Static. Comprehension. Eyes that saw past the world around them to its origin.
Steel. This place was a world of fire and steel. Land scorched by flames and tempered by trials.
The sword in Shirou's hand faded as the land itself pressed against him, like steel gears grinding against his soul.
An endless field of blades. Each a copy, yet an original, forged here in this world. This reality.
Shirou gripped his head, trying to shield himself from understanding more. But it didn't help.
He knew what this was. No matter how much he tried to ignore it, no matter how much he tried to shield his view, he knew what this world was.
The blades were monuments. This land, a graveyard of steel.
The answer. This lonely wasteland bathed in crimson was the final answer that he/I had reached. It was the actualization of his/my ideal.
Emiya Shirou walked a path of no regrets. Though he lost everyone around him in the end, and even those he had loved, the path he followed remained true until his death:
To become a defender of justice.
To become a 'Hero'.
This isn't me.
He signed a contract with the world in some minor conflict to save the people in front of him when his powers weren't enough.
And when someone did the same to save him, he made another contract to save even more people.
Selfishly selfless, he walked down the path with no regrets towards a crimson twilight, forging the swords here to reinforce his resolve. Because in the end, that life was nothing more than...
Unlimited Blade Works.
A voice. Saber? No, not that Saber. Kirito. That voice was Kirito's.
Kirito, who was summoned as Saber. Not Arturia.
Something wasn't right here, and Shirou was disoriented. But he remembered that much at least.
Kirito was behind him, along with Sakura and Ayako.
He blinked, concentrating enough to analyze the situation.
Kirito's blades were drawn, and he was standing in front of Ayako and Sakura. His face was grim as he looked at something in the crimson sky.
Shirou followed his gaze and-
Swords. Blades. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of them, raining from the sky.
Flashes of insight, comprehension.
The swords were instantly catalogued. The techniques that had been used with them, the styles appropriate to wield them, and their histories were recorded within 'Emiya Shirou'. Combat experience carried by the memory of steel were easily transferred towards one with the origin of 'Sword' and the one closely aligned with a sword in his soul.
Axes, lances, spears, and other blades were acknowledged, but rejected by him.
But there was no time to focus on that.
A rain of swords, each a Noble Phantasm or high quality Conceptual weapon.
Kirito wouldn't be able to stop it. Even with his ability to break weapons and that peerless blade of his, even if he was one of the greatest fighters Shirou knew, Kirito wouldn't be able to stop the nearly endless amount of blades swiftly approaching to end their lives.
He could probably survive, of that Shirou had no doubt. If it was just projectiles, Kirito could probably find a way to survive long enough to end the person responsible.
But that would mean that Ayako and Sakura behind him would be left defenseless.
It was up to him, Shirou.
Kirito couldn't do it, but he could.
A way to stop a rain of swords. He wouldn't have been able to do it in the past, but now...
Shirou narrowed his eyes.
All that mattered was diverting the flow of swords. It was an overwhelming amount falling down on them, a blanket of steel, but that was all. Noble Phantasms and high quality Conceptual weapons or not, they were still just swords.
Shirou raised his hand.
Projection should succeed as a matter of course. If 'Emiya Shirou' could create this rain of swords, there's no reason why he shouldn't be able to match it.
He focused on that emerald web in his mind, the shape his magic circuits had become. There was no time to elaborate, no time to think. All that mattered was meeting the rain of swords approaching them with a barrage of his own.
...What a bad job. Despite his expanded capacity and higher quality circuits, his ability with thaumaturgy hadn't improved much.
The swords he had projected were unimaginative, plain. If he were to put a word to describe them, he would say they were... empty, a vital component missing. Something that the swords falling upon them had, but his didn't.
But they would do.
The first volley of swords Shirou sent to meet those in the sky shattered on impact. The quality was just too low to contest with those swords.
But it was working. Just a little, the nearly endless amount of swords were shifted.
Because his blades were lower quality, he had to make up for it with quantity. A sword crafted by a master could cut through a hundred lesser blades, but it would chip on the next and break on the one after that.
Shirou pushed his circuits, flooding them with prana and forcing them to work past his old limits. His body burned, and his breath came out as steam, but he could go on.
He had knocked aside the rain of swords, but just as fast more appeared in their place, setting the count back to zero.
The once silent realm was filled with the sounds of swords clashing, of steel breaking as Shirou sought to match Unlimited Blade Works through brute force and projection.
The swords weren't letting up. He didn't know how long it had been, but Shirou couldn't hold out much longer. It took a hundred of his blades to match one of his.
But it was working. Though his blades didn't match up, the sheer numbers were in his favor.
Faster. If he could outpace the swords raining down on them, surpass infinity with infinity plus one, then the initiative-
An echo. Words from a voice that was his, and yet wasn't.
Just as suddenly as the swords appeared, they vanished.
Shirou was surprised, and for a few seconds longer, his blades cut the sky.
In that time, a clash of swords, just behind him.
Shirou spun around to see Kirito engaged in combat with someone who looked like a younger Archer.
No, that wasn't right. The person Kirito was fighting was-
Error: Critical failure. Mismatch. 'Emiya Shirou' does not equal Emiya Shirou.
Static. A sudden influx of knowledge.
Counter Guardian. Emiya Shirou, contract with Alaya. Save everyone. Superhero. Defender of Justice. Rin, Saber. Death. In exchange for a miracle-
"Snap out of it, Shirou! I can't protect them by myself!"
A frantic struggle. Kirito was fending off the other Emiya Shirou- no. Counter Guardian. That wasn't Emiya Shirou, just as Archer wasn't Emiya Shirou and Angra Mainyu wasn't Emiya Shirou.
Emiya Shirou. That was who he was.
That person Kirito was fighting wasn't him, and would never be him. This Reality Marble surrounding them wasn't his, and would never be his.
Mugen no Kensei.
It clicked into place. The disorientation in his mind faded. The Fantasy of the Sword Saint... the Sword Saint of Fantasy. His Reality Marble and the embodiment of his soul, of Emiya Shirou.
Kirito was in trouble.
The Counter Guardian wasn't as skilled as the Black Swordsman. Shirou could see that.
But he didn't have to be.
A sword appeared out of nowhere, aimed towards Sakura.
Kirito knocked it aside, but in doing so created an opening for the Counter Guardian to attack.
A curved blade, more a lance then a sword, more a scythe than a lance. That was the weapon the Counter Guardian wielded. A monster-killing holy blade that held a 'Refraction of Longevity', leaving wound that could only heal through natural means.
With merciless precision, Harpe sought the neck of the Black Swordsman... and it wouldn't miss.
Though Kirito had a capacity for healing, due to a combination of his Battle Continuation and his 'legend' from Aincrad, an attack like that would bypass it entirely.
Meaning he would die.
No. That was unacceptable.
Shirou was right there. He was barely a few paces away, so he could stop it... wait. He didn't need to stop it.
That weapon was crafted from 'Unlimited Blade Works' by 'Emiya Shirou'. Though it wasn't quite the same, the principle should hold true...
Doubts had to be cast aside. In a situation like this, it was either do or die... and since the second option was unacceptable-
I am the bone of my sword.
There was a greater resistance than Shirou had expected in changing places with Harpe. Since it wasn't something he created, and because of the reality marble around them, Shirou had to put more effort and prana to force the effect to occur.
But it worked.
Harpe vanished from the Counter Guardian's hands and Shirou appeared in front of him.
The white-haired man jumped back before Shirou could attack him, like he had expected the attack...
"Finally decide to stop daydreaming, Shirou?"
Kirito teased him a bit, but Shirou could hear the relief in his voice.
"...Sorry about that. But I'll take it from here, Kirito. Just focus on protecting Ayako and Sakura."
"Yeah, yeah. I gotcha."
Shirou stepped forward, and Kirito stepped back.
The Counter Guardian, on the other hand, didn't move. Instead, the man spoke. "Emiya Shirou... I don't understand you."
"...I don't understand you either, Counter Guardian."
A wry smile on the white-haired man's face. "You gave it up. Kiritsugu's dream. Your ideal. And all for a few people?"
Shirou tensed. He wasn't sure of it, but was that... irritation? No, not irritation. It was...
The Counter Guardian stepped forward. "Why did you give it up? Why did you turn your back on them? You were saved and they weren't. You trampled over their dreams, their wishes so that you could live. How could you betray that?"
Shirou didn't falter and stepped forward as well.
That was true. He shouldn't betray them. That ideal... his reason for living. For the sake of those not saved, Emiya Shirou should fight to prevent such a situation from ever occurring again. To become a 'Defender of Justice', who would save them.
"How could I betray them? How could you betray Rin?"
That was his answer, and something he couldn't reconcile.
It was heavy. His sins were too much to just turn back on his ideal, and he would never have even thought about it before this all started.
But he had realized it.
There were those around him that cared. And there were those around him he cared for.
Sakura, the kind underclassmen who had become a normal sight in his home. Because he was too focused on his ideal, he had missed her pain and the darkness surrounding her life. Now, because of that, she had been taken over by Angra Mainyu, and he didn't know what the effects of that were.
Ayako, the energetic classmate who always greeted him in the mornings. Because he had rushed forward to defeat the enemy, she lost her life. It was only because of a miracle that she didn't. Now, she was involved in a shady world that was out of her depths and far too dangerous for someone like her.
Rin, someone he had always admired as the school idol only to find out that she was as devilish as Issei made her out to be. Someone who pretended to be frigid and apathetic, but cared far more than she let on at times... and someone who stuck by an idiot like him that didn't know anything about the war.
The pain of giving up his ideal could never compare to the pain of losing any of them, to the gut-wrenching realization that he had failed to protect Ayako. To the guilt and anger he felt when he realized that saving Ayako caused Sakura harm.
To think that he would be the source of their pain was anathema to him. And yet... that Shirou had done it. He had tossed them aside while running without stopping at something only he could see.
"She loved you... she sacrificed herself for you!"
Yes, that was true. The tale of Counter Guardian that Shirou had become was engraved on his soul, the world around them.
She and that other Saber had contracted with the World to save him. And yet, less than a week later, he had given up that second chance for more power to save people. Love and memories tossed aside as easily as old clothing, precious people treated as disposable.
But what was more unforgiveable was the look on the other Shirou's face.
Blank... no. Steel. He had determined his path already, just as Shirou had. There were no regrets in the one before him.
"The needs of the many outweigh a few."
"Those few are more valuable than anything else!"
Irreconcilable. The Counter Guardian and himself could not understand each other.
But that was to be expected. One was a person who gave everything for his ideal, walking a path of no regrets. The other was a person who gave what made himself up for those around him, walking a path that took him away from 'humanity' for the ability to protect them.
No more words were needed.
"...So be it." The Counter Guardian Emiya Shirou raised his hand. "Emiya Shirou. You have been deemed by Alaya and Gaia to be a threat to existence. If you are to follow that path of yours..."
The infinite number of swords rose at their owner's command. "You had better have the power to make the world your enemy."
They flew, but the target wasn't Shirou.
Shirou spun around. Those blades had been aimed towards Sakura and Ayako. It wasn't the sheer amount that had fallen earlier, but without someone to protect them-
A slight breeze.
Shirou leapt to the side, narrowly avoiding an... arrow?
"I would worry about yourself, Emiya Shirou. If not, then that path of yours ends here."
A clash of steel, and then Kirito called out. "I've got this, Shirou. Just worry about beating some sense into your evil clone, alright?"
Shirou let out a breath. That was right. Kirito was there. He could trust the guy to protect them, so long as there wasn't another rain of blades. And the only way to prevent that was to beat down the one in front of him.
Counter Guardian. Humanity's cleaners, given prerogative to end any and every threat to the world when the Counter Force failed, and any tangential connection to the threat.
That guy had become one of them.
White robes stained red by the blood on his hands. Hair turned white through continuous use of projection magic. And through it all, never wavering, never regretting.
Shirou created a sword. Nothing fancy. He didn't have the time to spend on making a Noble Phantasm like Durandal with the 'Divine Instrument Forging' available to him.
Instead, what appeared was a projection, the mundane sword that he had first used to fight Illfang, that first utilized Infinity Moment.
"...You aren't going to just let us go, are you?"
The Counter Guardian placed another arrow in his black bow. "Of course not. You're a threat to the world and humanity. This is where it ends."
A trigger in his head, a raised sword.
"In that case... I'll just destroy this world of yours, along with you, Counter Guardian."
A smirk appeared on the Counter Guardian's face. "Try me."
Rin woke with a start and then grabbed at her chest. After seeing that there was no wound or dagger sticking out of it, she sighed in relief.
And then she realized she had been sleeping in her bed, back at the Tohsaka estate.
"What...? When did I get back home?"
She could have sworn that she was still fighting Archer in the park before she-
Rin shot out of her bed. "That idiot!"
Though she hadn't been in control of her body when her 'other' self took over, she had experienced everything.
Especially the part where 'she' had teared up... and Archer punching a dagger through her chest.
"Why didn't he just give up? It's HIS fault that she... that I..."
Rin sat down on her bed and leaned over, covering her face with her hands. "No... that's not Shirou. Shirou wouldn't do that, not anymore... right? He isn't like that. He wouldn't just give up his life for no reason... right? Right. So get over it, Rin. There are more important things to do than mope about some idiot who doomed himself to an eternity of fighting against his ideal."
She let out a shaky breath. "So first-"
Rin ducked behind her pillow. Immediately after, she realized how stupid that was and prepared to cast a spell, but it died on her lips when she saw who was there and what she was holding.
Ilyasviel von Einzbern. Master of Berserker and current Master of Rin's Archer, from what she had seen at the park.
A little girl with white hair and red eyes, dressed in a purple coat and hat... and holding Kaleidostick Ruby.
"I'm surprised you're awake, Rin. Onii-chan must've been feeling more sentimental than he let on if you were only out for a few minutes."
That didn't sound right. It was at least ten minutes from here to the park, and they couldn't have moved Rin from there to her house in that short of a time.
"Confused?" Ilya smiled. "Wishcraft, remember?"
Ah, that's right. The Einzbern's Sorcery Trait was 'wishcraft', the ability to perform Thaumaturgy without needing to know the specifics. It wasn't too far a stretch to think the Einzbern could speed things up... especially if she had gotten her hands on Kaleidostick Ruby while Rin was unconscious.
Hold on. Einzbern had Rin defenseless, and she hadn't killed her? Especially after declaring that Rin would die the next time they met?
Wait, did she call Archer 'Onii-chan'? But... there was no way that she could know unless Archer told her. And Archer wouldn't tell her out of the blue. Sure, it could have been the dream cycle, but one night wouldn't have been enough to piece that together.
Unless... unless Archer had died? No, that couldn't have happened. And besides, there was the very important fact that Einzbern wasn't killing her or carrying any malicious intent, which only happened in the other timelines after Berserker died and Shirou saved her-
"...Archer killed Berserker, didn't he? And then used Rule Breaker to break his contract so that you could make him your Servant?"
Ilya clapped her hands. "Oho, you caught on fast. Of course, with the Kaleidoscope, I'm sure you had a lot more information available than you would have otherwise, didn't you?"
"Cut the crap, Einzbern. I'm not in the mood for games."
Shirou was still at the park, along with Ayako and Kirito. The last that she saw, he was fighting off Kuzuki-sensei. While she didn't doubt that Shirou could win, what followed afterwards concerned her.
"...Do you know what's going on at the park still?"
Ilya pouted. "Fine, I'll check."
A moment of silence.
Rin still found the genial atmosphere to be surreal, but didn't comment on it. With all the other events recently, she didn't doubt stranger things would occur.
"Onii-chan says he's waiting for 'that idiot' to finish fighting, and then they're going to head back here. Something about new information from... Alaya? Huh? The Counter Guardian's aren't deploying yet? The QUEEN's here? And CROWN?! What do you mean 'don't worry about it'?!"
Rin sighed when she heard that. Oh well... at least things can't get any worse.
And then a gunshot rang out and the door to her room was knocked down.
Standing there was a cloaked man with a skull mask. Though the attire appeared modern, as the cloak had a camouflage pattern and the mask looked more like that 'Terminator' from the movies than a plain skull, there was no doubt on which Servant that was, even if she didn't get an insight onto who it was already as a Master.
"No way... Assassin?"
Ilya's eyes grew wide and she spun to the door, Kaleidostick raised.
Rin hoped that she knew how to use it, but in case she didn't, she palmed some of her gems that she always kept on her in case of emergencies.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Tohsaka."
A raspy voice, yet strangely familiar.
Another figure shuffled into view.
For a moment, she couldn't identify the grotesque figure. With a twisted face and dead eyes, along with the bulging veins throughout their body, it looked more like a bloated corpse than a person.
But then Rin saw the blue hair streaked with white, the sneer that was present despite a face that seemed to be melting, and she gasped.
A shot echoed in the room, and a body fell to the floor.
Shirou closed the distance on the Counter Guardian yet again, but the man vanished before he could attack.
After another attempt of using his 'teleporting' trick, the Counter Guardian managed to copy it and warped out of the way before Shirou could finish the guy off.
"Is this all you have, Emiya Shirou? After all you said, is this the extent of your power?"
Shirou ground his teeth.
Kirito and the others were safe. The Black Swordsman was easily defending against the occasional sword sent his way, but it seemed like he was getting anxious. Not being able to help Shirou must be getting to him.
Too long. This was dragging on way too long.
Who knew what could be happening out there with Angra Mainyu on the loose? And there was Rin to consider.
What had happened to her? She was safe, right?
Shirou knew that she should be safe with command of the Kaleidoscope, but this war had too many unaccountable variables for him to be assured.
Shirou sent a barrage of swords towards the Counter Guardian, but it didn't work. A seven petaled flower sprung into existence in front of the man.
A brief glance gave Shirou the name and utility of the shield. Rho Aias, the Seven Rings of Heaven.
That guy was standing there, just... smirking. Almost like he was laughing.
It irritated him.
Shirou raised his sword, loading Nine Lives-
And then the Counter Guardian was there, holding a familiar axe-sword in the same stance.
One, two, three... nine strikes executed at godspeed.
At the last, the two locked blades.
Shirou pushed, but despite his efforts the Counter Guardian didn't yield. In fact, he held off Shirou's efforts with ease with a... disappointed expression?
"...This is your limit then. If you aren't willing to show yourself, Aristotle, then I won't hold back anymore."
Aristotle? What was he talking about?
The Counter Guardian stepped back. "You might be hard to eliminate... but Ayako and Sakura aren't quite as durable, are they?"
Shirou froze. He wouldn't. Even as a Counter Guardian, that guy was Emiya Shirou. And Emiya Shirou wouldn't kill Matou Sakura or Mitsuduri Ayako... right? Sure, he had made passing strikes at them, but it was only to catch Shirou and Kirito off-guard... right?
"...You might be able to match a rain of swords. You might be able to beat me in close combat. But in the end, that's not enough to protect the ones you love, Emiya Shirou. Not when the world itself is against you."
The sky darkened and the ground shuddered.
He didn't know what that guy had planned, but he had a bad feeling about it.
Shirou lunged towards the Counter Guardian, activating Vorpal strike to go even faster.
Yet again, the Counter Guardian used Shirou's technique and vanished to another location, one of the countless swords in this world taking his place.
Shirou spun around, looking for where he might have gone off to.
And then he saw it.
A world of steel. It wasn't until just then that Shirou realized how literal that description was for this place they were in.
Reality Marble... this world belonged to the Counter Guardian. He had understood that fact intellectually, but it wasn't until that moment that he realized the full implications.
Here, in the world of that man's soul, anything was possible.
Swords. So many of them, dwarfing the overwhelming barrage that Shirou had fended off. If the previous wave of blades was a rain, then this went beyond that to the level of a full blown monsoon with a tsunami riding in not long after.
In every direction but a tiny gap facing Shirou, swords were pointed at Kirito, Ayako, and Sakura.
Overwhelming didn't even begin to describe it. This was on the level of a god deciding to erase someone's existence. An absolute that could not be denied.
"Say your goodbyes, Emiya Shirou, and know that you failed."
A voice that came from above, like that of a divine being.
Kirito held out his swords in defiance of the absolute. But that wasn't enough.
One man could not fight off an army. And even if he could, there was no way that he could hope of protecting someone at the same time. Protecting more than that? Impossible.
The swords aimed at them was more than an army. It was the world itself, turned upon a few.
AnD ShirOU CouLdn'T DO ANYthING.
There was the sound of fingers snapping, a signal.
The swords surged, and their fate was decided.
Kirito saw the swords facing them. There would be no escaping this.
Every direction, swords, axes, lances, daggers. Every bladed weapon imaginable, all aimed towards him, Sakura, and Ayako.
Kirito tightened his grip on his blades. Excaliber and Elucidator... there was a chance. A way out of this.
If he used Release Recollection... Kirito was sure that the memories from Excaliber would be able to stop it. The memory of that ice fortress it was buried in would emerge, and protect them all from the attack. But at the same time, it would overwhelm him.
He glanced at Shirou, and any hesitation faded.
Shirou had grown strong, stronger than he could have imagined.
Kirito still didn't understand everything that was going on, but he knew for a fact that Shirou had become someone who could fight at his side. A Party Member he could trust to have his back in boss raids and emerge victorious, if this were a game.
Kirito smiled and looked down at the two girls he was protecting. They were still unconscious, but considering what they had been through, he didn't put it past them. "Sorry, Ayako. Sakura. But I think this is the end of the line for me."
"Say your goodbyes, Emiya Shirou."
That other Shirou started talking. From the sound of it, the attack would come soon. So before then...
The swords moved, surging towards them like a deluge of steel.
A wordless scream, and time itself seemed to come to an end.
Kirito couldn't move, but then again neither could anything else.
It was a feeling he had felt before, but only briefly.
In his first duel against Heathcliff, there was a moment where Kirito was sure he would have won. His attack was going to land, and it would have been impossible for Heathcliff to dodge. Yet, the world itself seemed to come to a halt, and Heathcliff dodged it.
This was just like that, meaning...
As quickly as it occurred, the feeling faded.
Kirito hurried to complete 'Release Recollection' on Excaliber.
But it turned out to be unnecessary.
They were gone. In an instant, the blades threatening to end their lives had vanished, leaving only a brief afterimage as a memory of their existence.
He looked around to see what could have caused it, and saw Shirou standing close by with a sword in hand, staring at where the swords used to be.
Kirito sighed and shook his head. "Geez, Shirou. Did you have to wait until the last minute to-"
His words caught in his throat when Shirou turned around and Kirito got a closer look.
Steel. Kirito would have used that word to describe Shirou's mannerism in combat, but now that took on a more literal meaning.
Eyes that were once a soft silver were glowing white, like metal that had been superheated. His silver hair was sharp and actually reflected the light now, in a way only polished metal could.
But that wasn't the most dramatic of changes.
The hand that held his sword was jagged, twisted. Human fingers had turned into pieces of wicked shrapnel, a fist of steel clenched tightly around a blade... no. It was more like an extension of the blade itself.
A metallic creep, like a virus spreading up his arm. No, that wasn't quite right. A virus would make it look unnatural, but from the way it flowed...
Organic. A creature of steel.
It reminded Kirito a bit of that old game, 'Prototype', actually. Pretty cool, if not for the disturbing fact that this was Shirou it was happening to and not some reanimated video game character.
"Shirou...?" Kirito asked. "Are you alright?"
He didn't respond, only taking a quick look at Ayako and Sakura before turning off to the distance.
Again, the feeling of the world being frozen in time. And then Shirou was gone, and the air was filled with the sound of clashing steel.
Kirito blinked, looking at the spot where Shirou just was, and then let out a sigh.
"Of course. Just when things seem wrong, Shirou gets a demonic power upgrade. Why am I not surprised?"
Emiya Shirou is incapable of protecting them.
Become something that can.
That was the sole objective of the steel being that was once Emiya Shirou.
He could not protect them as he was and remain human. That was a natural course. To obtain power beyond humanity, you lose that humanity in exchange.
The Magic that he held would wash away the human known as Emiya Shirou. Even wielding a fragment of it was enough to bleach his mind and reset his memory a few minutes.
But he had to use it. There were times that such abilities were necessary.
I am the bone of my sword.
The words to connect Emiya Shirou, and draw him closer to a Sword, enough so that he could take the place of any he had already pulled into reality.
But that wasn't enough. He was still too human to use it properly. In that case...
Steel is my body and fire is my blood.
A creature of steel and flames, something not human. A tool with one objective, a Sword that could rewrite reality.
The enemy widened his eyes. "That's-"
The distance between them vanished, and the Sword appeared in front of the enemy.
He swung his blade, but the enemy vanished before he could strike.
The Sword waited until the enemy was in its sight and then raised its hand.
A volley of steel, more shrapnel than true blades, emerged and raced towards the enemy.
Again, he tried to vanish, but the Sword no longer allowed it.
Seeing that he couldn't move, the enemy erected a shield of seven layers.
The Sword rejected the aspect of 'protection' from the shield, and the enemy was met with a wall of steel.
But the enemy was resourceful. Before he died, the shield was broken, scattering the Sword's attack for a brief moment, enough for the enemy to escape.
The Sword looked around, seeking its foe. He wouldn't escape this time.
A flash of golden light. A sword of 'Victory' was held in the enemy's hands. Not the true blade, but a copy of similar caliber, only slightly less effective.
The Sword let out a cry of challenge and raised its blade to meet it.
Pure light, a white that erased all, that was the wellspring of all. It met Glory and triumphed.
The enemy wasn't surprised, and discarded his blade the moment the Sword used its light.
A crimson spear of death was in the enemy's hands.
The Sword approached, blade raised to end the enemy.
The enemy attacked, crimson spear seeking the Sword's heart.
Blood splashed onto the ground.
The enemy was defeated.
The Sword lowered its blade.
"Heh. It looks like your power came with its own price, didn't it, Shirou?"
Meaningless words from a dying man.
Threat. If the man could speak, he could still act.
The Sword started to pull out its blade and prepared to cut off its foe's head-
"Shirou! What are you doing!?"
The Sword turned towards it.
The ones it must protect were behind the voice. And that voice was dangerous. Was it a danger to them?
The Sword wasn't sure, but it couldn't take any risks.
No, that was wrong. It wasn't that it couldn't take any risks, but that it's prerogative was to eliminate any and all risks.
"Shirou...? H-hey, what are you doing? You aren't seriously planning to... oh crap. You've gone berserk."
The Sword raised its blade. The other enemy could wait. This new foe was too dangerous to ignore.
"I should have known this was going to happen... damn. Stupid Grail and stupid RPG cliches. I swear, if I find out that Kayaba caused this somehow I'm going to-"
In an instant, the Sword had eliminated the distance between it and the new enemy.
But this enemy was skilled, moreso than the other. He had anticipated the Sword's approach, and the Sword's blade was met with the enemy's pair of gold and black blades.
"I know you're in there Shirou! Wake up! You don't want to do this!"
An attempt to dissuade. The Sword recognized the feeble tactic for what it was and ignored it.
The battle had already extended too long. Those it must protect were in need of assistance. The battle must end now.
The Sword raised its blade. The next attack would bypass every defense and end the enemy.
"Damn it Shirou! Wake-"
He lunged, an attack that could not be evaded.
"...up? No... Sakura?"
A body was in front of him. A body that had once been alive. A body that had been someone he cared for, whom he swore to protect.
A smile was on her face. A smile, despite what he had just done.
An explosion of blinding light and golden feathers.
And then she was gone.
Shirou fell to his knees.
He didn't see Unlimited Blade Works collapse around him as the Counter Guardian disappeared.
He didn't see Kirito come over to place a hand on his shoulder.
He didn't see Ayako wake from her slumber.
He didn't see Archer approach them and talk to them.
All he saw was the mark of his failure... the price he had paid for power.
"Come on Shirou. Let's go."
Kirito grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet.
"Just... relax for now, alright? We'll... we'll talk about this when we get back to Rin's place."
Shirou didn't reply. He just followed Kirito's lead, ignoring the monsters around them and Archer killing said monsters off as they made their way back.
"Withstanding pain for turning against the past..."
"Did you say something Shirou?"
He shook his head.
If you follow this path... you will no longer be human.
That was right. Emiya Shirou was no longer human.
That was the price paid for his Magic, his Miracle. That and only that. At the time, it seemed to be minor, a small price to pay for a priceless exchange. But in the end...
Yet, those hands will never hold anything...
The price had been greater than he could afford.