When that Assassin raised his gun, Rin knew it was too late. As fast as she might be with her incantations and magic, there was no way she could outmatch a modern firearm in speed, let alone one that had been turned into a Noble Phantasm by belonging to a Servant.
But that didn't stop her from trying.
Einzbern... even though it annoyed Rin to admit it, she was important to Archer and, in a round about kind of way, Shirou.
She had to at least try to protect her.
The gems palmed in her hand glowed with her prana, and she started to swing her arm-
"Grk... Death Gun, you...!"
-and stopped when the shot fired wasn't at Ilya or herself.
Shinji fell to the ground, a hole in his chest. Blood oozed, but it wasn't the crimson of an ordinary person. A tarry substance that almost seemed to twist and turn. That was what spilled from the wound. A rancid fluid that looked more like the juices from rotting meat.
But even with that morbid wound, Shinji was alive.
Seeing that, Rin froze.
Intellectually, she knew that something terrible had happened to Shinji. She also knew that the magecraft of the Matou family involved binding and unsavory methods to 'engrave' the mysteries onto the body of its user. But this... seeing the extent of the modification done to Shinji's body sent her mind reeling.
He should have been dead. A shot to the heart was fatal, especially with the gun that 'Assassin' held.
-Death Gun. Not a proper Heroic Spirit, but rather an urban legend from the future that ascended to infamy. In the 'world' where he was from, a round from his black gun was able to cut across reality and kill the user. A weapon of absolute death, something that pierced all defenses and shattered the soul with a single blow.
But somehow, Shinji was still alive.
"Y..ou..! As...sin! Y-"
Another shot, and Death Gun stomped his foot down.
Gore splattered across the floor.
That snapped Rin out of her daze. She started to move, but in an instant found herself looking down a black barrel.
"The only reason you are alive is because you are of use to my Master, unlike the useless pawn here... and he doesn't need either of you alive."
The black gun was pointed at Ilya, who looked about to attack with the Kaleidostick.
"Do we have an understanding?"
Rin ground her teeth together, wracking her mind for a way out of this situation.
A look over at Einzbern showed that she was doing the same.
'Death Gun'. It wasn't the name of the Servant, but rather the 'gun' itself. The wielder just happened to be a soul closely associated with it, and not the only one.
Mediocre stats, with 'D' all around, but still more than enough to aim and shoot at both Ilya and Rin before they could do so much as start to gather the prana for a spell. And even if they managed to get one off, to attack or defend, it wouldn't matter much if they died right after.
...It was determined. The moment that Death Gun had entered the room, everyone there was marked for death. Shinji's death was to prove a point. The only difference between them was that he hadn't decided to kill them yet.
Damn it... not like this!
Rin couldn't allow it. Not now!
Sakura... Shirou... even Ayako. They were out there, right now. Until she knew they were safe, she couldn't die. She couldn't die until she could apologize to her, make amends for the life that she had resigned Sakura to all these years.
But what could she do? She didn't have a Servant. Shirou was on the other side of the city. And Ilya had her Mystic Code, the only way she could use the Kaleidoscope at the moment.
The chilling sound of a gun being cocked. "...Did you think I wouldn't notice you try to use a command spell, homunculus?"
Ilya froze, eyes wide.
"...Do you want to find out if your command is faster than this bullet?"
He's enjoying this.
Rin couldn't see his face, but she was sure that Death Gun was entertained by all this. From his tone of voice, and shoulders that looked to be silently laughing, it seemed that the Assassin enjoyed having them under his thumb.
If I could just-
An unexpected voice, butting in on the scene.
Lancer leaned into the doorway, crimson spear against his shoulder. "Looks like you need some help, little lady."
Shirou and the others were on the road to Rin's house. All the monsters that appeared were taken care of by Archer, who had taken the lead. Kirito and Ayako were a bit behind him, with Shirou at the back.
They had passed countless bodies and ransacked houses on the way back, victims of the monsters caused by the corrupted grail. There had also been signs of magical damage, places where it was clear that the Enforcers and the Executors had begun their cleansing.
But Shirou didn't pay attention to any of that.
Killed her. He had killed her.
Even though Shirou had sworn to save her. Even though he would never have harmed her. Even though he was determined to save her when there was the risk of killing hundreds, if not thousands while she was alive and Angra Mainyu possessed her.
He killed her.
The feeling of his blade piercing her body. Warm eyes that held nothing but gratitude, despite the fact that he took away her life.
And she had vanished without a trace. Not even a body to bury. If anything, it was as if she had never existed.
It was a pain that he couldn't even begin to describe. To know that you caused their death, but that they didn't blame you. To have sinned, but not be punished.
No catharsis. There was nothing that could ever pardon him for that, and he didn't want to be pardoned.
Unforgiveable, even moreso than turning his back on his ideals. In his haste and irritation, in giving himself up entirely to his powers, he had caused the death of the one he had cared for the most.
Someone who had always been by his side. Someone who had always cared for him, even when he didn't care for himself.
Someone he swore to save.
Shirou came to a stop.
It didn't matter anymore. Angra Mainyu had entered this world as the literal incarnation of 'All Evil' and held the Authority to end it.
Even Servants couldn't stop him, so it wouldn't matter what they did.
Shirou might have a chance, but he had already failed her. Not only that, but he had been the source of the failure, of her death.
What if he tried to protect Ayako and Rin, but killed them too? He couldn't trust himself not too. After all, it wasn't the Counter Guardian who killed her, but him.
Dangerous. He was too dangerous to be around them. He was too much of a threat.
That's right. Not human. He wasn't anymore. If anything, he was a monster. A monster of steel, a sword that would cut down anything and everything in front of it.
He should just-
A hand on his shoulder and a soft voice.
He flinched and jerked back.
It was Ayako. She was left standing there with her hand in the air, and a sorrowful expression. "It wasn't your fault, Shirou. I... I know that Sakura-"
He couldn't... Her name. He couldn't.
"Don't... just don't say her name. Please, Ayako."
She bit her lip and nodded. "If... that's what you want. But Shirou, come on. We still need to-"
"Is that idiot still moping?"
A sharp voice. Archer walked towards them.
The red knight... no. Shirou knew who he was now. It was obvious, though he had tried to ignore it before.
A person like the Counter Guardian he had fought. Someone who became a 'Defender of Justice'.
He remembered what Rin had told him about the man. Someone who regretted following that ideal, who realized the hypocrisy lying within.
Archer scoffed and glared at Shirou with crossed arms. Disdain was clear on his face. "No wonder you couldn't save her. Someone as weak as you-"
A loud smack.
Shirou had stepped forward and punched the guy in the face.
Ayako grabbed his arm, preventing him from getting another shot in.
A shame. Shirou had a lot more frustration to vent on the Emiya Shirou who became a Counter Guardian. Especially since Archer had betrayed Rin in that other timeline just for a parting shot at his past self.
Archer rubbed his jaw, shifting it a bit, and then shook his head. "...And here I was thinking I needed to knock some sense into you."
At that moment, Kirito walked over. Looking at Archer and then Shirou, he sighed. "Is this really the time for that?"
Shirou froze, suddenly remembering what he was thinking before Archer appeared.
Dead. He had killed her. And because of that-
A flash of red and Shirou was sent reeling back from a punch to his face.
Kirito's stern voice.
Shirou put a hand to his face and glared at Archer.
"What?" That damnable smirk was on his face. "One for one, right?"
Kirito sighed. "I should've known something like this would happen..."
Ayako was laughing at them, not even bothering to hide her mirth.
Seeing that made him remember.
Shirou couldn't give up yet.
That bright expression on her face. Rin's awkward attempts to hide her real feelings.
He had failed. Because of his actions, he had harmed someone he had sworn to protect.
But- he couldn't rest yet.
For their sakes, he couldn't give up.
...Besides. There was still a way.
He could use it now. Though it would mean leaving them forever, he could fix everything.
But before then, he had to make sure it was safe.
Angra Mainyu. The other Kirito. Matou Zouken. The Clock Tower and Church.
Those were the enemies he had to take care of.
"Hmph. Did you find yourself again, Emiya Shirou?"
Archer was staring at him. For once, there was no contempt. No anger. It was an expression of curiosity- no, of validation.
His path was already set once he obtained it. Now he just had to follow it to the end.
Because no matter what happened, he'd make it.
The place where everyone around him can be happy. A reality where they can live free of fear, pain, and danger.
Even if he wasn't there to see it.
It was quiet when they reached the Tohsaka Estate.
Too quiet, and that bothered Shirou.
It seemed that he wasn't the only one.
As soon as they stepped onto the grounds, Archer tensed, glancing around. "...Something's wrong."
Shirou didn't need anymore warning. He projected the best sword he could at the moment, still nothing more than a steel sword reinforced to clash with D-ranked Noble Phantasms, and prepared several sword skills to use in advance.
The black swordsman stepped in front of Ayako, swords drawn. "Got it."
Ayako was quiet and stuck to her protector, since her reinforcement had worn off on the way here.
With Archer in the lead and Shirou behind him, followed by Kirito and Ayako, they made their way towards the large western-styled house that was Rin's home.
Quiet. That silence followed them through the empty halls.
It didn't help Shirou's nerves one bit.
"...They haven't been triggered, but something made it through? It shouldn't be possible with how the bounded fields interact, especially the temporal shift... unless it was negated? But then how did..."
Archer muttered to himself as they moved, and glanced at various swords lying around the house.
From what Shirou could read off of the swords, they were made by Archer to alert him to invaders and freeze them in place by shifting their awareness of time.
But it looks like something or someone got past them.
...They arrived at the door to Rin's room.
The lock on it had been blown apart by a gunshot, and the door itself looked like it had been knocked down and haphazardly placed back on its hinges.
Shirou didn't hesitate. Before anyone could protest, he had already thrown the door aside and burst into the room, blade brandished to fight any opponent-
"About time you got here, Shirou."
Only to see Rin standing there, arms crossed with Kaleidostick in hand... with Ilya and Lancer standing behind her, both with amused expressions.
Before Shirou could make sense of the situation, Archer had arrived.
"Move you idiot!"
The red knight shoved him aside and burst into the room like Shirou had, Kanshou and Bakuya drawn for combat-
Ilya knocked him down with a flying tackle.
And then Kirito ran into the room, Excaliber and Elucidator drawn (he hadn't changed equipment since they left the park). "Shirou, Archer! I heard the loud crash-"
He caught sight of Lancer smirking at them and stumbled. "Lancer? What are you doing here?"
It took some time to explain everything.
Rin started first, and told them what had happened when she left Shirou.
After hearing how Archer had punched a dagger through her chest, even if it didn't actually wound her, Shirou gave the guy another punch to the face.
Stupid future selves and betraying the ones they love.
Anyway, Ilya had picked up the story after that and explained how the real Assassin had barged in on them.
It turned out that the guy was someone named 'Death Gun'.
That had caused Kirito to freeze, and then ask for clarification.
When he learned that, yes it really was the name of the True Assassin, and that 'Death Gun' was a Noble Phantasm that could kill anything it hit, he had almost crushed the cup of tea he had been drinking at the time.
Learning that Lancer had killed Death Gun with Gae Bolg didn't reassure Kirito much, as Kirito explained that 'Death Gun' had actually been three different people. It was very likely that the 'Death Gun' killed with Gae Bolg was just one of the three, and they were still out there.
But that didn't matter much in the long run.
Lancer had 'Protection from Arrows', which rendered Death Gun's trump card useless. Kirito could cut down bullets the moment they appeared in his field of vision, and Archer had plenty of counters to fire arms.
They had bigger things to worry about than some gun-toting Assassin. At least, that was what Shirou felt.
Especially when Archer told them about the Counter Guardians and Alaya.
All the Evil can only be vanquished by the Origin... that definitely applied to Shirou. He knew that though. Angra Mainyu was someone that only he could match.
The Grail will be taken by the founders... it probably meant that Rin and Ilya would have to do it, considering that they were part of the founding families.
Shirou hoped it applied to Sakura as well, but knew it wasn't likely.
And then there was the part about the Cardinal falling to the Black Swordsman...
It seemed pretty clear cut, but there was so much about it that was unclear.
Who or what exactly was the 'Cardinal' right now? Did that mean Angra Mainyu, the Ruler? Was it the embodiment of the Cardinal program hidden in the grail? Or was it some unknown enemy from Kirito's time that they didn't meet yet?
Whatever the case, it seemed that Kirito was fated to fight alone.
Anyway, after Archer's part, Lancer explained why he was there.
Pretty much everyone there except for Lancer himself knew that he had been the Servant of Kotomine Kirei. For Shirou, Rin, Kirito, and Ayako, that was because of Rin telling them about the alternate timelines.
For Archer and Ilya, well that was obvious considering he had already experienced it.
What they didn't know was that Lancer had gone and gotten a new Master, and that the fake priest was dead. That, and the fact that Rider was a Servant to the same Master raised a flag in Shirou's mind.
It didn't help that Lancer wasn't telling who his new Master was, only saying that they would meet 'soon' when they went to the Greater Grail at Mt. Ryuudou.
Shirou sighed and looked down at his cup of tea.
Everyone had scattered to various places around Rin's house. Shirou had used the time to make some tea for himself to calm his nerves. Right now, he was sitting down at a table in the kitchen with his cup of tea.
Soon. It would all be over soon.
Despite that fact, Shirou couldn't help but think about how much had changed.
The person looking back at him from that dark liquid wasn't the same one who had sworn to save people in this war. Silver hair had replaced red, and his amber eyes were now a shade of silver close to white.
Less than a week.
In such a short time, his life had been turned around.
Kirito. The sometimes irritating yet reliable guy just a bit older than him. From him, Shirou learned more about what it meant to be a hero, and saw the trials faced along the way.
Ayako. The impish and boisterous girl that had been pulled into the dark world of thaumaturgy. For her, Shirou had obtained a Magic beyond the World, to save her who couldn't be saved.
Rin. The idol that turned out to be less than perfect, and more of a devil than a princess. Still, she had always been on Shirou's side, even when he wasn't himself.
And Sakura... the one he had failed. Who he had wanted to save the most. Who he had hurt the most. Yet, at the end...
Senpai... thank y-
She still thanked him.
...He didn't deserve it.
A choice, and a penalty. To protect those around you means that there are those you cannot save. Even so, he had wanted to. He had really, really wanted to save her. To bring her back home, safe and sound. To see that gentle smile again and hear her voice.
I'm just glad you're safe Senpai. You two be careful when you compete, alright?
...She knew. The whole time, Sakura had known, and yet-
Just... promise me that you'll come back if it gets too dangerous.
All she wanted was for him to be safe. From the very beginning, the one being protected was-
Senpai, promise me you'll stay home this weekend.
Without meaning to, Shirou had destroyed the cup in his hands. The hot tea spilled from its broken container, and the porcelain shards cut into his hands.
Even then, he didn't feel it.
Shirou just stared at the tea staining his clothes and the shards clenched in his unbroken skin.
...It had just been like that. Without meaning to, he had destroyed it. That peaceful life they had shared with Fuji-nee. Those calm and brilliant days... they wouldn't return.
And it was-
"It wasn't your fault, you know?"
He jumped at the unexpected voice.
Rin was standing there.
...Ah. That was right. He hadn't been the only one who wanted to save Sakura so much.
She brushed off the tea and broken cup with a towel. "...You should be more careful, you know? S-Sakura wouldn't have wanted you to hurt yourself."
Her voice hitched, a chip in her usual perfect facade. Looking closer, Shirou saw that her eyes were red, as if she had just been crying.
He looked down at his hands. "...I know."
A moment of silence as Rin cleaned up the mess.
"Where's Kirito and Ayako?" Shirou asked.
Rin sighed and took a seat next to him. "They're upstairs in one of the guest rooms. Ayako's taking it hard, blaming herself for Sakura's death. She thinks that if she hadn't gone along, you wouldn't have needed to use your Magic and..."
She shook her head. "Anyway, Kirito's trying to cheer her up. Not sure how much it'll help though."
Silence again, and then Shirou spoke.
"It's not her fault though. If anybody..."
The sensation of his sword piercing her chest. Her standing so close, within his reach, and yet by his hand-
"Ow, ow, ow! Geez, Shirou... what are you made of, metal?"
Rin waved her right hand around, red from where she slapped him.
Shirou let out a wry smile at that.
"A-anyway!" Rin crossed her arms, though she winced a bit when she moved her right hand, and said, "It's not your fault! Kirito explained it to me, a-and there wasn't anything else you could do, okay?"
That hitch again. She tried to hide it, but Sakura's death probably weighed on her just as much as it did him.
It probably weighed more now that he thought about it. With the Kaleidoscope and the timelines she saw, she must've seen how it worked out. How those other 'Rin's' had a chance to reconcile with Sakura eventually.
Something she would never have a chance to do.
"Don't you dare blame yourself, Shirou!"
Rin glared at him. "You did everything you could in that situation. And I'm sure that Sakura... Sakura wouldn't blame you for it. So... don't blame yourself Shirou..."
Shirou was silent.
...He hadn't done everything he could though. He was sure that there would have been another way if he thought it through more.
He could have appeared in front of them and matched the falling swords with his own.
He could have forced his body to even further heights to destroy the blades falling on them.
He could have... he could have done so many other things now that he thought about it.
-He couldn't dwell on it.
Despite how much he wished otherwise, the past was set, and Sakura was dead.
...There might be a way around that, but this wasn't the time or place to try it. Not yet.
Rin gave him a bright smile. "Good. Because if you didn't, I'd have to make Archer beat some sense into you."
"Pft." Shirou shook his head. "Whatever you say, Rin."
"Come on." Rin grabbed his arm and stood up. "L-let's go see what the other's are up to. And d-don't get any ideas! It's not like I wanted to cheer you up or anything. I just... I just... anyway, let's go already!"
She turned away with a blush and started pulling Shirou before he could protest.
Shirou let out an exasperated sigh but smiled and let her pull him away.
Soon. It'll all be over soon.
No more doubts. No more hesitation.
For the sake of the one by his side, the one he saved, and the one he lost.
I'll end it.
An abominable creature made of worms, in the guise of a decrepit old man. Someone that should have died long ago observed the Tohsaka heir from the eyes of the worms left behind by that failure of a grandson when he entered with Death Gun.
These were small, almost unnoticeable compared to the usual. A creation made with the help of those 'Synthesis Rituals' he had accessed before his pawn disappeared for good.
"...Hmph. So it is as I expected."
The Emiya boy had grown strong, stronger than he initially assumed. His current appearance only confirmed the fact that a new Sorcerer had appeared, too reminiscent of the Fifth to be anything else.
"It matters not. With these and the knowledge from the aberration... the grail shall be mine at last."
Command Seals. Over a dozen of them were on the creature's arm, stolen from that priest when Death Gun killed him. Combined with those 'Synthesis Rituals' and his 'Binding' Sorcery Trait, even the incarnated Angra Mainyu would be under his control.
Matou Zouken closed his eyes, appearing once again at his current workshop in the basement of Kotomine Church. It had been surprisingly well-suited, especially with the 'leftovers' from the Fuyuki Fire hidden there.
Though risky, especially when that golden Archer from the Fourth War returned to check on the priest, the commotion with the Queen and Crown, as well as the deployed Executors and Enforcers had been more than enough for him to disguise his presence and make preparations.
Now all that was left was to-
"So this is where you have been hiding."
A voice, one that was familiar and yet foreign.
Matou Zouken turned towards it, then blanched as he saw who it was. "Impossible... you are...!"
A handsome man with blue hair and severe eyes. Someone who had not been seen for hundreds of years, and that Matou Zouken had planned to reach once more-
"Be gone, monster. The goal you seek is pointless if you've forgotten the purpose."
Spells of 'Binding', stronger than any the creature could make began pulling at his soul, drawing him back towards the man standing before him.
"No... no! I won't allow it! Not now when it's so close!"
Matou Zouken struggled, but a degraded soul had no chance against one whole and restored.
And then, he disappeared from this world, leaving only the man behind.
Makiri Zolgen turned his back on what he had become and climbed up the stairs back to the church.
A woman with lavender hair met him at the top. "...Is it done?"
"Of course, Rider. And from 'my' memories, it seems that the events played out as I expected."
"...Then he killed her."
A sharp nod, and Zolgen said, "There was no other way, as I told you. Her soul had been too corrupted, already nearly assimilated within the evil."
"...But you saved her?"
"Hmph. Something like that was trivial without these 'Synthesis Rituals' from the Cardinal Program. With them and that boy's affinity towards it, failure was an impossibility."
Zolgen stepped past Rider, shadows rising to meet him. "Come, Rider. The time to end 'All the Evil in this World' draws near."
The shadows increased in quantity, and then covered the entire room.
When they faded, all that remained was an empty church.
A warzone. The area in front of Kotomine Church as well as its surrounding grounds could only be described as such.
The Queen was lying in a crater somewhere, having been taken out of the duel at some point. She was still alive, her 'Absolute' Sorcery Trait and circuits helping her more than an average magus.
It would have been a trifling matter to kill her, but the King decided that she had done an... acceptable job in their clash, if not a tad dull in her performance.
The vampire had fled the scene after Gilgamesh took out that flying demon with his golden Ark.
Despite that, the King was unscathed, his golden equipment untouched as he sat in front of the church on a golden throne.
A presence, one he had thought never would reach out to him.
Gilgamesh tilted his head, and looked towards the sky. "How strange of you to speak to me. Are your Beasts not enough?"
Silence, but it seemed that Gilgamesh obtained the response he sought.
"Very well. As a guardian of 'Humanity', and the King of this World, I suppose it falls to me to combat 'All the Evil in this World'."
He rose from his throne and marched towards the site of the final battle, Mt. Ryuudou.
"A pity that it has come to this. I had been looking forward to testing Kirito one more time before I returned to the throne..."
A regal sigh, and brief shake of his head.
"No matter. I have seen what I desired to see."
A gaze looking ever forwards at Humanity's bright future, a will rekindled by a chance encounter from a boy who became a hero in another world.
"...Create it, Kirito. That brilliant future where Humanity finally leaves my Garden... I entrust it to you."
The King leaves the stage for the Hero to usher in a new era.
The forces of Clock Tower and the Church break beneath All Evil.
Now a God shall rise and a warrior shall die-
Denying reality to ensure 'their' survival...
-as this long path draws to its end.