions, ambitions, desires, and ideals that act as their own motivational drives. Hence, the reason for Seven Servants to fight for a wish granting grail alongside their respective Masters in what was known as a Holy Grail War
Fuyuki was the location of the stage, the combatants duking it out in a free-for-all where only the last team standing wins. Or at least, that was how it should have been. Now there was only ruin.
Flames flickered ominously, warping metal into maligned shapes that tore and dripped smoldering drops of metal that mottled the ground with holes. The scent of bubbling tar from the pavement masked the acrid scent of human flesh burnt down and stripped away into blackened bones. Glass from overhead buildings came loose and shattered over the street, the shards reflecting the devastation all around. Amidst it all, a battle beyond human limitations ensued.
Servants. Heroic Spirits of humanities greatest individual immortalized through legend.
Cu Chulainn, the Shield of Ireland and the Hound of Ulster. He was an Irish hero who alone had stood up against an entire army. Opposed to him was the enemy Servant, Rider. A woman whose petrifiying Mystic Eyes could belong only to one woman of myth.
The glow of sparks showered over the ground as the clang of steel resounded.
Shirou watched as Cu flourished Gae Bolg with practiced ease, bypassing the disadvantage between Caster and Rider Classes through sheer force of skill and augmentation from his runes.
In comparisons, Rider was remaining oddly silent.
The two hacked, stabbed, and slashed, but weaved in and out of each other's attacks with the fluidity of water.
"This isn't happening. How is a Caster fighting against a Rider with a spear? Class change? There's no way this is a proper class change. The stats don't change." Olga looked dazed, a hand resting over her temple as she swayed.
"Uhm, isn't that a good thing if he's holding out against Rider?" Ritsuka asked while Mash nodded along.
A tick mark formed over Olga's forehead before something inside her snapped. Ah, it was no big deal. It was just her grip on reality. "That's not the point! I'm not the one that's lacking common sense here. It's you people! The least competent Master gets the Demi-Servant, and a random Master candidate pulls out a Noble Phantasm with the nonchalance of pulling out cabbage! Now this!"
Shirou ignored Olga's venting and focused his attention on the fight ahead of him.
Cu was no longer playing around. He'd refamiliarized himself with his spear enough. The iconic stance of his legend was once more assumed. His knees were bent, and his body angled forward as if ready to sprint. The blade of his spear was pointed downward diagonally, hands gripping along its shaft a shoulder's width apart.
Runic patterns flashed directly in the air, surrounding Cu in a maelstrom of ancient magics. He wasn't truly a Lancer; he was a Caster. His reserves of energy were beyond the parameters of a Knight Class, and to substitute, his physical capabilities were lowered. Hence, why Casters had the stereotype of avoiding direct confrontations. The thing was, magic was the root of all mystery. What the body lacked magic could augment.
What is a hero?
Wind began to blow, gaining in strength from the sheer release of magical energy.
Was it not a being that circumvented preconceived norms?
Summoned as a Caster, Cu had lost his famed spear, but the situation had changed. A single shift in stance sent a powerful shockwave out in all directions, red vein-like patterns flashing over Gae Bolg's shaft.
Cu was no Lancer, but right now, Shirou and everyone else could see the image of an ancient warrior of old.
-A stifling pressure. A feeling that crushed any notion of bravery through overwhelming bloodlust. Ever stronger it grew to the point it became manic.
Man revered power. The greatest legends said to accomplish miracles by virtue of their strength.
Cu was one such man that exuded a presence no longer that of a human, but of a ferocious beast.
One step forward, and Olga flinched back, Mash subconsciously raising her shield in front of everyone. Right here, right now, Cu appeared to be the most dangerous especially since he'd yet to declare himself an ally.
Shirou saw things differently. The man in front of him was without doubt the Lancer of his Holy Grail War. Cu Chulainn, Hound of the Bloody Plains, destroyer of armies.
Caster or no Caster, Rider could no longer ignore the change to Cu and readied her own Noble phantasm. However, Gae Bolg was not to be underestimated.
It was the cursed spear of piercing death.
It aims for the heart.
Once thrusted, it rewrote the properties of cause and effect from 'he thrusts, he stabs' to 'he stabs, he thrusts.'
Within a certain range, there was no getting away unless you were lucky, and Rider must have understood this point by instinct and forewent her Noble Phantasm in order to run. Her agility was remarkably high, and even Cu clicked his tongue as he readied himself for a chase.
The clang of metal resounded as sparks glimmered from the metal heel of Rider's shoes. Legs bending, Rider retreated backwards, the soles of her feet leaving craters on the ground where she pushed off. The chain attached to her weapon was tossed and wrapped around a distant street light before she pulled, dragging herself for increased speed.
Cu immediately gave chase, his own agility not to be underestimated; however, the expected chase did not happen.
It only took a single moment, but Shirou and Rider made eye contact again, and then she just abruptly froze. There was something about Rider that had been different from the beginning. She wasn't the same. The Rider Shirou knew never actively participated in murder nor relished in it with vindictive glee. She was blackened, tainted, but there was still something inside her fighting against her skewed Spirit Origin.
Of all present, only Cu seemed to understand what Rider was going through. Cu lost the thrill of battle that he'd been reveling in, and sighed before his features grew solemn. "Tch, there's goes the fun."
Cu did not hesitate. He was a warrior that had been through wars and fought many battles. Once an opportunity found itself in combat, only a fool would refuse to take it.
"Goodbye Rider," Cu's voice dropped in tone, the magical energy around him condensing over his spear. "This is the spear that no knows no good nor evil. An unfeeling weapon made for the sake of safeguarding the boundary between the dead and the living. Let me show you its might!"
The barbs over the red spear grew more prominent, resembling the likeness of fangs; the howling of the wind sounding like that of a rabid dog, the killing intent palpable.
"Your heart is mine!" Cu's crimson pupils shone, his arms thrusting the spear forward.
Time seemed to freeze, the world going into a standstill and shifting into shades of grey. Bathed in blood, Gae Bolg carried the resentment and grief of its victims in the form of a curse. No wound would heal so long as Gae Bolg existed.
Mash gasped while Ritsuka and Olga watched Gae Bolg pierce through Rider's chest with certainty. It stabbed her in the heart and then proceeded out through her back. There was no escape once Gae Bolg had been invoked, and surely Rider understood this point which was why she'd ran. Yet she stopped.
She could have escaped Gae Bolg's range. Shirou had no doubt about this as he'd once seen Rider's speed first-hand. For some reason, she simply chose not to, and this was the most confusing point. Even now, Rider was still staring right at him, the bloodlust and taint clouding her features clearing away to reveal a bittersweet expression.
Rider then shifted her attention to Cu.
"Caster," she said hoarsely, blood leaking from behind her lips. "…That boy." She staggered, her weight pushing Gae Bolg deeper through her chest as her body began to fade into mots of golden light.
"I know," Caster pulled back his spear, catching Rider before she could hit the ground. His other hand was scratching at the back of his head while a grimace formed over his face. "It won't happen again."
"Ah…I failed, didn't I?"
Slower now, as she could feel her strength leaving her, Rider smiled begrudgingly. Cu had shattered her Spirit Origin with his strike, freeing her from the darkness that tainted her mind even if meant her death.
She wasn't looking at Cu or Shirou any longer. She was looking to something more distant, unseen. "Sakura, forgive me," she whispered, and then she was gone, nothing more than particles of golden sand fading in the wind.
The name Rider had uttered caused Shirou to perk up, but he didn't voice the question to Cu as the man seemed a tad disgruntled. Shirou said disgruntled, but it was more like his mood soured which made pressing for answers like poking a lion with a stick.
A minute passed before Cu eased his stance and turned back to stare at the group he'd just saved.
Cu's expression was unreadable as his gaze hovered over Shirou, but he soon sighed before smiling wryly. Cu flourished the spear in his hands and rested it over his shoulders. "For the record I'm not giving this back," he said flatly.
"I didn't expect you to," Shirou crossed his arms. "I just didn't think you'd be a Caster." I didn't remember you to be a Caster.
"I know, right? Of all classes, why Caster? Though I suppose I can be considered something of a druid in my legend, but damn I missed this spear."
The two fell into silence again while silently assessing each other. There were things that weren't being said between the two, each trying to read between the lines and coming up with nothing but more questions. The thing was though, Shirou seemed to understand that Cu wasn't in the mood for questioning. Frankly, he half-suspected that Cu was more interested in finding another enemy to fight with his spear.
Mash, Ritsuka, and Olga who'd huddled closer to each other noted that the Caster Servant wasn't viewing them as enemies because of Shirou.
"It could just be me, but it seems like these Servants know Shirou?" Olga whispered, trying to remain as discreet as possible by keeping her expression neutral. Her shoulders were trembling though. She was still shaken from the bloodlust Cu had released earlier. There was no way a human could withstand that.
"Emiya senpai sure is popular," Mash remarked while resting her shield on the ground. She was still exhausted from facing Rider earlier and was panting because of it. "It must be because he feels warm and welcoming."
"He also seemed like the kind sort, as he moved to help me rescue Mash despite his injuries. You guys might not have seen it, but his back was badly burned and he didn't even seem to realize it," Ritsuka recounted.
Olga pursed her lips at the information, recalling Shirou's figure shielding her from the blast in the command room. It wasn't difficult to understand where Shirou had gotten those injuries from and it irked her with guilt. "T-That's beside the point. I mean, do you think he knows anything about what's happening in Fuyuki?"
Mash and Ritsuka had no answer, but even if they did, they were too busy frozen in place to answer.
"What are you all whispering about?" Cu suddenly made his presence known. "I know the kid over there somewhat, but I have no clue who you guys are."
Olga coughed into her hand and straightened her back. "C-Caster," she said, putting on a brave front despite the stutter in her voice.
Cu's expression was deceptively blank.
"L-Lancer?" Olga tried again.
Cu gave a roguish grin, twirling his spear in his hands before jamming its butt into the ground and leaning over it. "Hey, you're not so bad after all, but we should save the explanations for later. For now, lets look for somewhere safer. No doubt the magical energy and the Servant presence in the area will attract more trouble here."
It was a valid point. No one disagreed, and with Cu in the lead, they soon found a place to rest.
Olga took the better most part of half-an-hour to explain to Cu about Chaldea and the current situation. She could have finished explanations in less than ten-minutes, but her nervousness around Cu kept her from speaking properly. She was jittery, and constantly tapped her finger over her crossed arms. Worse yet, she should have realized just what sort of person she was talking too sooner instead of wasting time with an explanation to begin with.
"So, that means I just have to fight, right?" Cu cut straight to the point, one finger picking at his ear before he smirked in content.
Olga's brow twitched, her irritation momentarily outweighing her caution. "Essentially, yes,"
"Good, that's all that matters." Cu made a shooing gesture, and all Ritsuka could do was try to dissuade Olga from lashing out at Cu. A vein was throbbing over her left temple, and the Animusphere magic Crest lit up over her forehead.
"L-Let it go, Director. It's not worth it," Ritsuka dared not get close. He considered physically holding Olga back, but Mash warned him it was Olga who'd threw him out of the Command Room in the first place during orientation. She'd definitely overpower him in an instant.
"Emiya Senpai," Mash called out for assistance, her gaze shifting furtively from Olga, Cu, then to Shirou. She blinked, and hoped, not knowing what else to do.
In response, Shirou rolled his eyes at Cu. "What's the point in picking a fight now?" He asked while pinching the bridge of his nose.
Cu hummed, his arms falling to his side before he whistled. "Sorry. The director of Chaldea reminded me of that other woman you used to partner with. If anything, neither of them can be true to what they're really feeling."
At this explanation, Shirou fell quiet, knowing full well who Cu was referring to. The others noticed, but they didn't bring it up in favour of giving some time for Olga to calm down.
"First things first." Olga placed a hand over her face and rubbed at her temples. She then took a deep breath and straightened her back, her thoughts clearing and returning to focus. "We need to find a leyline and set up a summoning circle."
"If you're looking for a leyline, there's one right beneath you," Cu pointed out languidly for Olga. His True Class was Caster making his discernment of magical energy several levels above the rest. Being a druid, he was even more in tune with the energies of the earth.
"Uhm, oh right! I knew that, I knew that, of course!" Olga grew flustered, and had to take another minute to compose herself. She was glaring at Cu by this point, Servant or not. The bastard was doing this on purpose to rile her up...and it was working.
Cu raised a brow and shrugged. It wasn't his problem to deal with anyway.
"Mash, place your shield on the ground, and with your Noble Phantasm as a catalyst, I'm going to set up a summoning circle." Olga decided to ignore Cu at Ritsuka's shaky suggestion. "It should enable us to set up a connection with Chaldea's Command Room."
"I'm on it," Mash did as was instructed after giving a tentative look to Ritsuka for confirmation.
As soon as the shield was placed on the ground, Olga got to work and began creating matrix of patterns that formed the foundation of a summoning circle. Inwardly, Olga was praying that if things go well, she'd be able to summon another Servant to fight alongside them. Infusing her magic energy into the drawn circle, she waited with baited breath for a response as several orbs began to spin around the perimeter of Mash's shield.
"Perfect. I'm getting a transmission." Olga's face visibly brightened. Finally. Things were going her way.
"Right, I finally got through on this end! Hello? This is Chaldea's Command Room? Do you read me?"
An unexpected voice caused Olga's expectations to plummet. "Romani? What about Lev? Where's Lev? Put Lev on!" She demanded.
"D-Director, you're alive?" Romani, the man in question sounded startled. The way his voice cracked almost reminded Shirou of his adoptive older sister's cracking wails whenever he threatened to no longer supply her with his cooked food.
In any case, a holographic projection of Ramani appeared floating above Mash's shield. It was tiny, but Romani's features could still be seen. Long messy blond hair tied up into a ponytail, and a face that looked like the man would rather speak to anyone other than Olga. Romani was cringing. He wore a white lab coat with the zipper and high colour tinted teal over white pants and shoes.
"What does it look like? This is Olga Mari, overseer of Chaldea." Olga's patience was running thin. Everything was just going wrong for her from the start. "At this time, I've somehow completed the shift to Singularity F." She paused here, disbelief and anticipation written all over her face as she'd Rayshifted despite her shortcomings. Either something must have happened, or something about her had changed. In any case, she'd find out later.
Olga shook her head and focused her mind. "I have grouped up with Master Candidates Shirou Emiya and Ritsuka Fujimaru. We've recruited a Cas-Lancer Class Servant, but more importantly, what's the head medic doing in charge?"
"O thank God there were more of you alive," Romani sounded weary, but the relief in his tone couldn't be missed. "Anyway, I know I'm not cut out for this job, but there's nobody else. The surviving staff of Chaldea is less than twenty including myself. I'm only in charge since I possess the highest rank among the survivors. About Lev, he was in the Command Room when the blast hit…presently his condition is presumed dead."
Olga looked stricken, her teeth biting down on her lower lip hard, but she pressed on and asked about the remaining Master candidates all in critical condition. When Romani informed her that they were being treated with dwindling medical supplies, she took a hard stance.
"Don't be ridiculous and cryopreserve them immediately! Your priority is to make sure that they don't die!" Olga knew she was breaking human right laws even among magi, but lives were more important. She made the decision without hesitation.
"R-Right, I forgot the coffins had that sort of function." Romani fumbled on his end before radioing Chaldea staff to begin the cryopreservation process. "Sorry, it slipped my mind. It's been hell up here. The fires have been contained and I was almost at my wits end trying to keep Ophelia alive. Miraculously, she was somehow able to escape fatal injuries from her coffin's blast."
"She did?" At this piece of good news, Olga blinked.
"There was an unexpected delay in her coffin's explosion allowing her to cast a few protective magical wards over her vitals. We took her out from her coffin earlier and moved her to Chaldea's infirmary."
Romani paused and looked around before his attention settled on Shirou. "Shirou Emiya, correct?" He asked.
Shirou nodded. His name and description were recorded in Chaldea's records, but even he didn't know why Romani was singling him out. Fortunately, it wasn't anything bad.
"Ophelia sends her gratitude." Romani nodded in acknowledgment. "She was vague, probably delirious but she said that your actions and presence right before the blast allowed her to see the possibility of survival. She's currently in a coma and in intensive care. She will need several days before she can get up on her feet again or even wake up for that matter. Honestly, she's just lucky to be alive."
"About that, what's the state of Chaldea?" Olga cut in.
Romani took on a solemn expression before he began briefing Olga on everything. Meanwhile, everyone else just listened quietly, Cu paying more attention to his spear and their surroundings.
As it would turn out, Chaldea had lost eighty percent of its functionality. Its available manpower was being used to maintain Chaldea and Sheba's current status meaning there wasn't much magical energy that could be provided for Shirou, Olga, and Ritsuka.
This meant that summoning a new Servant now wasn't the most feasible option. Moreover, it was a gamble. The saint quartz, materials consumed for a summon, were of limited quantity, and there was no guarantee a Servant would come even when used. The chance of simply getting a random craft essence used to bolster the ability of a Servant instead, was likelier.
Olga's hopes of gaining a new ally were dashed at this point. The prospect of making an emergency return to Chaldea crossed her mind, but the thought of repercussions from the Clock Tower forced her to stay until adequate results were obtained.
"By the orders of the director of Chaldea, we will investigate this singularity on our own," Olga concluded, nodding to Ritsuka and Shirou.
It was here that Cu spoke up. "What's there to investigate? I already know the problem and I can take you there. All we have to really do is win anyway."
Noticing the relief that flashed across Olga's face at the information, Cu was almost reluctant to ruin it. Almost. "Not so fast. It's not that easy." Cu watched Olga's features stiffen before continuing. "Even if we have a destination in mind, it means nothing if we all aren't prepared for it."
Here, Cu's attention fixated primarily on Mash and Ritsuka before going back to Olga. "Would you mind if I take those two off your hands for a while and get them into shape first? I watched the lady fight against Rider and the lady doesn't seem very sure of herself." He said.
Hearing Cu's words, Mash flinched, her body hiding behind her shield which she'd picked up before Ritsuka placed a hand on her shoulder for encouragement.
Shirou knew Cu's personality, so he easily consented. Cu could be rather ruthless on a mission, but as a person, he could be trusted.
Olga had to consider the wisdom in Cu's words. He wouldn't bring up an issue unless it could prove disastrous further on.
"Just make sure you guys are back here in a few hours." Olga relented and crossed her arms in a bid to hide her growing anxiety. "You can't expect us to be able to survive on our own without a Servant."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Cu was staring directly at Shirou. An action Olga certainly did not miss. She frowned, and stared at Shirou with a layer of suspicion. The Noble Phantasm Shirou had pulled out was still on her mind, the question 'explain?' Left unasked.
Shirou Emiya, Master candidate forty-seven. Olga began to recall everything she'd read on his report. Despite her personality, she was meticulous and actually cared about the well being of those around her. Regardless, the only thing of note she remembered about Shirou on his report, was that he'd been admitted to Chaldea as a technician before his Rayshifting compatibility was discovered.
Now here he was able to manifest a Noble Phantasm from seemingly nowhere. It wasn't Gradation Air, a form of projection magecraft either, as the spear still in Cu's hands showed no signs of defects or that Cu was unhappy with it. In fact, Cu was downright beaming as he held the spear in his grip. What a battle freak. How was he even a Caster?
No, stop that.
Olga inwardly berated herself. She was going off on a tangent when her main focus was Shirou.
She wanted answers, but recalling the way Shirou had saved her, something inside her softened. She still wanted answers, but perhaps she wouldn't be so forceful about it?
Olga Marie Animusphere never forgets a favour.
Cu left with Mash and Ritsuka, leaving Shirou and Olga to temporarily investigate the abnormality of Singularity F on their own. Nerve inducing as the thought was to Olga, she somehow consoled herself with the root of her worries in the first place.
Since neither she or Shirou had a Servant of their own, it was likely that the other Servants in Fuyuki wouldn't actively search for them, not when they could feel Mash and Cu's presence in the vicinity.
With this thought in mind, Olga finally began to relax, not noticing that for Shirou, it was the opposite. He'd been quietly observing the burning city of Fuyuki since he'd arrived. This was clearly an alternate Fuyuki than the one he remembered. Presently he was only sure of two things, one, a 'Shirou Emiya' existed in this time line, and two, the Holy Grail hadn't been destroyed; it was the only logical conclusion since Servants were running about Masterless in Fuyuki.
Shirou did not have much else to go on, but it was evident from the way Olga's eyes were boring holes on his back that she thought he knew more than what he actually knew. "If you have any questions, I'm free to answer them if you just ask," he replied, a hand scratching the back of his head. He could see that Olga was having trouble bringing up the topic so he might as well help her out.
She actually blanked at him in confusion before his words processed in her mind, and she began puffing up her chest and huffed in an attempt to mask her blunder. If anything, though, the awkwardness around her faded somewhat.
"It's only natural to answer the questions of your director. I commend your forthcomingness." She tilted her chin up haughtily, the image ruined when he noticed her twiddling her thumbs at the same time. "How are you related to Fuyuki and what's happening here?"
Olga began probing, starting with her main concern.
The problem was, even Shirou himself was not fully certain of the answer.
"If my assumptions are correct, a Holy Grail War is occurring in Fuyuki," Shirou decided it was best to share his thoughts. As he explained, his feet carried him forward as he reminisced of the past. "As for how I'm related, Fuyuki is my hometown. Several years prior, I was the Master of Saber and I was part of this Holy Grail War."
"That's not possible," Olga denied with logic. "Singularity F occurs in the early 2000s, and the present year is 2017. You don't look that old and there were no records of a Holy Grail War taking part in Japan in the given time period."
It was the truth.
"I'm just as confused as you are. Isn't that why we're investigating?"
Olga closed her mouth in silent agreement. She frowned and bit down on the nail of her thumb as she fell into contemplation. "If this is a Holy Grail War, it narrows down what we need to do. The Holy Grail should be the answer to correcting this singularity, meaning that Caster had it right that we have to fight to win. This should be enough to fill a satisfactory report for the Clock Tower, but heading back to Chaldea now isn't an option. Just what sort of situation is this?"
Olga began to mutter openly, assuming that Shirou was paying attention to her analysis.
"Speaking of which, where did you get a Noble Phantasm from? Hey, are you even listening?"
At the moment, no. No, he was not. He was too busy staring at a burning house and the silhouette of a figure he'd never be able to mistake. As Olga had been contemplating what could have caused the situation, Shirou had ended up walking down the road towards the house he used to live in at Fuyuki.
It was the Emiya manor bought by his adoptive father Kiritsugu.
The entire manor was up in flames at this point, the bonsai trees and shrubs growing in the open garden nothing more that charred wood and ashes. The walls around the complex had also toppled, allowing Shirou to walk inside without circling towards the front gate. This also meant that he'd been able to see directly into the house way before he'd gotten close.
There sprawled on the ground at the entrance of the Emiya residence front door was none other than Rin Tohsaka, a woman Shirou held dear. He could not mistake her iconic twin tails, short skirt, and red blouse for anyone else. Her condition wasn't good, no; it was awful. Black mud surrounded her on all sides, submerging her in a thin layer over her legs. Purple-like veins were crawling up her skin, flaring red with each pulse from the mud. She had herself propped up on her elbows, but more than anything, the reason Shirou suddenly burst into a sprint was because of a single observation.
Rin was breathing.
"Hey wait, why are you running!?" Olga called out in alarm; however, he was too rushed to respond.
Gritting her teeth, Olga gave chase with a small whine of protest. This all changed when Olga noticed Rin and the fact that Shirou all but froze once he got within sight of her.
Olga slowed her steps and waited at a distance to observe.
Shirou stared at Rin, and she stared back, stiff as a statue before the silence shattered.
Despite her condition, Rin just stared before laughing then laughing even harder to the point where it turned into weeping. One careful look at Rin was all it took for Shirou to determine that Rin was dying. Yet even if she was dying, she made it look like she was winning the lottery. "…Yes! I knew that fools don't die!" Vigour returned to her listless face. Regardless, she looked like she'd seen better days. Her features were sunken, gaunt to the point that wrinkles had formed over a pale complexion.
Shirou didn't know what to say, but Rin clearly had a lot to vent. The tears trickling down her cheeks glistened in the light of the fires burning throughout the city.
"You Goddamned idiot!" She choked out hoarsely, the sheer volume causing him to flinch from the sheer heartbreak. "What were you thinking going off on your own?! No never mind you don't think in the first place! I tried to save everyone, I damn well tried, and I even lost Archer for it." For a moment she looked defeated, crestfallen, but there was joy in the way she looked at him. "I thought it was all over and then you just waltz up to me alive after I thought your stupidity got you killed..."
Rin tried to wipe away at her tears, but it was taking all her strength just to keep her upper body propped up. She was sniffling, eyes misted over.
"Thank goodness. Thank goodness," she muttered softly, her lips quivering.
It's said that in death a person is the most truthful, but Shirou did not know how to react to such raw emotion.
Moreover, Rin was clearly getting the wrong idea.
Shirou shifted awkwardly on his feet. If this was a parallel timeline of the Fuyuki Grail War, then the Shirou of this world probably did die already. Shirou wasn't a fool, no he was just impulsive and often threw logic aside in favour of saving others. This meant throwing himself at danger. A lot of danger to the point he questioned how he was even alive.
Shirou digressed, more to the point, he'd seen the way Rider and Caster had looked at him in surprise. Rin was no different. The hollowness in her gaze had vanished completely upon sighting him, replaced by indescribable relief.
The thing was, he wasn't the Shirou she thought him to be.
No, Shirou stopped himself. Was it worth telling Rin the truth at this moment when her eyes were filled with such hope? He couldn't do it. Not after seeing just how much pain she was enduring just to talk to him. He shut his mouth, ignoring the questioning stare he could feel from his back where Olga stood. Either Rin was ignoring Olga, or her vision had deteriorated to the point that she could no longer see past certain distances. He was leaning towards the latter option. Rin had never been too friendly when other women approached him.
"Rin what? Just shut up for now. I don't have much time left!" Rin coughed into her hand, blood coating her palm as she wheezed from the exertion of staying conscious. She trembled and shivered, eyes pursing shut in order to just endure.
Shirou stepped forward. Rin heard, looked up at his face, and noticed a distinct gleam in his expression, prompting her features to shift into a glower. "Don't even think about it! There's no saving me. I couldn't escape the mud, and the curses flowing through have long since gone beyond saving."
Right, the cursed mud. That's what was surrounding Rin. It was also the perpetrator of the Servants undergoing 'blackening.' But so what? He'd still try to save her. Yet Rin would not have it. She lost her temper.
"Do me a favour and just listen!"
He paused in his steps, stunned by the sheer determination on Rin's face. "As long as you're still here, then there's still a chance to save everything else." She began coughing again. When she stopped, she continued. "We were so close," she stressed. "The Greater Grail should have been destroyed, but out of nowhere some random man carrying a strange shard just up and ruins everything." Rin's rage was simmering despite her pain, masking the sheer grief she'd buried inside her. "I-I saw him kill you, and then proceed to kill everyone else in the city. I-I thought I was the only one left after days of trying to stay alive. I couldn't believe it, so in the end, I made a bet that you'd survived and dragged myself here. It paid off to keep myself alive for as long as I could just to see that stupid face again."
Rin's voice was fading, her eyelids growing heavier and heavier, but like the headstrong woman Shirou knew she was, she forced herself on. "I don't have much else to say, but at the very least, I'd like you to take this," she fumbled with her hands and produced a red gem filled to the brim with magical energy. She tossed it to Shirou with what little energy she had left. "If that bastard Lev comes out, then use it to give him hell as my gift from me to him. If it's you Emiya, I'm sure you can do it. The Tohsaka pay back humiliation ten-fold. Do you here me Emiya? Ten-fold…" She trailed off; her complexion rapidly whitening.
It would seem that the relief of seeing Shirou had reduced Rin's tenacity to stay alive after she'd been able to see and entrust Shirou with everything that mattered.
"L-Lev? Did you just say Lev? He's here? He's alive? That's perfect he always helps me!" Olga could keep quiet to the conversation no longer.
No answer. Rin had died with a vindictive smile over her face, fully trusting in the Shirou before her. It was exactly like the Rin that Shirou knew of, which made it all the more personal.
"Wait you can't just die. At least answer me first! The nerve of eastern magi. I waited politely; shouldn't I get a turn to ask questions!"
It was no use.
"Let's go," Shirou clutched strongly onto the gem Rin had given to him, features tightening. She was a dear friend, and perhaps something much more that he'd been ignorant of in the pursuit of his ideals, but one thing was for sure.
If he knew Rin as a person, then Rin definitely knew him as well.
He'd make good on her promise.
By the time Cu, Ritsuka, and Mash returned to the specified meeting place, they could all tell that something had changed about both Shirou and Olga. They stood apart from each other, Shirou leaning his back on the wall of a ruined buildings, and Olga pacing back and forth. If anything, Shirou looked a lot more determined and invested into the situation than he did before.
Shirou had just seen someone that he cared for die right in front of him, and there was nothing that he could do. Of course, he wasn't unaffected. Then there was still the issue with Sakura and the realization that she was probably dead as well. Everyone he knew in Fuyuki was probably dead right now. His hands were balled into fists so tightly that his nails were beginning to dig into his palms. None of this was making any sense from what he remembered.
Olga just looked troubled in comparison. Her lips were pursed, and she couldn't get the idea that Lev was still alive out of her head.
Mash and Ritsuka could sense the tension in the air, and lost much of their enthusiasm after Cu had helped Mash learn to activate her Noble Phantasm by pitting her against enemy Servants and Cu himself.
Unlike Mash and Ritsuka, Cu was not so reserved.
"Seems like we missed some things," Cu said flatly before grunting. "Honestly, I won't pry, but all I ask is whether or not this will effect your combat abilities?"
Shirou shook his head. "I'll manage," he replied. Olga snapped back to attention at Cu's voice and hurriedly composed herself. "Of course, I'm fine," she said unconvincingly.
Cu didn't comment. There was no use. Instead, he sat everyone down and began telling him all he knew about where the Holy Grail was and who to expect to fight.
"There's no getting around fighting Saber, but the Archer's going to be a problem if no one handles him." Cu's gaze flicked up to Shirou who stilled when Archer was mentioned. "It seems you know who I'm talking about."
Shirou simply nodded. He could hazard a guess. "I should be able to deal with it if Olga can help supply some magical energy."
Cu looked to Olga who flinched at the attention, though she'd never admit it. "As the director, I won't leave someone in need of my assistance behind."
A gasp echoed. Mash looked like she was looking at Olga for the first time. She'd always thought that Olga was 'downright evil' for her unsavoury ways of firing those she disliked.
"D-Director, I didn't know you were this nice," Mash seemed genuinely moved, much to Olga's irritation, but she was better than snubbing Mash back for making her feel self-conscious.
Cu clapped and smirked. "Good, then it's sorted out. You two," Caster pointed to Shirou and Olga. "You'll form one team and defeat or stall the Archer, and I'll go with the other two to take on Saber and retrieve the Holy Grail."
Saber, huh? For a moment, the image of a knight in blue appeared in Shirou's mind. Bitter memories of her parting came next, but through it all, he cherished the good times that he could remember.
Shirou shook his head, his features hardening. He had a goal, a motive. Even if this Fuyuki Grail War differed from his own, he was determined to set it straight, not only for himself, but for all those that have died as a consequence.
"I'm ready to leave when you guys are," Shirou pushed off from the wall he was leaning towards and gestured towards Cu.
"Quick to action, I like it." Cu said as he adjusted his spear to a onehanded grip for him to carry. "I'll take the lead and kill off any skeletons I see. This spear is particularly effective against undead and demonic entities."
The group took another minute to go over the details of the plan, and soon enough, they were running towards the mountains of Ryuudou Temple where Cu had specified the Grail to be. Although no one questioned why Caster was helping to begin with, Shirou suspected that it was either because Cu enjoyed the thrill of battle too much, or he was following an obligation from Rider that Shirou wasn't aware of.
Honestly, there many things about this Fuyuki that Shirou wasn't aware of, and in a way, it was irking him. The people he'd cared for; the things that he'd wanted to save; all of it was gone in this world. He couldn't understand how this had happened, no; more than that, he couldn't accept it.
"We part ways here!" Cu yelled out to him, snapping Shirou out of his thoughts.
Right. They'd do things just as planned.
Shirou and Olga continued ahead towards the location specified by Cu where Archer was guarding. Meanwhile, Cu and the others took a longer route in order to head towards the entrance of a cave in the mountainside.
Shirou took in a breath, and calmed his breathing. He couldn't be certain about what to expect about the Archer he was going to meet, but beyond all else, he was inwardly seething.
"Are you sure that you can take on a Servant? You gave your Noble Phantasm away to Caster, this is crazy!" Olga said, her anxiety showing over his recklessness now that Cu was gone. Regardless, Olga was true to her word and she was channeling magical energy to Shirou as they moved.
Shirou was too preoccupied to answer. He moved through the underbrush of the forest around Ryuudou temple without regard for stealth, Olga clambering behind him. The fact that he wasn't getting shot at right now meant that the enemy Archer had no intention of shooting.
A direct confrontation it would be then.
It was exactly what he wanted.
Flooding his body with magical energy, he reinforced his legs, leapt through the cover of the trees, and out into an open clearing by a ridge where a man stood waiting. His features were identical to Shirou's own aside from the height, silver hair, and tan skin. Red web-like patterns were corroding Archer's skin starting from his left eye, pulsing with tainted magical energy. Archer too had been blackened by the Grail's mud. The largest difference between the two was the light in each of their eyes.
While Shirou's eyes burned with purpose, Archer's looked defeated and guilty. Oddly though, there were traces of resoluteness.
"Archer," Shirou was the first to break the silence, but Archer had no words to say but one.
"Leave." Archer said flatly, much to Shirou's ire.
For the longest time, they just stared at each other until Olga stumbled onto the scene. However, the sight of Shirou and Archer standing opposite to each other prompted Olga to freeze, the pieces of a puzzling falling in place in her mind; however, Shirou didn't take notice, too busy with the adversary in front of him.
Relief upon seeing him was the last thing Shirou could have ever expected to see from Archer's face, but his words and actions contradicted his expression.
"You wish to fight?" Archer raised his arms up in confrontation. "You know nothing of what transpired here. Of what I'm protecting."
"Stop making excuses!" Shirou gritted his teeth, veins popping over his skin. "I have a promise to keep. One that you should be able to understand!"
How long did Rin suffer before she died? What of innocent Sakura and all his friends from Homurahara Academy who'd surely died from the ominous flames? Why? Why? The rage simmering within him was finally let loose. Archer was strong, stronger than Shirou could ever hope to be, so why did he let this happen?
You couldn't protect them!
For a moment, Archer seemed to falter at Shirou's stare, but quickly found his resolve.
Magical power flooded around Shirou while circuit-like patterns formed over his skin. He stepped forward, and Archer followed in tandem, their gazes meeting eye to eye. Oddly, Archer did not try to reason with him as Archer himself appeared solemn.
"I know that I failed to save the others, but you will regret this once you see what lays beyond me," Archer readied himself. "For her sake, I can't let you and especially you pass after she's taken so long to resolve herself. This ends now."
Two pairs of hands extended forward, two swords readying themselves for combat.
A clash of past and future.
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Summary of book:
Death. Grief. Ruin. Nothing was left unchanged after an unexplained tragedy led to the loss of millions across the world in key locations. Cities were reduced to wastelands of steel and concrete, and many were forced into migration. When events leading to the prior tragedy occur once more, Kevin Black was going to have to learn that sometimes mysteries were better left unsolved. Trapped with his friends in the world of a ruined city filled with monsters, the journey out would be far more perilous than the journey in.