Chapter 2: The Spark of Steel

In the inverted, empty night, the constant roar of crashing blades rang out.

Shirou gripped his near-broken katana with all the strength he could muster, hands turning white from the pressure. It was almost all the teen could do, besides try to stay on his feet; there wasn't an inch of him that wasn't drenched in sweat, the liquid so heated by his exertions and the rain of sparks produced by the clashing weapons that it hissed when it fell to the concrete below. Though, the concrete itself was contributing to that – the material was growing hotter and hotter, almost to the point of beginning to glow as Shirou and Lancer did battle upon it.

If it could be called a battle.

For Shirou, it was more a struggle for survival. The spears that sought his heart were too powerful; each weapon's head blazed with light, one scarlet and one gold, obscuring his view of them and leaving him defending against what looked like two streaks of light. What he could see was Lancer, and his bloodthirsty grin as the warrior—as the Servant—pushed forward with both spears in a mighty thrust, the weakened concrete of their mutual footing giving up the ghost and shattering around them from the recoil.

Shirou didn't cry out as he received the push, but only because he was physically incapable of it. His body refused to relinquish the precious oxygen, leaving his eyes to bulge as arms that felt less like limbs and more like stapled-on lengths of lead pipe desperately held his rapidly-degrading blade in a guard against the mystical weapons of his opponent.

In his mind's ear, the raspy voice of exhaustion whispered honeyed words, cajoling him to cease the struggle. Any part of him that hadn't gone numb was in pain; blisters were rising where the sparks fell on his skin, the sweat was in his eyes, the soles of his feet were searing from the superheated floor. It would be the easiest thing in the world to simply...not guard, and let the pain end in an instant.

And yet, his guard didn't waver.

Lancer's strike pushed him back several metres, his heels carving troughs in the concrete, but failed to reach his skin. The teen met the Servant's bloodthirsty gaze with little expression to be seen, too tired to move the muscles, but his eyes burned. Lancer snarled in indignation, looming over the teen and applying his weight to both spears, Shirou locking his knees and struggling to keep them from buckling as greater and greater force tried to force him to the ground.

It failed.

Every part of him threatened to snap under the pressure, but whenever it did his mind was filled with the same determination, the same heartfelt wish that had carried him this far.

He wanted to live!

Screaming in furious, scared defiance with air he didn't know he had in him, Shirou's knees finally moved – in a movement far too practiced for a highschool student, his blade tilting just so to send the spears and Lancer himself sliding to the side of him, caught off-guard for just a moment, leaving him wide open for Shirou to raise one foot and bring it down on the arch of the Servant's foot so hard the concrete below fractured.

Lancer staggered as the bones of his foot and ankle were destroyed, already in a precarious stance because of Shirou's deflection, and the teen's sword darted forward like a minnow in search of his heart.

Not quickly enough though. The Servant of the Spear's unharmed foot launched him backward, away from the thrust, leaving Shirou's weapon to score only a long, but shallow slice across the Servant's pectorals.

The two combatants stared at one another over the new distance. Lancer gingerly put his weight back on the foot Shirou had crippled, limping slightly but still managing to use the appendage despite the injury. Shirou, meanwhile, took one hand off his sword to grip his own chest, gasping desperately for air as the scents of boiling sweat and miscellaneous burning filled his nose and lungs.

Lancer bayed like a wolf, his gaze full of hatred and irrational loathing, and Shirou stabbed his sword into the ground, feeling the steel part earth like butter and wondering at it for a moment. Only a moment, though – then he was back to getting his breath back and trying desperately to think of a way out of the situation.

He had no idea how this had happened. He had no experience in fighting whatsoever, yet he had forced Lancer to retreat. He didn't know anything about using swords apart from what he'd seen in TV shows and movies, yet he hadn't lost his grip.

"What the…" he whispered to himself, his tired gaze never leaving Lancer's, "hell is…"

Then he hadn't the time to think anymore, as Lancer charged like a man possessed, stabbing for Shirou's chest. The teen planted his feet, drew his sword from the earth and swung it into the spears once more, again finding that his body moved more or less on its own as the duel resumed with newfound intensity.

It was different this time. Lancer dodged and rolled around his sword swings, marginally evading the trail of glinting steel that carved gashes in the street and nearby buildings. Eventually he dodged behind a streetlamp, and rather than go around it, Shirou instinctively cut through it, sending the edifice toppling to the ground in a great shower of sparks. He'd hoped it would catch Lancer off guard and maybe score a hit if the Servant was close enough.

Instead, it had played in the Servant's hands.

The spears erupted from the curtain of sparks as one. The golden spear batted aside Shirou's blade, and the red spear sank deep into his left shoulder.

The teen screamed as the weapon twisted in his flesh like a corkscrew, bringing with it a worse pain than anything in his memory. It raged like no injury he'd ever had, burning through his nerves, and his vision swam from the sheer force of it as his clammy fingers nearly dropped his blade.

For a moment, at least.

Because as the pain reached its zenith, Shirou almost felt like he was outside his own body watching as his grip tightened once again, his arm reared back, and with a familiarity he didn't possess he swung.

A shockwave erupted in the mirrored street as the katana, already so badly cracked, finally shattered – no, erupted in a blast of force and flame, the concrete below the point of impact reduced to slag in an instant as every window on the street shattered in the same moment. Lancer, caught almost in the epicenter, flew like a ragdoll, destroying letterboxes and streetlights in his flight path before finally coming to a destructive rest halfway through the wall of a building some ways away, collapsing in a heap of blood and dust.

Shirou stared after him, before turning his gaze down to his own empty hands. A sound of wordless surprise left him as he clenched and relaxed his fists, wisps of steam floating away from his flesh.

"What…" he asked himself, turning back to Lancer. "What's going on…?"

As they had been the first time he posed a question tonight, his thoughts were interrupted by Lancer, who burst from the rubble like a man possessed, howling his hatred to the heavens as bloody rivers ran down his face.

"Crap!" Shirou cursed, turning on his heel and running. "What good's an attack if it destroys the weapon?!"

His opponent gave chase, and in a reversal of the duel they'd been having moments ago Shirou found himself evading, dodging and rolling as best he could to keep the spears away from his flesh. He knew, however, that it wasn't a tenable solution.

Without a way to defend himself, Lancer would kill him, sooner or later.

For as long as he didn't have a weapon, he couldn't survive.

And with that thought, something kindled in his mind.

Once again, Shirou's body acted without his input, twisting on its heel and crouching as Lancer's weapons pierced the air above his head which had once contained his torso. The Servant glared down at the teen as he loomed above...and then that gaze widened, as fire and smoke erupted from the teen's hands and a blade sprang fully formed into his grip already mid-swing.

The Servant leapt, taking a cut to his legs for the trouble but somersaulting over Shirou and gaining some distance as the teen turned to face him.

There was barely a moment's pause. Then, Lancer flashed forward, and Shirou's new blade came up to meet him...for a moment.

It shattered in the first exchange...but that was fine.

He always had another.

Again and again and again Shirou swung, body moving without mind in an endless deluge of shattering and reforming steel upon the Servant that was his opponent. One exchange became two, became four, became eight and kept stretching until more than twenty clashes had occurred. His blade finally locked with Lancer's blades, holding the weapons away from him as he glared into the Servant's eyes.

Then those eyes, and the world in general, spun as Lancer dropped one of his spears for a moment to snake his arm past Shirou's guard, grab his igote and then twist, muscles bulging as he dragged Shirou off his feet and threw him into and through a wall, the brickwork collapsing into dust and fragments that lay upon him like a body in the tomb.

Breathing was painful. But then again, so was lying still. So Shirou got his feet below him, no matter how his knees threatened to buckle, and propped himself up with his sword until he was standing straight, still glaring at Lancer out of his own bloodied face. His earlier fear was...not gone, but buried. Right now, he was too tired for fear. His world was shrinking down, the only full thought that yet remained in it being his goal.

He was going to survive.

Lancer stalked forward like a wolf after prey, spears twirling expertly in his hands to carve the ground around him into chunks. Not out of any strategy, or practical purpose – but merely for the sake of intimidation.

Shirou merely waited, feet planted firmly and mind set even moreso.

He...didn't feel entirely himself, with the stillness that had settled into his soul. But in that moment, with death looming so largely, he didn't care where the inner strength had come from. If it helped him live through this, he'd do anything.

And he'd have to, because…

"The only way I'm getting out of this," the boy muttered, "is to beat you."

Lancer wouldn't leave him alone; he knew that from facing him and by instinct. This mad Servant would hunt him to the ends of the Earth, even if Shirou was capable of fleeing this reversed world. There was no way around this problem; he had to go through it.

He had to kill him.

And as he came to terms with that, the kindled flame in the back of his mind grew stronger.

This time, Shirou was the aggressor. He launched himself at Lancer, his first swing at the Servant detonating in the same fashion that his first blade had, to much the same results, flinging his opponent away. But Shirou didn't just stand and watch; he gave chase, almost leaving a tunnel through the clouds of dust Lancer's flying body had raised before he reached the wide-eyed Servant and swung the blade that had just manifested.

Another blast; another weapon lost. Blood poured from Lancer's lips as he tried to make distance, but Shirou wouldn't give him the chance.

He was relentless and unshakeable, constantly in the Servant's face. Every new blade would swing once and explode, never giving the Servant a chance to rest or recover. From street to street they moved, building to building, heralding ruin wherever they went. Every window within miles was shattered, casting powdered glass to the roaring winds that grew with every blast, and there was no end in sight.

Shirou kept the pressure on almost mechanically, no matter how uneasily his hands shook or how he could feel his energy leaving him ever more with each new blade. For all that he was tired out, he was also sustained; something was blazing in his heart, spreading like a wildfire through his left side and from there to the rest of his body. It burned, yes, in a painful way, but it was a reminder that he was alive and that he still had everything to lose.

If doing this caused him pain, but allowed him to win – then he'd take the pain happily!

More than two-dozen blades went by before Lancer finally made a mistake. He snarled and reversed course, trying to catch Shirou mid-charge like Shirou had caught him not so long ago...but even as he attacked, a moment of clarity told Shirou exactly what he needed to do.

His blade fell from his hands, and something new burned its way into reality in his grip instead.

A forging hammer.

Without a blade to worry about, Shirou was able to throw himself into a roll beneath the Lancer's strike, then erupt upwards with all the momentum he'd conserved and smash the hammer into Lancer's side.

Bones cracked, organs quivered and were punctured, and the Servant coughed up a mouthful of blood – but Shirou didn't stop there. The hammer came back down, then rose, and fell, and rose, and fell. The motions of a blacksmith that were meant for the moulding of materials far stronger than flesh and bone set to work on the Servant's body, destroying it piece by piece even as Shirou ignored the way the burning in his own form grew worse and worse.

With a triumphant yell he finally shoved the Servant back, Lancer now drenched in his own blood and staggering badly. The Servant could barely hold his spears or stand; he was wide open, with no chance to evade or block.

The hammer fell from Shirou's hands to make room – but it wasn't a single blade that filled them.

It was two.

One katana as black as night, one katana as clear as day; mirror images, the blades drew back as one, time slowing for their wielder as he rushed forward to the sound of his own thudding heartbeat, watching Lancer's eyes widen as he struggled to make his broken body block—

And failed.

The swords swung together, each from a shoulder to an opposite hip, and the cuts went deep. Lancer's blood spilled like a geyser, and for a brief moment the Servant didn't move, standing statue-still.

Then, like a stringless puppet, he fell.

Shirou breathed heavily as he stumbled to a wall and leaned against it, steam rising from his body as he slid to the ground. Fatigue was almost the only thing he could feel, his eyes very close to closing on their own, but he managed to keep them open as he watched Lancer's body disappear in a mass of shadow, leaving behind…

"What the…" Shirou grunted, trying to heave himself forward to look more closely but failing to manage even that much. "Another card?"

It seemed to be made of the same material as the one he had, but with the image of a spearman in place of a knight. He couldn't see more than that, though.

He leaned against the wall, vision dimming as he watched the outfit he'd been dressed in fade away, leaving behind his school uniform. The powerful blades he'd been gripping vanished too, leaving behind an odd sense of loneliness that made him even more reluctant to get up.

But get up he'd have to. No matter how long he sat there, drenched in sweat and steaming, he eventually had to get up and make his way home. So, he started getting to his feet—

fire burned in his lungs and body and soul—

—And he collapsed, screaming in agony.

His body twisted and seized as he gripped his left side, the pain intensifying a hundredfold. He was being alive, he could feel it; could feel every individual nerve burning away as his bones were reduced to ash.

He screamed until his throat was hoarse, until his twitches subsided and the pain was the only thing he could feel. The moment stretched into an eternity of suffering, like he was walking barefoot in hell. Then, at some impossible point, it dimmed every so slightly, and Shirou's eyes began to close against the red pool of his own blood.

Cloth rustled in the pain, a strange chirping reaching his ears.

With whatever strength he had left, the Emiya boy struggled to open his eyes and look up. His vision was blurry, a myriad of colours more than any coherent shapes, but he could see one thing.

A cloaked sentinel stood above, grey and impassive. Faceless, lightless, it was like a grim reaper had come to welcome him to their domain.

Oddly, despite the ghoulish phantom...he wasn't scared. In fact, it was a little comforting.

Shirou closed his eyes after taking in the sight, and knew no more.

Gray flew through the night, her cloak fluttering like wings of darkness. Her hood rippled but never fell as she bounded from rooftop to rooftop, Reinforced limbs aiding her.

Though the wind made to cut her apart as she broke through it, Gray still continued on her course, eyes gazing methodically as she glanced across the skyline, trying to find a hint of where her targets were.

It wasn't of any use. Fuyuki was enveloped in lights that illuminated it, obscuring any potential hints in a dizzying collection of shining pinpricks. Gray was not particularly photogenic; her vision began to dizzy and blacken from the light spots.

Gripping her head a little, the girl stopped on a rooftop, her gloved hand pressing into a wall to keep her steady whilst she recovered. Nausea rose up her throat and uncomfortable breaths left her, but those soon drained away.

"Ugh…" she grunted, standing free again and walking to the edge of the roof, overlooking the rest of Fuyuki.

"What kinda magus are you anyway Gray?" Add insulted her, his voice high and annoying as usual. "Burning out just from a little jumping – you're just a pretending goth, ihihihi!"

The exertion for the last half-hour had shortened Gray's patience with the Mystic Code, so she rattled his cage roughly under her cloak, taking some subdued satisfaction in his own sounds of discomfort.

"Add…" the reaper chided as she continued looking over the city, ceasing the shaking to focus on her task, "not right now."

"Urgh, you're such a killjoy…" the Mystic Code grumbled, but he made no other noises. His sense of self preservation was too strong.

The not-magus glanced down into the throng of the city, picking out the masses and swells of people walking throughout the streets and under the pale lights. She couldn't make out details, only that the people were like worms, crawling towards their goals slowly. Towards their own 'death'.

A hitched breath escaped her. Fuyuki was exactly like London; she had been in that city for two months but had come to understand that with so many people living in it, it was as if they were marching towards death. It was a city that was a living Hell, and no one seemed to understand it as she did.

This city was of the same cloth as the English citadel.

Her skin crawled as she ambled forward, bending her legs like springs to continue the search. Something about Fuyuki…it made her feel nauseous just being here, though she didn't know why.

Gray wanted to be as far from it as possible, which is why she focused magical energy into her legs and continued her search for Rin and Luvia.

Idly, as she spun out of the way of a taller building, she wondered what the two were doing. The hooded girl had only met them once or twice during her two months in London, but found their presences very overwhelming – like she was a reed being washed away by their tides.

It was a strange contrast when Luvia had been so composed at Adra Castle, and so childishly violent against Rin. They were probably compensating for something, Gray decided. Like they couldn't be honest about themselves, so they put up masks that cracked to show their true personalities.

It was quite draining to watch even if Gray stayed far away from the point of impact.

Gray returned to her searching, eyes keen and focused as she once more flew through the night, concealed by the lights below just as they obscured her sight.

It was then, as she fell through the sky towards another rooftop, that her eyes swept to her left. She was met with the sight of an old, decrepit and ultimately destroyed building that looked out of place for the surroundings. Out of mild curiosity she came to a gentle stop on the ground at its base, a wired fence separating her from the ruin.

Her fingers tangled in the barrier, the girl eying the ruin with nothing less than surprise. Of course, she had seen similar things before—ruins came up surprisingly often as part of her job as the apprentice of Lord El Melloi II—but this was unique.

This hotel, merely a husk of what it once was, was firmly in the center of the city and yet it remained in such a state.

She made to move off, to continue her hunt but at that very moment—

Something crawled up her spine.

Gray heaved as overwhelming nausea rose up her throat, far worse than before. Sweat poured down her face as she fell against the fence, barely standing under her own power. The fencing cut into her gloves, the pain ignored.

"Gray," Add's voice, faraway and devoid of his usual teasing, "spirits?"

Gray let her breath out, the voice of the Mystic Code grounding her. Wiping her face clean, pained dribbles having already started to flow, she turned and saw something that made her gape.

A red-headed boy, in the uniform of Rin and Luvia's school, collapsed in a pool of his own blood. And in front of him…a familiar card was on the ground.

"A Class Card?" she wondered aloud, rushing forward despite her apprehension, how the fear that gripped her intensified as she got closer to it.

The hooded girl ignored the Class Card for the moment, coming to a stop in front of the fallen boy. His ochre eyes stared up at her through his dying gaze, shallow breaths of life escaping him. Even as she watched him with a wide gaze and a gaping mouth, those brilliantly coloured eyes eased shut.

He was dying, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

Even so, Gray bent down, her cloak somehow not even touching the pool of blood. A puncture wound was apparent when she came closer. It was a wound meant to kill…and in all likelihood it would.

The gravekeeper had seen death on numerous occasions…but this terrified her. She bit her lip, cursing her lack of ability at healing magecraft. If she had even a modicum of talent for it, she could save his life.

But she was just like her master. Unable to heal something, and only able to watch it die.

At the very least she would stay with him. She owed him that, for not being able to help him.

Taking a moment to step back, wringing her gloves together, Gray picked up the Card she had spotted initially. The indescribable and encompassing fear brewed up again, but for the moment she pushed it to the back of her mind, turning the card over.

She had only seen pictures of the two Class Cards already discovered and taken as part of the debriefing…but was it even possible for two Class Cards to have the same artwork?

The girl had no time to ruminate on it as she pocketed the Card – and leapt back as a halberd smashed into where she had been standing.

Dust rose up as debris flew, cracking the walls and windows around it. Gray said nothing except ready Add, the cage rattling and beginning to glow, observing the person who had nearly killed her.

And blushed something fierce.

The woman was dressed in a fashion that reminded her of her teacher's dishevelment: A short top slovenly worn, shorts ajar and small boots on the feet. Her white hair was short and wild, and red eyes glimmering like rubies just looked at her.

Looked at her, and through the haze of laziness Gray saw gripped them, an edge of steel glinted.

The woman heaved her weapon, as long as she was tall—perhaps longer—and its blade ornate. Lifting it with ease, she planted it in front of her with just a light touch. Even with just that, the street beneath cracked and scored.

Gray gulped, ready to pull on Add to defend herself. But she didn't, not as she usually would. There was something in the woman's—the homunculus'—bearing that made her think twice.

She may wield Add and that…but fear gripped her heart tight. Gripped her tight and refused to let Gray move.

Because this was someone she would never be able to beat.

"Who…are you?" the homunculus asked her, her voice wistful and faraway.

"U-um…" Gray stuttered, unused to social interaction like this, rubbing her hands together anxiously, "I'm…U-um..."

She stumbled over her words- over what to say without giving anything away. Her master had coached her briefly before sending her out, but this was a completely unexpected situation.

"I'm…looking for something," Gray settled on at last, stepping further back and away from the boy, the homunculus' bearings easing just a little from it. "I'm not here to cause any trouble."

Further illustrating her point, the steel-haired girl withdrew Add's cage from her harness. The homunculus' posture filled again with resolution, but it drained just as quickly when the girl placed the cage onto the ground and stepped a little away from it.

The silence was awkward – so awkward Gray flushed and rubbed her hands together restlessly. The homunculus tilted her head slowly, like she was taking a long time to think about the situation.

She scratched her short hair with the halberd hand. The homunculus didn't even notice that as she did so, the enchanted blade sliced through another wall clean like butter. Or if she did, it was a deliberate move.

It worked, Gray noted grimly as she swallowed another lump in her throat.

Then the homunculus nodded to herself and grabbed the boy gently, with the care one wouldn't expect of such a brutal warrior – of someone protecting someone dear to them. She nodded with the pace of a snail at Gray before moving off, disappearing into the shadows.

For a few minutes Gray stood as still as a statue. Licking her dry lips, she retrieved Add and hooked his cage back onto the harness, swathing it in her cloak.

"Colour me surprised, you didn't screw that up," Add chirped sardonically, twisting in his cage. "Guess you're learning something after all."

Gray ignored her chatty Mystic Code, funneling magical energy to her legs and leaping away from the ruin. As she made her way toward her residence, wind buffeting her again, one thought continued to grip her.

What was a homunculus doing in this city?

Shirou's body was on fire. Flames rose around him, great and all-encompassing. The earth roiled beneath him, cracked bedrock spluttering with hellfire. He couldn't see anything but the flames, could feel nothing but the pain that invaded his entire being.

He stumbled forward through the living hell, childishly dragging himself forward and screaming to the heavens. Numbness attacked his left arm, which hung lazily at his side and twitched uselessly.

Millions of needles stabbed into it, the sharpness distinct even from the feeling of his body slowly reducing to ash and blood.

The boy continued through the hell, unable to see a way out. Even so he strode forward, slow as a snail but undoubtedly never stopping. He felt that if he stopped, he would die.

And he needed to live.

After an eternity walking forward, he heard something. It was faint, ever so faint, but it was without any shred of doubt a sound. Like something smashing against metal.

Even as his breathing pained his lungs and caused them to combust, and as his eyes burst into fire, Shirou made his way forward. But he was curious and was hopeful about this invader in the hellscape.

The flames…changed, as the sound became more apparent. Tongues of fire became storms of sparks and the heat drained away into a mere haze. His body was still disappearing, but now he could see something.

Shirou gaped as the weight stopping him going forward increased a hundredfold – he could not even move a finger. Like fighting against a tide, he tried to force his body towards the sound, despite everything holding him back.

With a gargantuan effort and a fervent scream deep inside his chest, Shirou planted his foot forward.

And for an instant, he saw.

A forge. A simple forge, like ones he had seen in movies and at festivals. The fire was stoked, a piece of metal being crafted into an impeccably perfect sword.

No, that wasn't quite right. The steel was cracked and falling apart. Yet at the same moment, it was replaced by a whole piece, the process starting again.

Someone sat at the forge, hammering the metal methodically into shape. He couldn't see their face, only their hunched and resigned posture, like they expected the sword to be imperfect but continued to try anyway.

A call rose to his lips but it did not sound. The overpowering flames returned at that point, burning Shirou completely and utterly into nothingness. But before it reached his eyes, before he melted away, he saw the person stand and turn towards him.

A person with white hair and tanned skin…who looked exactly like him.

Shirou awoke with a strangled gasp, hair matted to his face by sweat, eyes wide and swimming. The image of the flames and his doppelganger among them still felt like it was seared into his view, a sunspot on his retina.

His side still burned and pained, so even though he couldn't see anything he reached for it—

Only to meet the texture of something wrapped tightly around it. Something made of cloth.

As if that was a signal, the boy's vision cleared bit by bit, the haunting image of the hellfire disappearing…to reveal the sight of his bedroom.

"What the…" he whispered to himself, rubbing his face with a shaking hand in wonder, "how'd I end up here…?"

He had fallen unconscious in a pool of his own blood, far from the house. The only thing he had even seen was that grey blob who had silently comforted him in his dying moments. So how had he ended up back here?

The redhead pushed that thought away and looked down his front, blinking. His shirts had been removed, revealing his muscled torso. Bandages completely encompassed his chest, especially around the wound Lancer had given him. His fingers twisted into the material – it wouldn't even budge.

A twinging pain ran through his chest when he kept at it, so the boy left it alone and sat against his headboard. Breathing in and out was euphoric, and he couldn't stop himself from smiling widely, to the point his face nearly split in joy.

He had managed to survive.

Something rustled against his legs and Shirou looked down, widening his gaze. Illya sat on a tiny chair next to him, dressed in her pyjamas. Her tiny hands gripped his bedsheets, her head laying down on him a little. Her chest rose and fell, clearly asleep.

"Illya…?" he wondered aloud, reaching a heavy hand to rub at her head.

Guilt filled him to the brim when he caught a glance of tears on his sheets, like Illya had been crying into them. Since she was sleeping too, it was obvious even to him there that she had been at his side all the time he was unconscious, waiting for him to wake up.

He bit his lip, self-hatred burning together with the guilt. What kind of brother was he if he made his little sister worry like that? It was inexcusable.

Even as those thoughts poisoned his mind, Illya stirred and raised her head. Her eyes were bleary, but red-rimmed. Shirou didn't say anything but pushed the guilt back down into his stomach for later, rubbing his sister's head reassuringly.

"Hey Illya…" he whispered to her, a small smile gracing his face.

Illya blinked to alertness, the sleep and despair fading away, gaping at him. "Shirou?"

Then she began crying all over again, hugging him as tightly and as strongly as she could like a compress, afraid to let him go.

"Shirou!" she cried out, sinking her head into his chest, new tears staining the bandages, "you're okay!"

Shirou blinked before pulling her into a hug – or at least, as much of one as he could muster, with his left arm twitchy and numb. He held her head as he used to when they were younger, pushing his gratitude into the embrace.

For a time they just sat there, Illya crying torrents of tears and Shirou absorbing them with a smile mixed with inner conflict.

Not long after, however, footsteps rushed to his door and it was pushed open. Shirou watched as Sella and Leys together rushed into the room, uncharacteristic panic on their features – even Leys, for all of her detached laziness, was alert and awake.

Sella looked at the sight of the two siblings hugging each other, breathing out pure relief. Leys, for her part, let the tension sink out of her tense form, face impassive but a small, beatific smile gracing her features.

Both of their eyes were rimmed with red, like Illya's, but more from lack of sleep than crying uncontrollably.

"Shirou, you're awake!" Sella's stress left her in that one grateful breath, running a hand through her hair. "Thank goodness!"

"Yeah…" Leys nodded at her sister's side.

The two didn't move forward as Illya cried her heart out and reeled herself back, coughing and sniffing, rubbing her eyes dry. It would cause some irritation later, but Shirou didn't want to interrupt her.

"How are you feeling?" Sella asked hesitantly, biting her lip a little. "You've been unconscious for nearly a whole day."

Shirou's eyes nearly bugged out at that, reclining against his headboard. He had been out for nearly a whole day? He'd never slept that much before. His hand reached for his bandages before falling back onto his sheets, unwilling to disturb the healing wound.

"Um…" he managed, before letting out a yawn that could have woken the dead. "Feeling a little tired. Just a bit numb and sore."

Sella stepped forward just a little, her lips pursed as if she was going to ask him something. What stopped her was Leys laying a gentle hand on her sister's shoulder and sharing a look. Something passed between them that couldn't be described, before Sella slinked back to the doorway, face still painted with worry.

"Illya… Shirou should sleep…" Leys told his sister, tone listless but oddly convincing.

It was the most words she had spoken in a sentence for a while, so they were all given pause. But after a second, Illya nodded and relinquished her brother, going to exit the room.

"Just you wait Shirou!" his sister declared, "I'm gonna make you the bestest breakfast ever!"

Shirou smiled, love for his sister in his heart as he nodded, laying his head back on the pillow. "I'm looking forward to it, Illya."

The three snow-haired girls left the room and shut the door, locking the recovering boy away with his thoughts.

Idly, as he waited for sleep to claim him, he reached into his pocket and drew out the Card from before. His face was slate-blank as he turned it over, looking at it from every angle, focusing on the swordsman.

"What happened there…" he wondered to himself, "and what was that…?"

That dream…he'd never had anything like that before. Nothing so nightmarish that even now, its memory made his skin go pale and clammy. And that fight with Lancer, where he'd fought with skills he hadn't had before, like someone was puppeting his own body…

Uncontrollable fear gripped him as he fell into sleep, the faint symphony of crackling flames and a hammer on metal ringing in his ears.

If there were two Cards like that…then there would be more. And what would he do then?

He didn't know, and that single fact bred an all-encompassing cloud of sheer terror in his chest.