Story: The Sword and the Staff (all chapters)

Authors: bleeding.blade

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Chapter 1

Title: Prologue

[Author's notes:

PREFACE: This story represents yet another departure from my usual subject matter given that it takes its starting point from a series that's hardly considered part of the shoujo-ai genre. What made me write it, however, was a simple desire on my part to see Rin and Saber together. Writing the story presented its fair share of difficulties—not least of which was the fact that Saber's character is developed to a bare minimum in the anime series. Ensuring that she remained recognizable while exploring the possibilities her personality presented was an ongoing challenge. In any case, I hope the reader enjoys the result :0)

WARNING: This story takes place well after the events of the anime series, so spoilers of the ending do abound.

NOTES: This story draws heavily on several elements of the Arthurian legend and, while not strictly necessary, the reader may want to familiarize herself with its main characters and incidents before reading further. 

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Fate/Stay Night are the creations of Type-Moon and Studio Deen and are therefore not my property.]

Centuries before the beginnings of the Holy Grail War...

He had come all this way, as Camelot had burned and bled all around him, to resurrect a hope that had long ago died. He fought his way back to the Lake—to where it had all begun, to where it had all died, to where it could possibly live again. He had come all this way, and as he lay on the bank, his life leaving him in fits and starts, the Lady came to him.

"It has been a long while, brave Knight."

" Lady." His voice was feeble but firm.

"What can I grant you, last Knight of Camelot? When you die, the Legend dies with you."

The knight nodded.

"She had a dream right before she died. I wish you to grant it."

The Lady looked back at him calmly.

"Her dream was not of Camelot. Wishing this will not preserve your world."

"My world died when she did. I do this for her."

The Lady smiled, but her smile was sad.

"She did not ask this of you."

"She did not know how to ask."

"And what if it does not guarantee her happiness?"

"No one's happiness is ever guaranteed. But at least she will have another chance. The chance her Kingdom never gave her."

The Lady nodded her head.

"Very well then. I grant your wish, noble Knight. Fare you well and may your long sleep give you peace."

And with that, Sir Bedivere, last Knight of the fallen kingdom of Camelot, breathed his last.

Chapter 2

Title: Chapter 1

Twenty-four months after the end of the Fifth Holy Grail War...

She dreamt of horses. In her dream, she heard the clink of steel on steel, smelt the tang of fear and flesh, tasted the acrid hope that burnt the air before a battle. She had hated ithad hated the sight of torn limbs, gutted bodies and vacant eyes. But it was all she had known, and with it her life had been given a purpose. She was a king, perhaps the greatest of all. In her, nobility and tragedy had married to bear a legend. Somewhere in the distance, a horn sounded

Saber woke up with a start. Around her the house was quiet. Already the dream was beginning to fade. Not that it mattered. She knew it by heart. She'd had it almost every night for the last few weeks. She couldn't remember exactly when it had started—just that it had begun several months ago. It had seldom come in the beginning. But as time had passed, it had occurred with greater and greater frequency.

She got up and silently made her way to the garden. In the cool damp, she could almost pretend that the Japanese dawn was a British morning.

She longed for her land.

She looked at her palms. She had no gift for Reading, but the calluses on them had always foretold her destiny. She'd been a warrior all her life. Even after the dream of Camelot had crumbled—long after its legend had turned to dust—she'd fought in its name.

But even that war was lost to her. Not even the Sword remained. As for the calluses, they had faded long ago.

She longed for the grip of a solid blade.

She looked towards the house and thought of its sleeping inhabitants: the girl with the silver hair and the boy with the reddish mane. She thought of the boy.

She loved him.

She loved him, but somehow as the months passed, it had seemed to matter less and less. He loved her, and, he couldn't see her—couldn't see past the girlishness of her façade. To him she was just a girl—a woman to be coddled and protected. But she'd been born a king and raised a warrior, and what she needed was a kingdom and not a pedestal.

Not that she understood what she felt. All she knew was that her life had begun to seem unreal to her, and that her dreams felt more like home.

If she'd been better versed in the language of emotions, she would have known that what she felt was despair: despair over a life bereft of meaning and purpose. And in its absence, love could only echo hollowly in the void.

She loved the boy, but he was becoming unreal to her, just as she was becoming unreal to herself. And, with her eyes fixed on the rising sun, Saber sighed and gave herself over to her desolation.


Shirou woke with dread in his heart. Sitting up, he knew that he wouldn't find Saber in the house yet again. For months, she had grown increasingly distant. It wasn't that she loved him any less, but he felt that he was losing her somehow—that they were all losing her, including Saber herself.

He wished Rin were around. She would have known what to do. But Rin was away and had been away for a year and a half. She had gone on to pursue her studies in magic while Shirou had gone on to live a life of normalcy. He still had access to his magic but had little use for it in his life.

He certainly could use some now, if it meant being able to revive what he and Saber had used to share.

He couldn't pin down exactly when it had happened. He remembered the day that Saber had come back to them. Months after the Fifth Holy Grail War had ended, when the bitter pangs of his longing for her had subsided to a dull ache, she had come back. None of them knew why or how, and neither did she, but he could remember his elation and hers. They were reunited finally, with no War to stand between their happiness.

The euphoria hadn't lasted though. Not too long after, Saber had grown withdrawn and listless. It pained Shirou to see how helpless and impotent their love seemed in the face of her growing melancholy. It pained him even further to watch Saber struggling valiantly against it for his sake.

It was not the ending he'd wanted.

It was not the beginning he'd desired.

With a heavy heart, Shirou got up. Another day had begun.

Chapter 3

Title: Chapter 2

Thirty months after the end of the Fifth Holy Grail War...

He dreamt of meadows. In his dream, he felt the thunder of horses' hooves, smelt the fragrance of grass and hay, heard the silvery laugh of a blond and green-eyed child. He had loved that childhad raised and molded her as he would his own. But he had given her away, as the necessary sacrifice to a land that demanded only the noblest blood. She had become a king, perhaps the greatest of all. Somewhere in the distance, a door opened

"My Lord."

The old man opened his eyes. The faces before him were grim. He knew what they had come to tell him—had known it days, months, perhaps even eons in advance (it was becoming hard to tell). He knew all their faces: knew the care-worn and weather-beaten lines born from too much study, sorcery and strife. All the faces arrayed before him carried the same stony and implacable expression—all, that is, except one. At the sight of that face, the old man smiled.

"Speak, Novice Master."

"We have confirmed it, my Lord. Someone is gathering all the Weapons that have been used in the Holy Grail Wars."

"Their purpose?"

"Unknown, my Lord, but it cannot be permitted. The Grail has been destroyed, but if amassed together, the Weapons used in the War can almost approximate its power."

"Have they managed to retrieve them all?"

"All, my Lord. Except one."


The Novice Master nodded.

 "What harm can they cause without the Sword?"

"A considerable amount, though significantly less with its absence."

A young voice carried from the back of the room. "And what harm can they cause with the Sword?" At the sound of the voice, the old man smiled again.

The Novice Master, however, was irritated by the interruption. His voice was stony when he spoke.

"Theoretically, the world's annihilation. Practically, none, because in all of history, only one person of sufficiently noble blood has ever been born that can wield Excalibur. And that person no longer exists."

The young Mage spoke again. "And if that person were still alive?"

The Novice Master's eyes narrowed. "This is not the time for speculation, Novice."

The Mage responded quietly. "I do not speculate."

The old man interrupted gently.

"Speak, Novice."

The Mage hesitated briefly. "The one who bore Excalibur—the one who pulled Caliburn out of the stone—she lives still in this world. She lives in Japan."

The room exploded in murmurs. The Novice Master stood his ground. "Impossible. Arturia Pendragon dematerialized in the last Holy Grail War, as did all the other Heroic Spirits."

The Mage replied simply. "Yes she did. And then she returned five months later."

A gray-haired and steely-eyed woman spoke then. "If the Novice speaks rightly, my Lord, then our worst fears are possible."

The old man nodded. "Very well, then. We shall retrieve Arturia, and through her, the Sword." Then ignoring the fiercely imploring glances being directed towards him, the old man looked directly at the young Mage who had spoken.

"I entrust this mission to you, Novice Tohsaka Rin. Go—and do not fail."

The girl bowed deeply. "As you wish, my Lord." And with the briefest of nods toward the other Mages, Rin left.


Later, when all the other Mages had departed, the Novice Master accosted the old man.

"Was it wise to have sent her? She's far too young and far too inexperienced. As it is, the Mages are questioning her inclusion in the Council. In all our history, no one of her age has ever been granted a seat in the ruling body!"

The old man's expression remained untroubled. "It can't be helped. It's been centuries since a Mage has emerged with Novice Rin's potential. She may be young, but she's the only one with the power to do what needs to be done. Not that she or anyone else realizes that. But as the Novice Master, you know as well as I do what she's capable of."

The Novice Master nodded reluctantly. "Very well, then, my Lord. As you wish."

Chapter 4

Title: Chapter 3

She had been surprised when the Council Master had chosen her, though she had been careful to conceal her shock. She was aware of the hostility her presence generated; aware of the precariousness of her position. Always, always, there was no room for weakness. To wield magic was to perpetually wage war.

She loved it though; loved the music that sang in her veins when the magic coursed through her body. Lately there had been so much of it—levels of power she'd never remotely accessed when she'd fought for the Grail.

With the Grail gone, she'd believed there would never be use for such power—until the Novice Master's revelation at the Council meeting. Now, it seemed what power she had would barely be enough.

With magic, it seemed, the world was perpetually at war.


Still, despite everything, she was glad for a chance to go home. Things were not well in Japan. She still recalled the pain in Shirou's last letter; had felt his grief span the distance of two oceans.

She had been saddened by his news, though hardly surprised. As always, her ability to foresee exceeded her capacity for hope.

The problem was Shirou: Shirou with his misguided chivalry, his violent desire to protect what didn't need protection, his inability to understand the bindings of duty. They were bindings Rin knew too well from her own life. And she sympathized with Saber.

To be given back your life, but not the purpose that had given it direction...Rin shuddered. It would have been like a life without magic. It would have almost been better if Saber had remained dead.

Shirou couldn't understand it though. Love was enough for him, so it had to be enough for everyone. What he couldn't understand was that when one lost one's soul, no amount of love could fill the void.

Saber's soul had been Britain. She had lived for it, died for it, come back to life for it, died again for it. Until the end, not even her love for Shirou had nullified her bond with her land. It had been the sole reason for her existence.

And then suddenly she'd come back to them, and none of them knew why or how. And even as she'd shared their elation, Rin knew the bliss wouldn't last. And so she had left Fuyuki, enthralled by what lay ahead—and concerned for those left behind.

It was not too long after her departure that Shirou's letters had started.

Rin shook her head. Compared to the complexities of human relationships, magic seemed infinitely easier. It was why, she decided, her heart would remain untouched for the remainder of her life.

Chapter 5

Title: Chapter 4

Thirty months after the end of the Fifth Holy Grail War...

They were hundreds of miles away still, yet already they could sense her presencesense her, the Shining One. There was nowhere she could hide. Even as despair dimmed the flames of her soul, it burnt far too brightly for concealment to be possible. There was a reason why she existed. Their purpose was that reason. Emboldened by this remembrance of their intention, they hastened even further towards their goal.


She couldn't explain how she'd known, only that there was a sudden and terrible sense of danger and disaster.

They had been at dinner. It had been going on in much the same way as their previous dinners. Then time had suddenly slowed and Saber had recognized in that instant the arrival of violence.

She was already on her feet, her hand reaching for a non-existent Sword, the faces of the others registering their shock, when the world exploded in red and black.


It was happening again, the terror. And he couldn't understand why when the War was over and had been over for years. But it was happening again, all over again, and just like before, it came with the sickening sensation of helplessness. Because he hadn't felt anything, wouldn't have known anything, if Saber hadn't stood up so violently, her hand reaching for a non-existent Sword in a gesture both familiar and hated.

They had burst through the ceiling and the force of their entry had sent the table's occupants flying to the edges of the room.

Through the haze of the dust and the tears in his eyes, he could just barely make out the figures converging on Saber. He tried to scream out a warning, but there was plaster in his throat.

He wanted to scream at Saber to run away, because at that moment, she wasn't—was in fact, bracing herself for a fight, in a posture both familiar and hated.

With a supreme effort, Shirou struggled to his feet—only to find himself encircled by a pair of unseen arms. Then the arms tightened and the immensity of the pressure nearly made him faint. In the moment that he believed that either he or Saber would die, the room exploded yet again in gold and white. And then Shirou lost consciousness.


She had nearly been too late. She had traveled quickly, had left London as soon as she had been dispatched. The enemy had been faster still.

It had provoked an icy rage. With meticulous dispassion, Rin had closed her eyes and identified the location of every single intruder—before summoning a Spell that had obliterated each with pinpoint accuracy in rapid succession. When she could no longer sense an unfamiliar presence, she had dropped through the roof—and landed just in time to catch a collapsing Saber.

Chapter 6

Title: Chapter 5

"It's good to see you again, Rin."

Taiga looked at the young woman who had just rescued them, the gladness of her greeting containing far more than mere gratitude. It was good to see the young Mage again—even if she had changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable.

She was a full-grown beauty now, all traces of the child gone, including the ribbons that had formerly gathered her hair in tails. The imperious air had given way to a dignified calm. The defensive arrogance in the blue eyes had given way to a serene confidence.

"It's good to see you again too, Taiga."

Shirou interrupted tensely.

"Will Saber be alright?"

Rin glanced at the blonde woman asleep on the futon. "They only intended to prevent her from fighting. She's unconscious, but unhurt."

Shirou nodded, relief relaxing some of the tautness of his features. "Thank you...Rin."

Rin smiled at him. "It's good to see you too, Shirou."

"Will they come back?"

Rin turned toward the silver-haired child who had raised the question. "Not just yet, Ilya. You're all safe for now."

"What did they want?" Shirou asked tensely.

Rin replied gently. "I'll explain everything tomorrow. Right now, the most useful thing you can all do is to go to bed." Sensing an objection from the red-haired boy, Rin spoke again. "I'm the only one who can keep everyone safe right now, Shirou, and worrying about everyone else's well-being is a distraction I can't afford. So please rest. I'm asking you on Saber's behalf."

After a long, tense moment, Shirou finally nodded. Before he left, he turned to Rin. "Does Sakura know that you're here?"

Rin shook her head and smiled. "This visit was unplanned. Will you please tell her that I've arrived?"

Shirou nodded and smiled slightly. "Of course. She'll be ecstatic to find out. She's missed you terribly."

Finally, after all the others had gone, Rin settled herself next to Saber and closed her eyes.


She dreamt of horses. In her dream, she heard the clink of steel on steel, smelt the tang of fear and flesh, tasted the acrid hope that burnt the air before a battle. She had hated it—had hated the sight of torn limbs, gutted bodies and vacant eyes. But it was all she had known, and with it her life had been given a purpose. She was a king, perhaps the greatest of all. In her, nobility and tragedy had married to bear a legend. Somewhere in the distance, a horn sounded

Saber woke up with a start. Around her the house was quiet. Already the dream was beginning to fade. As it faded, another image took its place—the image of a room exploding in red and black. She was already halfway out of the futon, her blood pounding in her ears, when a gentle voice interrupted her thoughts.

"They're safe. There's no need to fight."

 Saber turned sharply towards the direction of the voice. In the adrenaline rush, she had failed to notice the other presence in the room. For a moment, she couldn't place the raven-haired beauty seated across her. Then recognition dawned.


The young woman nodded and smiled. "Hello, Saber."

Saber looked at the Mage for a long, silent moment. She was not the same person she'd been before. She was lovelier than she'd been when she'd left, but that wasn't the only change. She radiated so much more power now...and its character was eerily familiar. Only Saber couldn't tell why or how.

Rin was the first to interrupt the silence. "How long have you had that dream?"

Saber almost asked, "What dream?" But the compassion in the Mage's blue eyes invited honesty.

"Months now," Saber admitted quietly.

The Mage simply nodded. Rising swiftly, she cupped Saber's face in her hands and brought her face close enough to the blonde's so that their foreheads touched. Saber was too startled by the sudden and uninvited intimacy of the gesture to register the words the Mage whispered—but it was over as quickly as it had begun.

"Rest now," Rin spoke softly. "All your questions will be answered tomorrow."

And, for the first time in months, Saber slept in peace.


Rin looked with mixed emotions at the blonde figure on the floor. There was a fragility about Saber now that hadn't been there before. Strangely enough, it only added to her luminosity. Melancholy had sharpened her features—but it had also resurrected her femininity. The blond hair fell in waves now, freed from the tyranny of their former braids. The change in appearance that alone had wrought had been almost startling.

There was no denying her power though. Even in such a dispirited state, Rin could feel the tug of the forces that emanated from the sleeping figure. There was a reason why Excalibur had accepted her as its Master. It was for the same reason that she was now being pursued.

Gazing inward, Rin considered the dream she held in her mind. In its essence, magic involved balance: an existing suffering could not be eliminatedit could only be displaced. All she had done was substitute some of Saber's turmoil with her own peace. Now the other woman's anguish was hers to deal with. Closing her eyes, Rin gazed at the dream—and plunged.

Chapter 7

Title: Chapter 6


The unabashed joy with which Sakura had thrown herself at Rin had been enough to make Shirou smile. Although the Mage had arrived in less than ideal circumstances, he had to admit that her presence alleviated a burden he hadn't realized he'd been carrying. Even Saber seemed more serene that morning.

"Are you staying long?"

The wistfulness in Sakura's voice caught Shirou's attention. The Mage shook her head regretfully.

"I don't have much time, I'm afraid. I gather Shirou hasn't told you?"

"I didn't want to spoil the news of your arrival," Shirou said, glancing apologetically at Sakura. "At least not right away."

"What happened?"

The Mage hesitated briefly. "There was an attack here last night. I only came to avert it."

"Why don't we discuss this in the living room?" Taiga interrupted. "Saber and Ilya are there already."

"Alright then," Rin nodded. "This isn't something I'd like to explain more than once."


"What do you mean you'll need to take Saber???"

Rin looked with compassion at Shirou. "Only the Council can protect her, Shirou. She'll be vulnerable if she's left hereand so will the rest of you. This is the only way to keep everyone safe."

"Then take me with you," the red-haired boy demanded.

"I wish I could," Rin answered gently. "But there's barely enough magic for myself and for Saber."

"You have an entire Council of Mages behind you! How much magic can you need?"

"A formidable amount given where we have to go."

Shirou paused. Then he narrowed his eyes. "Where exactly are you taking her?"

Rin hesitated briefly. "To where the Sword is, Shirou. To England. To the past."


She'd been incredulous herself, when the Council Master had first explained it. She'd believed that even magic had its boundaries, that some constants remained inviolable.

"There are limits," the Council Master had told her, chuckling at her shock. "They're simply farther than you imagined."

"But if we've had this power all the time, why haven't we used it..."

" change history?" the Council Master raised an eyebrow. "The essence of magic is balance, Rin. The more you displace the past, the more you threaten the future. The best intentions can wreak the worst havoc."

"But aren't we risking precisely that?"

"We will not be changing anything. The Sword has been lost for centuries. Bringing it to this age will simply cement an historical fact. In any case," the Council Master added, "the amount of damage we can do will be limited by the amount of magic we have available."


"Meaning," the Council Master said, and a look of sadness quickly passed across his face, "the Age of True Magic has come and gone, my child. That is why we need relics like the Grail to transform reality. If you truly wanted to alter history, you would need a power which no longer exists on this earth. Given the resources we have remaining to us, we can only send you and Arturia to a point in the past where you are precisely least likely to effect any change."

Rin nodded slowly. "In other words, the greater our chances of changing the past, the greater the amount of magic required to send us there."

"Exactly," the Council Master said. "All we have at the moment, and all you need, in any case, is this."

Rin looked carefully at the pendant suspended on a delicate chain.

"These are two Time Stones fused into one. One will take you to the past; the other will return you to the future. No one else can activate their power but you. Needless to say, you will need to use them wisely."

Rin nodded gravely.

"If you have no other questions," the Council Master smiled, "you may go."

Rin bowed briefly and turned to leave.

"Novice Rin," the Council Master called after her.

"Yes, my Lord?"

"Although your mission does not require it, I do ask that you return to us safe and sound."

For the first time since she entered the room, Rin smiled. "As you wish, my Lord."


"You're excited to go, aren't you?"

Shirou's face was deliberately blank, but Saber could hear the bitterness in the red-haired boy's voice.

 "I am," she admitted softly. "But it doesn't mean it grieves me any less to leave you."

Shirou was silent for a long moment. There was shame in his voice when he finally spoke. "I'm sorry, Saber. It was petty of me to resent your happiness. It's just that I hate the thought of you fighting again. And I hate it that I can't be with you."

"Rin will be with me," Saber reminded him gently. "And it would hurt me more if I were to be the source of harm to you and the others."

Shirou sighed. Then grasping her shoulders, he asked, "Promise me you'll stay out of danger as much as you can."

Saber's eyes darkened. "You know I can't promise that, Shirou. It goes against everything I believe in as a knight—"

"You're no longer a knight, Saber! The War is over and the Grail is gone!"

Saber looked away, her eyes welling with tears of anger and frustration. She knew Shirou was right: knew that everything that had demanded her allegiance no longer existed; knew that the only duty that remained to her now was to stay safely by his side. But there was a part of her that felt he was wrong, and she couldn't explain why or how.


"Alright," she said, turning toward him, though her eyes remained downcast. "Alright. I promise to keep myself as safe as I can."

"Thank you," Shirou replied softly. Then tilting her chin upwards with his hand, he kissed her tenderly. "I love you, Saber."

"I love you too, Shirou," she replied, though the dull, wooden ache in her chest didn't feel very much like it.


"Are you ready?"

Even as she said the words, Rin could see the answer in the blonde woman's face. For the first time since she'd returned to Japan, Saber looked intensely alive.

"I'm ready."

Rin nodded and smiled. Then planting her staff in the middle of the circle she had chalked around her and Saber, she summoned the power of the stone around her neck—and surrendered herself to one of the last remaining fragments of True Magic in the world.

Chapter 8

Title: Chapter 7

Decades after the destruction of Camelot...

She dreamt of meadows. In her dream, she felt the thunder of horses' hooves, smelt the fragrance of grass and hay, heard the hearty laugh of a dark and blue-eyed man. She had loved that manhad looked up to him as a brother and a father. But he had given her away, as the necessary sacrifice to a land that demanded only the noblest blood. She had become a king, perhaps the greatest of all. Somewhere in the distance, a horse neighed

Saber woke up with a start. The gentle warmth of the sun was on her face; underneath she could feel the coolness of the morning damp.

She knew it immediately. She was home.

"Did you rest well?"

She looked up at the figure seated on its haunches and nodded. The scent of the grass, the nip in the air, the very curve of the land was so intensely familiar to her she didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.

As if she'd read her mind, the Mage cautioned her. "We're in Britain's past, Saber, but this is not the age to which you belonged."

Saber nodded, then smiled. "It hardly matters which age it is, I recognize the land."

Rin smiled back. "And the land recognizes you. That your dream changed is a sign of its welcome." Rising to her feet, the Mage walked over to her sack and pulled out a long, oblong package.

"It's not the quality you're used to, but it will have to do until we find what we seek."

By the time she'd untied the strings, Saber's hands were trembling. It had been so long since she'd held a blade. Her voice was husky when she spoke.

"It's not Excalibur, but my mentor always used to say, ‘Power lies not in the sword, but in the person who wields it.'"

"Your mentor was a wise man," Rin smiled.

Rising to her feet, Saber sheathed the sword and surveyed their surroundings for the first time.

"There's one more thing we need," she said after a slight pause. The Mage looked at her questioningly.

"Horses. We need horses."


She could have used magic to accomplish their intentions, but it had been far more economical—and far more fascinating besides—to watch Saber's approach.

It was a side of the blonde woman that Rin had never seen—nor had any of the others for that matter. She had always known of Saber's devotion to her kingdom, but had never witnessed her affinity with her land. She could decipher the language of its hills, its rivers, its forests and its skies in the same way Rin could decode the symbols of the most ancient magic. And despite the span of the centuries, the land spoke to Saber still.

It told her where the horses were.

They were magnificent creatures: wild, spirited and unbroken. For all her proficiency as a rider, Rin sincerely doubted that they could be mounted—or even approached. She briefly wondered which of the spells she had at her disposal could be used to effect their obedience.

Only Saber was already halfway down the hill, walking openly towards the horses. And to Rin's utter amazement, none of the creatures bolted. They stood quietly, heads erect, ears alert, as the blonde figure approached them.

Saber reached the largest of the stallions and gently extended a hand. Rin held her breath. A moment passed between the horse and the woman. Then the stallion whinnied softly and, with the agility of a born rider, Saber swung herself onto the animal's back.

Rin shook her head and chuckled. The Council Master had once told her: "Animals respond to only two things: the power of an enchantment or the nobility of a soul. Only one of them lasts."

As Saber approached, Rin could detect just the slightest hint of satisfaction in the blonde woman's smile.

"He's agreed to help us," she told Rin, "but he's the only one the herd can spare."

"He's more than enough," Rin said, taken aback by the creature's sheer size at close quarters. "In any case, I've never ridden bareback, so another horse would have been useless."

"So there are things after all that even you can't do."

It took Rin three seconds to get over her shock. "And there are things after all that you do do," she responded wryly. "I don't think you've ever shown your sense of humor before." 

"There were never very many occasions for me to display it." The blonde woman looked slightly sad as she said this, and Rin felt an immediate rush of contrition.

"So," she said, averting the sudden change in mood."How do I get up there?"

"Very awkwardly, if you haven't done it before."

"I'm staggered by your encouragement. Seriously, how on earth am I supposed to get on him without a crane?"

In response, Saber reached down and hauled the Mage up with one arm. Rin had just enough presence of mind and agility to swing her left leg over the creature as soon as Saber had brought her up to a sufficient height.

"Not bad," Saber conceded. "Now for the hard part."

"Which is?" Rin asked distractedly, trying not to gauge how far she was from the ground.

"Holding on."

And with that, Saber pressed a foot into the horse's flank—and all hell broke loose.

Chapter 9

Title: Chapter 8

She had to admit that she was impressed. It took formidable skill to stay on a wild stallion—considerably more when it was ridden bareback. And for all her inexperience, the Mage had managed to achieve both.

At the moment though, she looked anything but victorious.

"I am sorry, Rin." Saber said apologetically. "I should have gone much slower."

The Mage managed to smile and wince at the same time. "It's alright. I never had much use for my posterior in any case—too restless to sit down for long, my father used to say."

Saber shook her head and smiled.

"Taiga was right," she told the Mage. "You have changed. The old Rin would never have admitted feeling any pain."  

"The old Rin wouldn't have been stupid enough to ride a horse the size of an elephant," the Mage responded wryly. After a moment of silence, she added:

"But you've changed too, Saber."

"Perhaps we all have," Saber admitted quietly. "Except maybe for Shirou." Then changing the topic, she asked the Mage, "What are your plans for finding Excalibur? It's one thing to track horses, another thing to locate the Sword."

Rin paused thoughtfully. "Legend has it that with your dying breath, you asked Bedivere to return the Sword to the Lady of the Lake. If the legend is accurate, to find the Sword we need to find the Lake."

Saber nodded. "The legend is true—only I can't quite get my bearings. Like you've pointed out, this is not the Britain I knew."

"We'll find the Lake using other means."

"You mean magic?"

The Mage nodded. "I intend to use it as sparingly as possible though. In a situation as uncertain as this, I'd like to save my mana for direr emergencies. Besides, too much magic could alter the timeline in ways I can't anticipate."

"Do you intend to use a Scrying Spell?"

Rin shook her head and smiled. "No. There's a much simpler way. I intend to ask the Land herself."


She'd only used the technique twice beforehand, and the only reason she'd learned it was because the Council Master had a fondness for arcane methods.

"Not everyone can do it," he'd told her with a wink. "There aren't too many people around today that Territories would deign to address. Also, not everyone has the constitution for it."

"You mean not everyone has the reserve of mana required?" she'd asked.

The Council Master had shaken his head. "It requires very little mana—far littler than doing your ordinary Scrying Spell. But the mind of a Land can be...alien, at the very least, and hostile, at the very worst. It can easily swallow the consciousness of a Mage."

"Show me how to do it," was Rin's only response.

They had been at the Sahara then, and the touch of the Desert's sere and ancient mind had been utterly indescribable for Rin. She had felt herself engulfed in the wave of a massive and antediluvian indifference—had felt herself beheld and dismissed by a consciousness nearly as old and immense as the Earth herself.

"You're a stranger to it," the Council Master had shrugged. "With soils that your blood belongs to, you will feel welcomed. In any case," he added with a twinkle in his eye, "at least the Sahara let you live. It can't have disliked you that much."

The second time she'd tried it was when she'd gone home to Japan. Just as the Council Master had predicted, the land of her birth had encircled her consciousness with serene and soothing arms.

Now she was going to attempt to touch the mind of an alien country from an alien time. Rin steeled herself. There was no Council Master this time to protect her from a possibly hostile reception.

She knelt on one knee, spread her palm on the ground, closed her eyes...and opened her mind.

The response was very sudden—and entirely unexpected. The shock of it caused Rin's balance to falter.

She immediately felt two hands steady her. "Are you alright?" Saber asked her with concern.

Rin smiled at the blonde woman reassuringly. "Quite alright, thank you." Rising to her feet, she added, "I know where the Lake is."

Saber nodded. "I'll get the horse then."

As the blonde woman walked away, Rin recalled what her brief contact with the Land had felt like and felt the unfamiliar rise of gooseflesh.  

"'Master'..." she said softly to herself. "It called me...‘Master'."

Chapter 10

Title: Chapter 9

She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt this wildly happy—when there was nothing but the wind in her hair and wings on her feet. There had been a time when it had always been like this—when she'd had nothing but the company of horses and the two men who'd been fathers to her in their own way. Then she'd pulled the first Sword out of the Stone, and her happiness had ended the day her destiny began.

All that had happened ages ago. And although the passage of time had never dulled her memory of the past, for a few brief moments every day since her new adventure had begun, she could allow herself to forget.

Underneath her, she could feel the horse's elation matching hers. Crouching even lower, she whispered into the creature's ear—and gave herself over to the pure ecstasy of flight.


Rin woke up to the sound of pounding hooves. She and Saber had been traveling for a few days now, their journey settled in a comfortable rhythm. Every morning, without fail, the blonde woke up before she did.

She heard the sound of faraway laughter. For a moment, Rin found herself marveling at its silvery quality. Then she realized that she'd never heard Saber laugh before.

She got up and walked to the edge of the hilltop. Below her, she could see Saber racing across the plain and up the hill. Within instants, the blonde reached the summit. The morning ride had tousled her hair and it cascaded about her shoulders in golden waves. Wheeling her horse around, she saw Rin and smiled.

For a long, heart-stopping moment, Rin forgot to breathe.

"You should do that more often," she said as she approached horse and rider.

"Do what more often?" the blonde asked as she dismounted.

"Smile," Rin said. Saber caught her glance then and their gazes locked for a long moment.

The horse's nickering eventually broke the silence.

"I should feed him," Saber said, her cheeks flushed. Whether their color came from the morning's ride or something else, the Mage couldn't tell.

"You handle his breakfast, then, and I'll handle ours. Which means," Rin sighed, "that he'll eat better than we will."


For all of Rin's lamentations though, Saber thought that they were actually eating quite well.

"Do you enchant your traps?" she asked the Mage curiously as they rode through a forest.

"Never," Rin answered with a hint of satisfaction. Leaning back, she added thoughtfully, "I used to think I was prudent with magicI'd only use it every so often and I'd squirrel mana away in gems and jewels." She chuckled quietly. "But I've learned since then that a true magician never relies on magic. Magic is power, but there's power in everythingespecially in ingenuity. True magic lies in being able to recognize and exploit the many resources at your disposal."

"You sound very much like someone I once knew," Saber replied quietly.

They lapsed into silence then, and the rhythmic gait of the horse combined with the tranquil hush of the forest to lull Saber into sleep.

She woke up to find herself nestled firmly in the Mage's armsand almost immediately sat upright.

"I'm sorry," she apologized. "It was careless of me to fall asleep"

"when you know that I can't ride bareback?"

In her mortification, Saber didn't hear the amusement in the Mage's voice.

"That's not what I meant"

"It's fine, Saber." Rin interrupted firmly. "You've been getting up quite early each morning, so it's not surprising if you're a little fatigued. Besides," the Mage added, "I doubt your instincts would have allowed you to lower your guard if there'd been the slightest possibility of danger."

"Fair enough," Saber conceded. She relaxed slightlyand was suddenly acutely conscious of the Mage's arms around her waist. She remembered the look on Rin's face earlier that morning and felt her cheeks redden. She had liked the expression on the Mage's face thenin the same way she enjoyed the sensation of being held by the Mage now. Then she thought of Shirou and the contentment of the moment gave way to confusion. A part of her felt that she was doing something wrongand she couldn't explain why or how.

Chapter 11

Title: Chapter 10

She would have felt it eventually, but the sudden alertness of the blonde in front of her was all the warning she needed.

"What is it?" Rin whispered softly into Saber's ear.

"We're being watched," Saber replied under her breath.

It was nearly dusk in the forest—an opportune time for an ambush, Rin thought.

They continued to ride in silence, pretending nothing was amiss. The moment their attackers knew that their presence had been detected, they would strike.

Rin knew nothing of what Saber intended, but the purposefulness of the blonde's posture meant that she had a strategy in mind.

They arrived at a clearing, and the blonde muttered:

"Hold on tight."

Rin barely had enough time to secure herself before Saber hollered at the horse—and the forest exploded in green and black.


She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt this marvelously alivewhen there was nothing but adrenaline in her blood and danger at her heels. There had been a time when it had always been like this, when she'd had nothing but a sword in her hand and conviction in her heart. Then she'd returned the second Sword to the Lake, and her soul had died the day her body was reborn.

All that had happened ages ago. And although the passage of time had dulled her memory of the past, all it took was a few brief moments of mortal danger to bring it backall of it, back.

Underneath her, she could feel the horse's eagerness matching hers. Crouching even lower, she whispered into the creature's earand gave herself over to the glorious ecstasy of the fight.


Rin didn't know how much longer she could hold on. Besides the horse's insane speed, there were all the whipping branches to contend with. Above the pounding of their horse's hooves, she could hear the sounds of pursuit.

Suddenly, the forest ahead of them exploded in flames. Saber swore and Rin felt the vertiginous sensation that accompanied an abrupt stop after high speed. She'd had no idea how disoriented she was until she found herself staring down into the blonde's emerald eyes—Saber having caught her just in time as she'd toppled from the horse.

"We'll have to make our stand here," the blonde said grimly. Glancing briefly at the Mage, she asked with some concern, "Are you alright?"

"Apart from a bruised rear and an even more bruised ego, I'm fine."

"Can you fight?"

Rin answered by drawing her staff into fighting position. The blonde smiled slightly and unsheathed her sword.

"Alright then. Here they come."


In the end, it had culminated in a complete rout for the bandits.

Although their attackers had outnumbered them ten to one, the robbers' strength had failed to prevail against Saber's skill.

It was only when they began settling down later that night that Saber realized what had been odd about the entire incident.

"You didn't use your magic a single time—not even to create a shield."

The Mage stretched her legs in front of the campfire. "It wasn't necessary."

Saber could only look at her in bewilderment.

"You allowed me to fight when magic could have prevented it?"

The Mage looked faintly amused. "You're a knight, Saber. Perhaps the greatest knight the world has ever known. Why would I use magic to prevent you from being who you are?"

Saber thought of Shirou then—and of the many times he had used everything in his power, including magic, just to keep her from unsheathing her sword. It had always been so important to him that she not fight. And somewhere along the way, the strength of his conviction had begun to undermine hers.

"Because it's wrong to fight," she whispered. "One does it only when one has to."

"I think you've confused fighting with killing." Rin said gently. "Wielding a sword is much the same as wielding a staff, Saber. We use our arts to defend the world, yes, but even if the world never needed our services, you would still be a knight and I would still be a mage. Fighting is a dance for you in the same way that magic is a song for me. It's who we are."

Saber shook her head and smiled wistfully. "Not everyone thinks of it the way you do." Then realizing that she had put the Mage in an awkward position, she quickly added, "You should go to sleep. I'll take the first watch."

The Mage shook her head firmly. "You might not feel your exhaustion now, but it'll hit you later. There's far less need for me to rest immediately."

She nodded reluctantly. "Alright then. Good night, Rin."

"Good night, Saber."

And for all that Rin was right and the fatigue did set in, it was still a long time before sleep finally claimed her.

Chapter 12

Title: Chapter 11

It was a few days after when they spotted it: the first signs of civilization since they'd left the future. And judging from the many trails of smoke rising in the distance, it looked to be a fair-sized town.

Rin critically appraised their appearance.

"Two women traveling together will invite unwanted attention...but a married couple traveling together will only inspire boredom."

"And who's supposed to be the husband between the both of us?" Once again, Rin noticed a faint blush on the blonde's cheeks.

"Me, of course," the Mage replied smoothly.

"You?" Saber looked indignant. "Why does it have to be you?"

"Because, my dear," Rin smiled smugly, "I'm taller than you are."


It took a few attempts before they had exactly what they were looking for.

"I hadn't realized that a Mage's arsenal of skills involved theft." Saber looked disapprovingly at the clothes that Rin had appropriated from around the town's fringes.

The Mage grinned cheerfully. "Chivalry belongs to your code, not mine."

Saber sighed. "I only hope we don't run into the owners—it would be awkward to see a wife wielding a sword."

Rin shrugged good-naturedly. "I'll just say it's how I ended up being your husband."

"Keep that up," Saber muttered darkly, "and I'll just say it's how I ended up being your widow."


In the end though, it was Rin who was at a loss for words.

It had taken Saber a bit more time to dress, but when she emerged from the woods, her appearance...surprised the Mage, at the very least.

"You look good in your clothes," the blonde said as she approached.

"And you look stunning in yours," Rin replied quietly, without thinking. Then catching herself, she quickly added, "It's a pity Shirou can't see you." The last statement was an outright lie but she hoped Saber wouldn't sense it.

"Not at all," Saber replied wryly, looking down at herself. "I doubt he would have been too pleased with the depth of this neckline. I'm not sure if I'm pleased by the depth of this neckline."

"It's fine," Rin assured her (having deliberately chosen the neckline). "If it's decent enough for medieval tastes, it should be decent enough for modern ones."


"Your brother is very handsome."

Saber glanced at the woman who had spoken. She was with two other women and all three of them were looking at Rin in a very discomfiting way.

It had taken them until the late afternoon to find a suitable inn and Rin was at the counter haggling with the innkeeper.

"Nay Gwynn," the woman in the middle disagreed. "He's more beautiful than handsome. Not that I fancy him any less, all the same."

"He's not my brother," Saber replied brusquely. "He's my husband."

"Oh?" the third woman replied skeptically. "Our apologies then—it's just that we didn't see a ring."

Saber thought fast. "It didn't seem wise to travel with much jewelry."

"True enough, my sweet," the first woman replied, "though with a husband the likes of yours, you might at least want to risk a ring. Let's go, ladies."

With a sigh of relief, Saber turned her attentions back to Rin. She had to admit that the Mage did look strikingly attractive in men's clothes. She combined, Saber thought then, Lancelot's air of command with Gawain's aura of purity. At that moment, Rin caught her glance and smiled. Again, Saber felt that confusing sensation of unexpected pleasure mixed with inexplicable guilt.

Finally, the Mage left the counter and approached her with a morose look. "We have a room, but it'll cost us an arm and a leg." She sighed. "It's hard to charm a man when you're not a woman."

"Pity you weren't with me a while ago," Saber replied wryly. "You'd have gotten three different rooms for free." Ignoring the puzzled look on the Mage's face, she rose and said in the sweetest voice she could manage, "You wouldn't mind carrying all the bags now, would you dear?"


It was nearly evening by the time she was done, but she had managed to procure everything she thought they needed.

She entered their room and stopped short at the sight of an entrancingly fresh-looking Saber. The blonde smiled tranquilly at her.

"You got to use the bath for free?" she asked with disbelief.

"It's not that hard to charm a man when you're a woman. The water was heated too." Ignoring the look of dismay on the Mage's face, Saber asked, "So what did you get?"

"Mostly provisions, but also a map and a fiddle."

 Saber raised an eyebrow. "You already know where we need to go, so why do we need a map?"

"Because," Rin said, carefully spreading the parchment on the table, "it'll appear strange if we can't name our destination. I expect we'll be encountering more towns in this direction, so it's urgent that we blend in."

"And that's what the fiddle is for too, I suppose?"

The Mage grinned. "I hope you don't mind being married to a wandering minstrel."

Saber shook her head. "Can you actually play the thing?"

Rin paused. "It'll take a bit of fiddling, pun not intended, but I think I can manage. It shouldn't be all that different from the violin."

"Is there really anything you can't do?" Saber asked incredulously.

"Not much," Rin replied matter-of-factly. "My father had me schooled in practically everything."

"And I thought I had a difficult childhood," the blonde said, shaking her head. When she looked up, the Mage shot her a thoroughly pleading expression.


"Do you think you could use your charms to get me a bath?"

Chapter 13

Title: Chapter 12

By the time they went down for supper, the dining room of the inn was thoroughly crowded.

It didn't stop the men from making way for her though. For the first time in her life, Saber began to truly appreciate the power that came from being a woman. Perhaps the neckline hadn't been such a bad idea after all.

"Why don't you sit here, lassie? There's a bit of room." A man who was making eye contact with her chest gestured at the narrow space between himself and the wall.

Saber felt an arm curve possessively around her waist. "While I'm sure my wife would fit nicely, kind sir, I unfortunately wouldn't." There was a gleam in Rin's eye at that moment that made the man retreat nervously and hastily.

Saber quickly scanned the room and spotted a tiny table in a corner alcove. She grabbed Rin's hand and tugged her "husband" toward the vacant seats.

"I thought the plan was to blend in with the locals—not antagonize them!" she hissed at the Mage.

"Whatever happened to chivalry?"

"I thought you said it wasn't your code."

"I wasn't a minstrel then."

"You won't be anything for long if you stir up trouble in this crowd."

"Fine, fine," the Mage relented. "Maybe I'm just hungry."

They had only just finished eating when a group of musicians cleared a space in the middle of the room and began to play a jig at one of its edges. Almost instantly, the space was filled with stamping, clapping and dancing bodies.

The rush of nostalgia that assailed Saber then was almost physical.

"What's wrong?" the Mage asked her, immediately alert.

Saber shook her head, though there was a slight film in her eyes. "The tempo is a bit different and so are the words, but they used to play this song in court..."

She suddenly found herself being tugged to her feet.

"Where are we going?" she asked Rin in bewilderment.

"To the dance floor," the Mage replied simply.

"But I've never danced!"

Rin looked at her and smiled. "Fighting is a dance, Saber."

She looked at the Mage for a long uncertain moment.

"Alright," she finally relented with a smile. "But first," she looked around then and suddenly snatched a stranger's mug, "first, I need a drink."


She couldn't remember the last time she'd had so much fun.

There had never been much room for it in her life. Her childhood had been strictly regimented: an endless rotation of one discipline after another, all designed to leave her as the victor of the Holy Grail War.

Then the War had begun and almost immediately things had gone wrong—starting with her failure to summon Saber as her Servant. Then she'd lost her Servant, and that humiliation had been preceded by the disgrace of having to join forces with her enemies. The entire duration of the War had felt to her like the slow unraveling of a perfection she'd worked so long to achieve.

Things had lightened somewhat after the War had ended, but the ingrained habits of a lifetime were difficult to shed. It was only later, when she met the Council Master, that she began to understand what having fun actually meant. He was, quite literally, the brother and the father she never had, though he was old enough to be her grandfather and even more. Under his tutelage, she began to discover the exuberance that had been largely absent from her childhood years.

If she had risked making a fool of herself and Saber that evening, it was only because she'd recognized the look of longing on Saber's face. It was the look of the excluded child.

And so she'd grabbed the blonde's hand and dragged her to the dance floor, and for the last two hours, they had whirled merrily through every variety of jig imaginable. She'd lost count of the mugs of ale she had drunk or that Saber had drunk—all her mental energies being devoted to keeping their legs untangled and their feet untrodden. Finally, the music stopped to the crowd's collective groaning and the exhausted musicians bowed their way to a much needed dinner.

Rin found herself being lowered gently into a seat. She looked up into a pair of amused green eyes.

"Are you actually drunk?"

"Of course not," she said, enunciating each word carefully. "I would never sink to such a vulgar state. I am simply slightly inebriated."

"It doesn't matter how many syllables you use," Saber said, rolling her eyes. "You're thoroughly sodden."

 Rin found herself lifted deftly onto her feet and marched slowly but steadily up the stairs and into their room.

"How on earth can you not be drunk?" she asked the blonde.

"When you've worked with men your entire life, you learn to win at their games," Saber replied matter-of-factly.

They reached the edge of the bed and Saber carefully laid Rin down on its left side before rising up to remove the Mage's boots.

Before the blonde could move away, Rin reached out and pulled her—hard.

She tumbled on top of Rin and the Mage smiled at the sudden cascade of golden hair.

She looked up into a pair of suddenly tumultuous green eyes and without quite realizing what she was doing—ran a thumb over the blonde's suddenly parted lips.

"So soft..." she whispered.

Then with the slightest of sighs, Tohsaka Rin, the most powerful Mage to emerge in recent times, fell asleep.


She lay on her side, listening quietly to the steady breathing of the figure on her left. Everywhere around her, the world was at peace. But her body felt almost the same way it did before a battle: flesh tingling, nerves heightened, senses alert.

She had never felt this way with Shirou.

With the red-haired boy there was nothing but a light, serene and gentle warmth. But when she had lain on top of Rin, the sensations had been dark, wild, vivid, intense. And there was no mistaking the look in the Mage's startling blue eyes then, for she had seen it often enough in Shirou's.

It had been a look of pure desire.

And, heaven help her, she'd wanted to give in—had wanted to give the Mage what she'd always denied Shirou.

She'd been lucky that the Mage had fallen asleep. Alcohol had saved her virtue when her loyalty could not.

Saber closed her eyes. She had bound herself to duty in all her lives. If she had failed in rendering it to Camelot then, she would not fail in rendering it to Shirou now.

Chapter 14

Title: Chapter 13

It had taken most of the morning, but the agonizing pain in Rin's temples had finally subsided into a dull ache.

The Mage lay in bed, curled on one side. In an outstretched hand, she held an emerald the size of a fist.

She stared at it long and hard.

Her indecision was causing a migraine almost as bad as the hangover she still suffered.

"Why am I even considering this?" she muttered.

She had to decide quickly, before Saber returned. The blonde had taken one look at her that morning, then had promptly declared, "We're going to need something for that hangover." She'd been gone for nearly an hour now and Rin expected she would be back shortly enough.

But what she was contemplating went against all her principles. Never in her life had she used a jewel for purposes lesser than saving a life. Doing otherwise was foolish and extravagant and Rin had never been either.

But then again, there was a first time for everything. Rin sighed—and the gem imploded in a flash of light.


She returned to find the Mage propped up in bed, a fiddle in one hand and a bow in another. She looked deathly pale.

Saber frowned and crossed the room quickly.

"I thought I told you to rest," she said, touching the back of her hand to Rin's forehead. The Mage's skin felt slightly clammy.

"You know me," Rin smiled weakly. "I can't stay still for very long."

Saber shook her head. "We'll need to stay another night at this rate."

The Mage closed her eyes and murmured softly. "You make that sound like a bad thing." Before Saber could respond, she added. "I'm sure you can endure the torments of a warm bath, a good dinner and a soft bed for at least one more night."

There was one more torment the Mage had failed to mention, but all Saber said was, "Enduring torments is one thing, paying for them is another. How exactly are we going to get the money?"

Rin opened her eyes and smiled. "What do you think I'm holding this fiddle for?"


It had taken a good bit more of Saber's newly-discovered charms, but in the end, the innkeeper had agreed to accept Rin's services as a fiddler that evening as payment for staying an additional night. The only condition was he would get to keep all of her earnings—even if they exceeded the cost of their lodgings.

It hadn't taken Rin four songs before she'd settled their debt. The inn's regular clientele were accustomed to musicians who played with far more enthusiasm and ebullience than talent and technique. Rin possessed the latter in prodigious amounts and the crowd had been quick to demonstrate its appreciation.

It had come back to her quickly enough: all the years of a classical musical education in voice, piano and violin. Her father had instinctively recognized the link between magic and music and had cultivated Rin's abilities in both from her earliest years. If she ever needed a more "normal" career, she already knew what she would choose.

Rin closed her eyes and allowed her hands to transmute the jovial and raucous tunes of the previous night into poignant and wistful melodies. There was just as much alchemy in music as there was in magic, and she could see the effects in her audience's nostalgic expressions and too-bright eyes.

Before she could end, there was one more song she needed to play. She took a deep breath—and plunged into a melody that hailed from a different time: a time of legends, a time of heroes, a time of ideals. It was a melody that sang of an enchanted land, a blessed brotherhood and a tragic peace. It was a melody of love and loss, of hope and despair, of an unrealizable future and an irredeemable past.

It was a haunting and beautiful melody, and even the Shade she'd summoned to teach it to her had been moved to tears.

Rin opened her eyes and looked for a single face in the crowd. When she saw the tears in the emerald eyes, she knew in that instant that the price of a jewel had been well-paid.


She couldn't tell which had touched her more: the loveliness of the melody or the sweetness of the gesture. The moment she had heard the opening strains, she had sat upright in her seat, unable to believe that, somehow, Rin had managed to resurrect this facet of her past.

And she'd not only brought it back, but she'd done it in a way more vivid even than Saber's recollections.

 When the Mage had returned to her seat, all Saber could manage to say was, "How...?"

Rin had responded by asking, "Did you like it?"

Saber could only nod mutely.

"Then that's all that matters," was the Mage's reply.

Later that evening, after they'd settled into bed, Rin startled her by calling quietly into the darkness.


She barely managed to keep her voice steady. "Yes?"

"I never thanked you."

"For what?"

"For getting me into bed last night. I can't remember how you did it, but I'm sure it wasn't easy."

Saber paused, relief and disappointment assailing her in equal measure. "So you don't recall anything?"

The Mage's voice was apologetic. "My memory's usually sharp—at least right until the tenth pint."

 Saber couldn't help it then. She laughed—and was joined a few moments later by an embarrassed yet nonetheless amused Rin.

Chapter 15

Title: Chapter 14

It had taken almost a week since leaving the town, but Rin could now feel the change in the mood of the land. Although she had prepared for the contrary, they had encountered fewer and fewer villages in the last several days. It was easy enough to understand why—there was something mournful in the air about them, a sense of desolation about the land.

It was as if they were crossing a vast memorial, and loss hung about the trees, the hedges, the meadows and the hills.

"Do you recognize anything?" Rin asked Saber.

The blonde shook her head. "You never find Avalon or the Lake—Avalon and the Lake find you. Neither is recognizable through the signs of terrain or geography." After a brief pause, she added. "But even if the land looks unfamiliar, it doesn't feel that way. I feel as if...I've been here before."

The Mage nodded. "Then we're close."

When they finally saw the lake, the suddenness of its appearance caught them both by surprise.

 Rin dismounted and approached the water.

She couldn't detect the slightest trace of enchantment. Even simple cairns emanated more power than this.

But she was sure the Land hadn't lied to her. Either the magic of the Lake had truly died—and that was why the land was filled with so much grief; or it was being masked—in which case she was dealing with an extremely formidable power.

There was only one way to find out. Closing her eyes, Rin stretched out her staff—and plunged it into the water.


She felt the shock of the violationfelt the surprise of a Land and a Water that had remained undisturbed for so long. It had been ages since a presence had risen worthy of their reception.

Her mind reached out to inspect the intrusion. The aura she felt doubled her shock.

She hadn't encountered his presence in ages. She had sealed him with his own magic. He should have remained trapped for eternity.

Yet here was his presence all over again.

She began to marshal her energiesif she had defeated him once she could defeat him again. At the moment when she was about to unleash the spell, the figure moved its face over the Water, and the Sorceress gasped.

It was a girl.

She was remarkably beautifuland thoroughly foreign. But her sapphire blue eyes and her aura of power were familiar enough to the Mistress of the Lake.

There was no mistaking it. The child in front of her was of Merlin's blood.


It had been ages since she'd last felt it, but Saber recognized it immediately: the surge of power that always foreshadowed the appearance of the Lady of the Lake.

The Sorceress stood on the waters, facing Rin, an unreadable expression on her face. Saber moved forward then, and it was only at that moment that the Lady registered her presence.

It stunned the Mistress of the Lake momentarily. Then she recovered herself and smiled.

"It seems there's no end to the day's surprises. Greetings, Arturia Pendragon. It's been a very, very long time."

Saber bowed briefly before the figure then returned the smile. "Greetings, Lady Viviane. It's good to see you again—more than I can possibly express."

The Lady turned to Rin.

"And you are?"

Rin bowed briefly. "Tohsaka Rin, Mage and...current guardian of Arturia. It's an honor to meet you, my Lady."

"And what brings the King and her Guardian to the Lake of Avalon?"

Saber replied, "The Sword, my Lady. I've returned to ask for the Sword once again."


"But why bring Excalibur back when it can remain lost in this time?"

They were seated in one of the Lady's meeting chambers, down in the depths of the Lake.

Rin shook her head, "We would leave it here, Lady Viviane, only our enemies may have Time Stones at their disposal as well. As rare as the fragments are, a number of them nonetheless exist. If the Council does not retrieve the Sword first, our enemies will."

The Lady nodded slowly, before glancing somberly at Saber.

"You know I would never refuse you the Sword. Excalibur is as much a part of you as Avalon is a part of me. But," she sighed then, "giving you the Sword now will have consequences for the Lake..." She remained quiet for several long moments, before finally looking at her guests yet again.

"Will you give me some time to consider how best to proceed?"

"Of course," Rin nodded emphatically. "While our mission is urgent, we can spare more than a few days."

"Good," the Lady smiled, "It's been quite a while since I've entertained visitors, and I'd like to make the most of this opportunity."

Chapter 16

Title: Chapter 15

She had spent the last three days speaking with the Land and speaking with the Water. She had never expected their opposition, but loved and respected them too much to act without their consent.

She had gone off to search for her guests, to inform them of her decision, when the sound of faraway laughter stopped her in her tracks.

The last time she had heard that silvery sound was when Arturia had been a child. There had been no enmity between her and Merlin then, and it had seemed possible to believe in a peace that required no sacrifice. In the end, they'd both been wrong and Arturia had become that sacrifice. She'd never heard Arturia's laughter again since then, and to atone for her guilt, the Sorceress had given the girl Excalibur.

It was in the same spirit of atonement that she'd granted Bedivere's wish years later to give Arturia another chance at life. That act of absolution had cost her dearly, for recalling the girl's Soul had expended Avalon's last great store of power. Now the Land and the Water were dying, and giving the Sword away, yet again, would only hasten their demise.

It had been a painful and difficult decision to make, but Viviane knew it was right. She and Merlin had refused to believe it at first in all those decades past, but the passing of Avalon and the passing of Camelot had always been Foretold. Their attempt to change the inevitable had only ultimately brought more grief and more tragedy, further sorrow and devastation. Death came to everything—to Kingdoms as well as Kings, and they had only misused their magic in attempting to alter Fate.

Avalon would pass away faster now, but at least its death would preserve another's existence—perhaps even the existence of the world itself.

Rousing herself from her reveries, the Sorceress moved on—toward the sound of that long unheard laughter. Through the doorway, she caught sight of Arturia and the girl who called herself Rin. The Mage was amusing Arturia with her antics on the fiddle, and the intimacy of their merriment made the Sorceress pause. After watching the pair for a few more moments, she shook her head and smiled.

Perhaps Bedivere's wish for Arturia's happiness had not been so vain after all.


She was communing with the Land and communing with the Water when the presence of the Sorceress made itself felt. She opened her eyes and bowed before the Lady. The older woman looked faintly amused.

"Have they answered all your questions?"

Rin blushed faintly. "They've been very kind and tremendously gracious. I'm constantly surprised by the warmth of their reception."

The Lady smiled enigmatically. "That's because you're no stranger to them." Before Rin could ask her to clarify what she meant, the Sorceress asked, "What are your intentions after you return to the future?"

Rin paused. "I have no instructions beyond bringing Excalibur back. But I trust that the Council has a plan in place."

The Sorceress looked amused once again. "I meant your intentions with regard to Arturia."

Rin blinked. "My intentions with regard to...Saber?" It had been a very long time since a question had caught her off guard. She felt herself blushing.

"My intention is..." she paused, then looked away. "My intention is to return her to Shirou, of course."

The Lady raised an eyebrow. "And who is this Shirou?"

"Shirou is Arturia's..." Rin tried to think of a medieval equivalent. "He's the man to whom Arturia is betrothed, in a manner of speaking."

The Lady looked skeptical. "The future must be a very strange place, if one can be betrothed—but only in a manner of speaking." She looked at Rin. "And what do you think of this Shirou? Is he a good match for Arturia?"

Rin blinked again. "It's not my place to say..."

The Lady raised the other eyebrow. "You are Arturia's Guardian, are you not? Where her happiness is concerned, it is precisely your place to say something."

Rin looked away again. Objectively speaking, she'd always thought there was much cause for friction between Shirou and Saber. Yet, as the days passed, she trusted her objectivity in the matter less and less. Rin took a deep breath and looked the Sorceress straight in the eye.

"Shirou is a courageous and honorable young man and I have no doubt of his love for Arturia. I can't imagine anyone else who would be as devoted to her...well-being as he would be."

The Lady slowly nodded, though she still looked faintly unconvinced. "Very well, then. I leave it to your judgment—as I leave it to Arturia's." Then she shook her head crossly at herself before smiling at Rin. "But forgive my meddling. It's the love of a surrogate mother for a long-absent child."

"There's nothing to forgive," Rin smiled back. With a hint of sadness, she added, "A mother's interference is a wonderful thing. Arturia is very lucky to have yours."

It was the Lady's turn to look sad. "Perhaps now, she is. I can only hope." Then turning to Rin once again, she smiled slightly. "I have to leave now to attend to some things, but I'm very glad to have had this chance to speak with you, Mage Rin. It's reminded me of...very old times with someone who was once a dear friend." Then with a gracious nod, the Lady left—leaving Rin to brood over the many things she'd so mysteriously said.

Chapter 17

Title: Chapter 16

She'd been practicing with the Sword for hours—oblivious to the passage of time, oblivious to almost everything but the quiet happiness of being finally reunited with Excalibur. Viviane had given it back to her days ago, but had needed more time to Unbind the Sword from both the Land and the Lake.

She hadn't realized how much of her soul had lain within the Sword. The mere touch of it had restored a vitality she hadn't even realized was missing.

She'd spent almost every waking moment since then in practice. Not that she'd had too much choice, for in the last few days, Rin had been conspicuously absent. She was in the middle of a complicated maneuver when a voice rang out.

"There's a certain look you have about you when you're practicing with Excalibur."

Saber terminated her motions gracefully and turned to find the Mage leaning against the doorway. There was a slight smile on the raven-haired beauty's lips.

"Well, you have a certain look about you when you're practicing your magic," Saber replied evenly, though she smiled as she said it. The Mage had spent the last few days shadowing Viviane closely, learning as much as she could of the Sorceress's magic. It had unsettled Saber to realize that she felt slightly jealous of the intimacy that had so rapidly developed between the Lady and Rin.

The Mage uncrossed her arms then and walked toward Saber. "Care for a friendly match? It can't be too much fun to practice without a partner."

Saber smiled and nodded. In response, the Mage drew her staff. The gleam of the wood told Saber that the rod had been Reinforced. How successfully it would hold against Excalibur remained to be seen.

Within seconds of the fight, Saber knew that she was battling against an extremely skilled opponent. There was a graceful economy to the Mage's movements—she was quick, agile and surprisingly strong. Saber narrowed her eyes. It had been a long time since she'd faced an interesting challenge.

She had no idea how long their combat lasted. It seemed that time had slowed and space had contracted, so that in the end, there was nothing but the play of Sword against Staff, each blow precisely aimed and just as solidly deflected. There was no room even to think, and the dance went on...and on...and on....

And then, suddenly, in a moment that lasted less than a second, Saber saw the tiniest of openings—and lunged. In that briefest of instants, the Mage readjusted her strike, and blade met grain in a startling explosion of blinding light.

When Saber could see again, she found that Excalibur had sliced Rin's staff cleanly in two, and that its tip pressed lightly against the base of the Mage's throat.

"Do you yield?" Saber asked huskily, breathing heavily from her exertions.

Rin, who was breathing just as heavily, looked into Saber's eyes and murmured: "Gladly." The way the Mage said it and the glitter in her sapphire eyes made Saber's heart beat even faster. At that moment, she wasn't sure any longer who was yielding to whom. She felt her cheeks redden and turned away abruptly.

In a slightly unsteady voice, and still looking away from the Mage, she said, "You're a formidable opponent."

"I'll take that as the highest of acknowledgments," Rin replied. Turning around, Saber saw the Mage rejoin the two halves of her staff. "The Unbinding must have already begun for Excalibur to have pierced my magic. It's either that or..."

Without warning, Rin reached out and placed her palm on the bare flesh underneath Saber's throat. The electricity of the Mage's touch caused Saber to gasp. She didn't understand how she knew, but she could tell that the Mage's hand lingered on her chest just the slightest bit longer than necessary.

"Or," Rin continued, "the Sword is drawing directly from your mana." The Mage looked appraisingly at Saber then. "It's just as Lady Viviane said—Excalibur really is a part of you."

"So does that mean that the Unbinding hasn't begun then?" Saber asked.

Rin hesitated, and Saber thought she saw a look of sadness pass across the Mage's face. "It probably has, but the ties are...strong, and there are many." She paused and looked thoughtfully into the distance then. "I should go and assist Lady Viviane again. I doubt she's rested since I left her." Then with the briefest of nods, the Mage turned abruptly and left—leaving Saber to feel the now familiar ache of inappropriate envy and unavoidable guilt.


She knew, without having to use her magic, where Arturia would be. Even as a child, the blonde had gravitated towards the northern edge of the Lake, where the waters were particularly still and perfectly reflected the starry skies in all their resplendent glory.

She sat on the bank, her knees drawn up, her chin resting on her hands, Excalibur gleaming in the dark beside her. For a moment, Viviane saw the seven-year-old girl-child who had clung to her for days on end—and felt a rush of nostalgia as keen as a blade through her chest. She had to compose herself before she could move on.

She was a few feet away when the figure spoke.

"I didn't realize it then, but the days I spent in Avalon were the happiest days of my life."

Viviane smiled. "They were the happiest days of my life too." She chuckled then. "But I have a right to sound nostalgic—I'm an old woman after all, for all that I don't look like one. You, on the other hand, I'd say your life is just beginning."

"I suppose," Arturia murmured. From the tone of her voice, Viviane could tell that she was smiling.

"So are you happy in the future, Arturia?" The Sorceress settled herself in the grass next to the blonde.

"I'm happy...where I am now," the blonde replied quietly.

The Sorceress remained quiet for a few moments. It had never been her way to interfere—never her way to intrude directly and intervene boldly. That had been Merlin's way, and it had been one of the many reasons behind their ultimately irreconcilable conflict. But she was old now, and there was so little time remaining, and so much love she felt for the blonde and green-eyed child beside her...

"Would the source of that happiness happen to be a black-haired Mage with stunning blue eyes?" she finally asked mildly.

Arturia blushed so deeply then that Viviane could see it even in the dark. "Rin...? Rin makes me...happy...As do all my other friends."

Viviane chuckled silently. "And would there be other sources of happiness in your future, besides your friends?"

The blonde hesitated. "There's a young man...His name is Emiya Shirou."

Viviane smiled. "Do you love him?"

Arturia hesitated yet again. "I do love him..."

"And...?" Viviane prodded gently.

"I love him...And, yet, at times, it feels very much like what I felt for Lancelot, and Gawain, and Bedivere..."

"It feels the same, Arturia, because what you felt for the Knights of the Round Table was love. Only it was a love made distant by the necessary formality between a Knight and his King."

The blonde shook her head. "I always thought love was love. It never occurred to me that there would be different kinds."

Viviane sighed. "Merlin and I never gave you a chance to learn. You were still a child when you were made King. But yes, there are different kinds of love, and much suffering comes from confusing or expecting one kind from another."

"But even in those cases, duty still exists, doesn't it? Even when the love is...different, we can still be bound by duty to remain."

"We can always be bound by duty, but a love that lives purely as obligation can hardly be called love at all. Perhaps, in the end," Viviane added a little sadly, "our sense of obligation toward Britain killed the love we first felt for the land."

The blonde nodded slowly. Her voice was soft when she spoke. "I think I know what you mean. But's difficult to tell what's right and what's wrong, where duty ends and where love begins..."

The Sorceress sighed wistfully. "That it is, my child. That, it is."

They lapsed into silence then—and remained that way until the twinkling stars in the water began to give way to the gleaming rays of the sun.

Chapter 18

Title: Chapter 17

"You can decipher it, can't you?"

Rin looked up from where she'd been observing the Unbinding and saw the Lady peering intently at her. She hesitated briefly.

"It's different from any kind of magic I've seen before, and it's been mostly opaque to me these last few days. But, yes, I think I'm beginning to read it now."

The Sorceress nodded. "It's True Magic, child. And if you can read it, then you have the Gift for it as well."

Rin shook her head firmly. "Impossible. In my world, only fragments of True Magic remain—no one exists with the capacity to generate it anymore."

"It's in your blood, child, and your blood's beginning to awaken." The Lady looked at her again for a long moment. "Are you aware of your lineage, Mage Rin?"

Rin nodded. "I come from a long line of distinguished mages. The Tohsakas have practiced magic for generations and we've continuously expanded our capabilities and refined our techniques."

"I see," the Lady smiled. "In any case," she sighed, "that was the last of the Seals holding Excalibur to Avalon. When it fully vanishes, you and Arturia will be able to leave."

Rin nodded and rose to her feet. She was surprised by the pang of disappointment that lanced through her chest. Over the last few days, she had grown considerably attached to the older woman. For some reason, she reminded Rin of the Council Master.

"I should tell Arturia then," she told the Sorceress. "I think she'll want as much time as possible to say her goodbyes."

"True enough," the Lady conceded, "though by taking the Sword, she's taking Avalon's soul with her. Meaning—there's far less for her to say goodbye to than there was when you first arrived."

Rin smiled. "I think that'll comfort her immensely." She was already at the doorway when the Sorceress called her back.

"Mage Rin?"

"Yes, my Lady?"

"If Arturia needs additional comforting," the Sorceress said with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, "I'm sure that it's something within the bounds of your ‘capabilities' and ‘techniques' to provide."

It took a long time after she'd left for the flush on her cheeks to vanish. "She definitely reminds me of the Council Master," Rin muttered. Then she shook her head and hastened her search for Saber. The time to return to the future had finally come.


She was on the balcony, looking at the constellations above the Lake for the final time, when a quiet voice interrupted her thoughts.

"You know, when the Council sent me on this mission, I never expected that its most difficult task would be finding the will to return."

Saber turned to look at the raven-haired girl who had joined her at the railing. The wistfulness of the Mage's admission was surprising—and touching. Saber smiled.

"You feel at home here, don't you?"

"I do," Rin admitted. "Though I can't explain why or how. And if it's hard for me, a stranger, how much harder should it be for you?"

Saber only smiled in response, though the tearing sensation in her chest had hardly abated since Rin had first told her that they could now leave. They spent a few moments in companionable silence before the Mage spoke again.

"Anyway, Lady Viviane gave us both a parting gift." She withdrew to their room and returned a few moments later with a flagon and two goblets.

Saber recognized the liquid immediately and laughed. "The apple cider of Avalon...I haven't had any since I was a child."

"Legend has it that it has miraculous properties," Rin nodded with a smile. "Though, come to think of it, the legends tend to ascribe miraculous properties to anything that comes from Avalon."

"It was always very good," Saber conceded. "Avalon is the Isle of Apples after all. And," she added with a wistful smile, "all the times I had it were happy times, when there was just me, Viviane and Merlin..."

Rin smiled gently and handed her a glass. "Well, here's to one more memory then."

They must have sat there on the balcony for over an hour, slowly consuming the flagon's contents, when the Mage spoke again.

"Is it just me and my lack of tolerance, or is the cider here particularly strong?"

Saber shook her head and smiled. "No...It is much stronger than I remember it to be." She looked at the Mage then, and without quite realizing what she was doing, reached out and ran a thumb over the raven-haired beauty's lips.

"So soft..." she whispered.

Then without quite knowing how it happened, they were suddenly in each other's arms, and it shocked Saber to realize how badly she'd wanted it to happen. She didn't understand where the sudden, blinding, desperate need had come from and why she only felt it in the Mage's presence. She was drowning in a sea of sensations and her only coherent thought was the urge to touch Rin's flesh.

Looking up, she could see her own confusion mirrored in the Mage's sapphire eyes; see her bewilderment—and her desire. She watched Rin raise a slender hand and place it on the collar of her dress. That hand, always so firm and steady, trembled. Those eyes, always so firm and commanding, asked her a question.

Saber responded by dropping her cloak. She had no need of its warmth for the rest of that cold British night.

Chapter 19

Title: Chapter 18

She dreamt of the forbidden. In her dream, she smelt the scent of forbidden desire, tasted the tang of forbidden flesh, heard the moans of a forbidden delight. She had tried so hard to resist it—had tried to resist the enchantments of a blonde-and-green-eyed angel. She was a Mage, perhaps the greatest to emerge in recent times. In her, the potency of blood had only ever been actualized by duty. And she was violating duty now, by loving one who belonged to another.

But there were no duties in dreams, were there? No duties, no loyalties, no ties that bound—and love could be expressed as freely and nakedly as raw desire.

In dreams, only desire mattered. Not the obligations that prevented its expression, or the inexperience that hindered its caresses. In dreams, desire made the annulment of obligation an excitement and the overcoming of inexperience an adventure.

In dreams, she could kiss Saber as she was doing now, undress her as she was doing now, run trembling hands over her bare flanks as she was doing now, suckle her exquisite breasts as she was doing now...and inhale and taste the secret pleasures between her legs as she was doing now.

And in dreams, Saber could kiss her back as she was doing now, moan in her ear as she was doing now, dig nails into her back as she was doing now, press her face against her trembling core as she was doing now...and shudder and cry her name as she was doing now.

And, finally, in dreams, one could do what the other had done, and both could repeat what both had done, and repeat it for as many times as desire required.

But only in dreams.


She found them just as the twinkling stars in the sky had begun to give way to the gleaming rays of the sun.

They lay entwined, the raven-haired girl's arms wrapped protectivelyand possessivelyaround the blonde.

Viviane smiled, though her pleasure was tinged by shame and regret. In the end, she had become just as interfering as Merlin. Perhaps this was his revengeallowing her to live long enough to commit the mistakes she'd punished him for.  

It had been her parting gift to them: to the golden-haired child she considered as her own; to the raven-haired child who was of Merlin's blood. Her feelings toward the latter had been the most surprising of all—for she found that she could entrust Arturia's happiness to Rin's hands. Over the last few days, she had grown to love the Mage, for she combined Merlin's power and ingenuity with her own strength and integrity. She knew, for instance, that it was Rin's sense of duty that prevented her from expressing her love for Arturia—in the same way that Arturia's sense of duty prevented her from expressing her love for Rin.

Knowing the characters of both, she knew that unless she intervened, the two girls' sense of duty was far likelier to win over their instinct for happiness. So she had done something to even the scales somewhat.

But because she was who she was, and not Merlin, her interference had remained a cautious one. The potion she had mixed with the cider was the same used by all the Sorceresses of Avalon prior to consulting an Oracle. It was designed to lower the inhibitions that restricted the free play of the subconscious—while also suppressing memories of the subsequent impulses if they proved too threatening to the conscious mind. In short, it was designed to provide a temporary psychic bubble for Sorceresses to safely conduct clairvoyant activities. And in this case, she had used it to create a temporary psychic bubble for Arturia and Rin to express their feelings toward each other.

Viviane doubted though that their conscious minds were ready to accept what had been so blatantly obvious to her. And so, they would wake up without remembering what had happened. Her final gift would be to return them to their respective beds in their respective clothes so that they would never have to remember.

In her heart of hearts though, she hoped that they would.


She hadn't realized how much the final moment of departure would hurt her—hadn't realized how much she'd wanted to stay with the Land, the Water, and the Mistress of both.

She and Rin were already in the Circle, the Sorceress standing a short distance away, all the goodbyes having been said the evening before. She had woken up that morning with a vague sensation of having...forgotten something, but that concern had been quickly replaced by the mounting anxiety of impending separation.

She wavered.

Then ignoring the wall that had been erected by a crown from ages past, Saber ran towards the woman who had been the only mother she'd ever known—and clung to her tightly.

"Come with us, Viviane," she whispered fiercely into the Sorceress' shoulder. "With your power and Rin's, we can take you back with us."

Viviane smiled through the film in her eyes. "I cannot leave Avalon, Arturia. At least, not yet. At least, not now." Then tilting Saber's face upward, she wiped the tears in the emerald eyes. "There's no need to weep, my child. There will never be goodbyes between us." She looked searchingly into Saber's face then. "But promise me one thing, Arturia."


"Promise me you'll be happy. Promise me you'll find the happiness Merlin and I denied you."

"You and Merlin didn't deny me anything." Saber replied softly. "You have to believe me when I say that."

Viviane hesitated, then finally smiled and nodded. "I believe you. But do you promise?"

It was Saber's turn to hesitate. "I promise. I don't know how, but I will do my be happy."

The Sorceress nodded and smiled again. "Alright then."

And when Saber was finally back in the Circle, and Rin held the last of the Time Stones in her hand, the Sorceress waved one final time.

"Heaven bless you, my children. Fare you well and may the future bring you joy."

Then the Stone flared white—and Saber and the Sword disappeared from Avalon for the final time.

Chapter 20

Title: Chapter 19

Thirty months after the end of the Fifth Holy Grail War...

He dreamt of meadows. In his dream, he felt the thunder of horses' hooves, smelt the fragrance of grass and hay, heard the silvery laugh of a blond and green-eyed child. He had loved that child—had raised and molded her as he would his own. But he had given her away, as the necessary sacrifice to a land that demanded only the noblest blood. She had become a king, perhaps the greatest of all. Somewhere in the distance, a door opened—

"My Lord."

The old man opened his eyes.

"Yes, Novice Master?"

"Novice Rin has returnedwith Arturia and the Sword."

The old man nodded.

"Very well, then, Novice Master. You may proceed as planned."

"Thank you, my Lord." The Novice Master bowed briefly and left.

Alone in his room, the old man smiled slightly.

"And now," he murmured to himself, "the real battle begins."


"Well done, Novice Rin. You may submit your report tomorrow."  

Rin bowed briefly before the Novice Master. "Thank you, my Lord."

She and Saber were in the Council Meeting Room, having been escorted there directly upon their arrival. After a brief moment of hesitation, she asked, "If you don't mind my asking, Novice Master, what does the Council intend to do with the Sword?"

The Novice Master smiled coldly. "We intend to Banish it, Novice Rin. To other Dimensions where it can never harm us again."

Rin gasped. In the corner of her eye, she saw Saber go pale.

"You cannot Banish Excalibur," the blonde spoke calmly but emphatically. "Its fate is not for you or your Council to decide."

"We can neither afford nor indulge your sentimentality, Arturia Pendragon. The fate of the world is at stake. You, of all people, should know that sacrifices are always necessary."

The blonde shook her head. "Some sacrifices are unnecessary. As long as Excalibur is with me, it cannot fall into the wrong hands."

"We cannot take your word for that, unfortunately. The Council operates by removing riskand Excalibur presents a risk on an unimaginable scale."

Saber continued to shake her head. "You cannot have Excalibur."

The Novice Master raised an eyebrow. "As much as it grieves me to do this, I will have to ask our Guards to remove Excalibur from your person."

Before anyone in the room could move, Saber unsheathed the Sword.

The Novice Master raised the other eyebrow. Then he smiled.

"Novice Rin," he said, almost lazily, "would you be so kind as to remove the Sword from our guest?"

Rin froze. The Council's revelation of its intentions had been shocking enough, and now there was this absurd command.

"Novice Rin?" There was steel in the Novice Master's voice this time.

Rin turned numbly towards Saber. She had never imagined it would come to this.

"Rin..." the blonde said beseechingly. The imploring look in the emerald eyes sent a dagger through the Mage's heart.

Duty. All her life, she had bound herself to duty.

Ignoring the splintering feeling in her chest, Mage Tohsaka Rin extended her hand and addressed the blonde figure before her:

"Arturia Pendragon, in the name of the Council of Mages, I ask you to surrender the Sword Excalibur."

It was only after Saber had given her the Swordonly after the look of mute entreaty in the emerald eyes had changed into a look of wounded betrayalthat Rin realized, for the first time in her life, that magic could also sicken her.

Chapter 21

Title: Chapter 20

She lay in bed, curled on one side. In her outstretched hand, she imagined the grip of an absent Sword.

It had been two days since she had surrendered Excalibur.

Tomorrow, they would exile part of her soul to another dimension—to a world beyond the reach of hers. Knowing now how closely linked she was to the Sword, the mere thought of its Banishment filled her with nauseating despair.

And yet, she couldn't bring herself to hate Rin.

She remembered the pain and the grief on the Mage's face when she had asked for the Sword.

In Rin's place, she would have done the same.

Duty. In all her lives, she had bound herself to duty. How could she expect the Mage to act otherwise?

But it had hurt nonetheless—with an intensity that had taken her entirely by surprise. Where, indeed, did duty end and love begin?

Saber sighed. In a single day, it seemed, she'd lost not just her soul—but also her heart.


He had come as fast as he could. As soon as he had put down the phone, he had left almost immediately for the airport and booked the first flight to London.

Rin had reassured him during the call that Saber was fine—that their mission had been a success. But the composure he'd come to take for granted from the Mage had seemed absent. She'd sounded terse and preoccupied and that had bothered Shirou.

His concerns intensified when he finally saw the Mage. Rin looked as lovely as ever, but it was also the first time he had ever seen her look tired.

He hugged her—and was surprised by how tightly she returned the embrace. She stepped back and gazed at him for a long time. "What?" he finally asked her, discomfited by her stare.

"Nothing," the Mage said, shaking her head with a smile. "I thought of asking you something, but I realized that I already knew what your answer would be."

 "I'm not that predictable," he grumbled, though he was pleased to see that some of the Mage's tension had gone.

"So Saber is alright?" he asked her as they drove through the London traffic.

"She's fine," Rin assured him, "though...I won't say she's in high spirits."

Shirou shot her a questioning look. The Mage sighed. "The Council has taken Excalibur away from her. And tomorrow...they'll send it to another dimension—to another world—beyond the reach of ours."

"But why?" he asked her, bewildered.

"For the same reason your father asked Saber to destroy the Grail in the Fourth Holy Grail War," the Mage replied quietly.

 Shirou paused. "Oh..." He looked out the window then, at a loss for words. More than a decade ago, his father, Emiya Kiritsugu, had ordered Saber to destroy the Grail to ultimately keep humanity safe. He couldn't judge the Council now for sharing the same intentions.

"It doesn't get any easier, does it?" he finally said to the Mage.

Rin sighed. "No, it doesn't. And especially not for Saber, it seems."

They drove the rest of the way to the Council's headquarters in silence.


She was in the garden when he made his presence felt.


She whirled around then, and the sight of Shirou's gentle and kindly face, unseen for so many weeks, pierced the tenuous resolve that barely kept her composure together.

He held her for a long time.

"It will be fine, Saber," he whispered into her hair. "We can build a life together without the Sword."

She stepped back and looked at him then, and in that very moment, Rin entered.

She hadn't seen the Mage since she had given away Excalibur. For a long, heart-stopping moment, their gazes locked.

Rin was the first to look away. "My apologies for...intruding. I'll talk to you later, Shirou."

And even as she stood there in Shirou's arms, Saber felt a desperate urge to run after the Mage. For the expression on the raven-haired beauty's face then, on seeing her and Shirou together, had been a look of agonizing pain.

Chapter 22

Title: Chapter 21

"...and I, Keeper of the Second Seal, order this Seal Unfastened..."

She was in the depths of the Council's headquarters, deep in the heart of subterranean London. All the members of the Council's Ruling Body were assembled, though hoods and cloaks masked the identity of each one.

In the entire history of the Council, the Rite they were enacting had only been performed a handful of times. And despite her personal misgivings, Rin couldn't help feeling a professional excitement.

Few members of the Council had ever seen the Gate being opened. Like the Key that unlocked it, it was an Artifact from the time of True Magic—a portal created to span the Dimensions. Legend had it that Seven Gates once existed, each created for the personal use of the Great Wizards of bygone times. But in the current age, only a single Gate remained, and simply opening it required the concentrated efforts of the entire Council's Ruling Body. Merely retrieving the Key required the opening of seven Seals: each Seal required a different Elder and the assignment of an Elder was changed frequently, randomly, and in complete secrecy.

In short, it was highly unlikely that Rin would ever get to see the Gate opened again in her lifetime—and even this occasion was an extremely rare and privileged occurrence.

They were nearly done with all the Seals now. In the distance, Rin could see the Key beginning to Materialize.

Once the Key was Activated, the Gate would open, and the Novice Master could then send Excalibur to another Dimension. Force was needed, however, to pass the Sword through the Portal, for the Dimensions tended to resist what was not theirs; and the greater the mana in the object, the greater the resistance. Hence, to simply carry out this operation, the Council had to expend an amount of energy that could only be described as colossal.

Already, Rin could feel the strain caused by the amount of magic coursing through her body. She and the rest of the Ruling Body were the conduits for the magic needed to retrieve the Key, activate the Gate, and later, send Excalibur through the Portal. As the ritual continued, however, her excitement abated and she found her mind straying from the task at hand.

It turned, instead, to the dilemma that had occupied her for the last two days.

Where, she had asked herself, for two agonizing days, did duty end and something else (which she refused to name) begin?

She had bound herself to duty all her life. She had sworn her allegiance, first, to her family; later on, to the Council. She had always, always sacrificed fulfilling her desires to honor her obligations. In the face of her personal doubts and individual misgivings, she had continually conceded to the communal experience and the collective wisdom.

Yet, for some reason, it had been easier to ignore her heart than it had been to ignore the imploring look in a pair of emerald eyes.

Once again, indecision clawed at her. She had told herself, time and again, over the last two days, that the safety of the world depended on the elimination of Excalibur. Even Shirou's father had obeyed the same logic.

Why, then, couldn't she maintain her resolve?

The Novice Master's voice interrupted her thoughts.

They had activated the Key.

They had opened the Gate.

Excalibur lay in the Novice Master's hands. Already he was chanting the Incantation needed to propel the Sword through the Portal. The quiet whispering in the room began to swell into an urgent murmur. Strobes of light began to flash along the length of the Blade. The smooth surface of the Gate began to ripple.

Only moments remained before the Novice Master would thrust the Sword into another Dimension.

Rin closed her eyes.

She remembered the look of desperate anguish on Saber's face.

She remembered the sound of her silvery laughter.

Rin made her decision.

She had never created the Spell in her mind. She had only seen it once, and only faintly too. 

She didn't even know if she could cast it.

But there was no time left for indecision; no time left for doubt and hesitation.

Plunging down into the depths of a self that she had never plumbed, Mage Tohsaka Rin traced a Spell—in the exact same moment that the Novice Master thrust the Sword.

In that instant, Blade met Gate and the world turned white.


She wouldn't remember until after a long time what exactly she'd done, but knew from the Novice Master's immediate fury that whatever she'd done had worked.

The Sword had failed to penetrate the Gate.

"Increase your energies!" he ordered the assembled Mages furiously.

They made four more attempts using progressively higher levels of magic until a mild voice spoke from the back of the room.

"We must stop, Novice Master. The Rite has been sabotaged."

The Novice Master stopped in his tracks. The Mages turned toward the source of the voice—and immediately began to make way for the old man advancing towards the Gate.

"Sabotaged, my Lord?" the Novice Master's voice was dangerously calm.

The Council Master nodded. Taking Excalibur from the Novice Master's hands, he turned toward the assembly and cast a spell over the Sword. Almost immediately, they saw gold filaments wrapped around the Blade and trailing off into thin air.

"Excalibur has been Bound," the Council Master stated simply. "To what or to whom has yet to be determined, but it cannot leave this Dimension without the object to which it has been Fastened."

"But how could we have failed to detect this magic?" the Novice Master raged. "How can this entire Council have failed to perceive this enchantment?"

"Because none of us are accustomed any longer to this particular form of it," the Council Master stated mildly. "But if we look closely enough, I daresay some of us can see it."

After a few moments of intense concentration, an Elder in the front ranks spoke. "I can see it. The threads...haven't stabilized yet."

"Which means," the Novice Master interrupted, with narrowed eyes, "that the Spell has only just been cast. And," he looked out toward the assembly then, "that the culprit is amongst us."

"The filaments should still be on the caster's hands," the same Elder spoke. "We need only find who amongst us has them."

A firm voice rang out. "I have them."

By this time, Rin had shouldered herself to the front of the assembly. "I cast the Spell of Binding. I sabotaged the Rite." She looked straight at the Novice Master. She couldn't bear to look at the Council Master just yet and see his reaction to her betrayal.

The Novice Master was furious. "Mage Tohsaka Rin, you are stripped of your position as a Member of the Ruling Body and all the rights and privileges that accompany being a Member of the Council of Mages. You are forthwith under arrest, and subject to punishment pending investigation of your actions."

It was only when the guards were leading her away that Rin realized the other implication of what she'd done.

She had actually, against all expectations, cast a spell of True Magic.

"Lady Viviane would have been proud," she murmured with a sigh. Somehow, the thought gave her a small measure of comfort.

Chapter 23

Title: Chapter 22

He dreamt of apples. In his dream, he smelt the fragrance of land and lake, heard the lap of gentle waves, felt the gaze of an auburn-haired and green-eyed temptress. He had loved that woman—had loved and adored her in equal measure. But she had turned against him, wracked by guilt over the sacrifice they had made to a land that demanded only the noblest blood. She had been a Sorceress, perhaps the greatest of all. Somewhere in the distance, a door opened—

The Council Master opened his eyes.

The enemy had arrivedand he was alone.

The Council Master briefly wondered if this displayed arrogance on the enemy's partthen concluded that even if it did, it was merited. His opponent's plan had been an audacious one after all, and the Council Master respected boldness and originality even when they served interests contrary to his.

He had been surprised by how things had turned out though. He had not expected Rin to grasp True Magic so easily. He suspected he knew the source of the Spell of Binding she had used (its overall design had been familiar), but its final configuration was an invention of Rin's own.

He had succeeded in Unfastening the Spell though, and it was for that reason that the enemy had arrived.

Moving silently, he approached the door to the chamber where the Sword was keptand opened it at the exact moment that the thief was about to remove the Seals.

The Council Master spoke quietly. "Good evening, Novice Master. I see that I've arrived just in time."


He knew he had miscalculated when he saw the expectant look on the Council Master's face.

"How long have you known?" he asked through gritted teeth.

The Council Master waved a dismissive hand. "It wasn't a lack of cunning on your part. I simply happen to have that very rare gift for Reading. I didn't have proof though, which is why it's taken me this long to spring the trap."

"If you know so much then," the Novice Master coldly replied, "then you also know why I'm doing this."

"I know why you're doing itand I even understand," the Council Master replied simply. "The temptation to use power ‘to set the world aright' has existed for as long as power itself."

"If you understood that temptation, you would have given in to it!"

"I have," the Council Master replied, his blue eyes suddenly flashing, "I have used itand I've seen it fail time and again. Force and violence will never succeed in setting the world to right."

"Just because you failed doesn't mean others will," the Novice Master responded contemptuously. "The way this Council uses magic is a farce! Magic is meant for nobler goals and bolder purposes."

"Such as annihilating the world just so you can create it again newly?" the Council Master asked mildly.

"If that's what it takes, then yes," the Novice Master replied.

"That settles it then," the Council Master sighed. "I'd hoped we could find a way to reconcile our views, but it seems you're set on yours and I'm set on mine. Which means," the Council Master straightened his posture then, "that I'll have to stop you."

The Novice Master hesitated. The Council Master was elderly, but he'd heard enough and seen enough of the old man's powers to risk a direct confrontation. There was also no way he could seize the Sword and run, since he hadn't had the chance to unfasten its Seals.

But there was no way he was going to give up now. Not after all the time and effort and blood he had expended.

Then an idea occurred to him. It wasn't what he'd planned, but it was better than nothing.

"You can keep the Sword then," he sneered at the Council Maser, "but only for now. I'll be backsome other time and some other place."

With that, he unleashed a Spell of Obliterationand the entire chamber blazed white.

Chapter 24

Title: Chapter 23

She was in her cell, castigating herself in her thoughts, when a familiar voice interrupted her reveries.

"Is your ambition so great that being removed from the Council disturbs you so much?"

She sat up then and faced the Council Master. The expression on the old man's face was unreadable. She looked away.

"I hold nothing against my punishment. In fact, the Council has been far more forgiving than I would have been."

"What is it that dismays you then?"

"How can you ask that?" Rin asked incredulously. "I've just betrayed the Council! I've just betrayed you!"

The Council Master sighed and seated himself across her. "What exactly is it that you've betrayed?"

Rin looked away. "My duty. I acted against the collective wisdom of the Council to honor a personal impulse. I may have jeopardized the entire world by my actions."

"And, pray tell, what was the...personal impulse that caused you to betray the collective wisdom?"

Rin hesitated. When she spoke, her voice was soft. "The thought that perhaps the Council was wrong...The thought that if we sacrifice the happiness of one to protect the world, we have lost the world already."

The Council Master smiled gently. "There is wisdom in what you say, Novice Rin. After all, if we cannot care so deeply for one member of humanity, what makes us think we can care for all?"

" is not our privilege to place one above the rest. And there are times when sacrifices have to be made, especially when duty demands it."

"Ah yes, the necessity of sacrifice and the requirements of duty..." the Council Master chuckled, but there was a note of sadness in the sound. "You and Arturia are so much alike..." he mused with a faraway look in his eyes. "Always, always, it's about duty. Yet I wonder if both of you simply use your responsibilities as a means of shielding yourselves."

For the first time since she had known him, Rin felt anger towards the old man. "How can a duty such as mine possibly be a shield? And what on earth would I be protecting myself from???"

"From the risk and inconvenience of love, Novice Rin."

The quiet matter-of-factness of the statement drew Rin short. She looked at the Council Master's face and knew in that moment that he understood everything.

"I cannot love her..." she said softly, looking away. "She belongs to another, in the same way that I belong to the Council." She looked at the Council Master then, the pain evident in eyes the same shade of blue as his.

The Council Master shook his head. "There is a line where duty ends and love begins. You need to find out for yourself where that line is, Novice Rin. There is only so much I can teach you—and only so much I can protect you from."

"I know." Rin hesitated, then reached out and held the Council Master's hands in both of hers. "And I am grateful, for everything."

He smiled and squeezed her hands in return. "There's something else I came to tell you."

She looked at him expectantly.

"The mastermind behind the efforts to collect the Grail War Weapons including Excalibur was the Novice Master."

She was about to interrupt him with her shocked questions when he raised a hand to silence her.

"I've suspected him for some time but never had any proof. In any case, his intention was to use the Council's resources to obtain Excalibur, and once it was brought back from the past, to smuggle it to another location while supposedly ‘Banishing' it to another Dimension. He actually created a fake portal within the Gate, and Excalibur was supposed to have gone through that portal. I could have sprung my trap then, only," and here the Council Master chuckled, "someone had the audacity to Bind the Sword. In any case," he continued, "after I told the Novice Master that I'd annulled the spell, he tried to steal the Sword again knowing that his fake portal wouldn't stay open much longer. If anyone had confronted him about it, he would have simply justified it by saying that the Sword needed to be eliminated as quickly as possible. Of course, I was waiting for him by then so he didn't get to take Excalibur."

"So what will the Council do with him now?"

The Council Master sighed. "Well, at this moment, nothing. The crafty bastard managed to get away from me—and the worst part is he stole the Key to the Gate and escaped to another Dimension."

Rin paled. "He has the Key???"

The Council Master nodded gravely. "The additional bad news is that with that Key, he can theoretically open other Gates in other Dimensions. The good news, on the other hand, is that a Gate stays open for at least three days—which gives us enough time to send someone to pursue him."

Rin frowned. "Who are we sending?"

The Council Master sighed again. "We're sending you, Novice Rin. As punishment for insubordination, you have been sentenced to pursue the Novice Master across the Dimensions. If you fail to follow him as he passes from world to world, not only will the existence of this world be at stake, but you will be trapped in that particular world as well. The only way to ensure the safety of the world—and the only way for you to return—will be to defeat the Novice Master and take the Key back from him."

She was silent for a long moment. When she finally spoke, it was in a quiet voice.

"As far as duty is concerned, I know I don't have a choice." She looked at the Council Master then. "But this mission is one from which I may never return. And given...what's at stake, I just want to ask you if you think I have a chance."

The Council Master smiled and put his hand on her cheek then. "As the first mage in centuries who has managed to cast a spell of True Magic, I think you know the answer to that, Novice Rin." Then looking her sternly in the eye, he added. "You come from a long and distinguished line of magicians—much longer and much more distinguished than you even suspect. You are the strongest of your blood to emerge so far, and if the Council's motivation in sending you was punishment, my motivation in sending you was trust. You are the only one I can rely on to succeed in this. No one else has the ability to do it."

After a long moment, Rin smiled—though there was a tinge of sadness in her smile.

"It makes me happy to hear that you've placed so much trust in me. And perhaps it's all for the best really...all for the best that I go somewhere far away for a possibly long time..." When she looked at the Council Master again, there were tears in her eyes. "Forgive me, my Lord, but would you allow me a few moments of solitude?"

It was only after she couldn't hear his footsteps anymore that Rin allowed the tears to fall.

Chapter 25

Title: Chapter 24

He was dreaming, as always, when he felt her presence in the room.

He opened his eyes, and for a few brief moments, watched doubt and uncertainty flicker across her face.

Then recognition dawned.


She had thrown herself at him before he'd had the chance to respond.

"It's good to see you too, Arturia," the Council Master chuckled. For all that he kept his voice light though, there were tears in his eyes.

She hugged him fiercely, then stepped back and looked at him with searching eyes.

"It is you. I thought that you had died. I thought that you'd been dead all these centuries."

"You have such little faith," he chuckled. He looked at her then and shook his head. "You haven't changed a bit in all this time, while I've grown to be an old man."

"You were always an old man."

He smiled. "You haven't teased me like that since you were a child."

She looked at him then for a long, serious moment.

"She's one of your progeny, isn't she?"

"One of a few, but perhaps the strongest to emerge so far."

Saber shook her head. "It took me quite a long time to realize it. Does she know?"

The Council Master paused thoughtfully. "I suspect she does, deep down. In any case," he said, seating himself, "I summoned you here to tell you a few things."

She looked at him expectantly.

"First of all, Excalibur is safe—and here, in this world."

The look of relief on her face was almost painful to watch. "But how...?"

"Novice Rin Bound the Sword to you," he replied simply. "Without you, there was no way it could enter the Gate."

"Rin...Bound the Sword?" Saber frowned. "But I thought the Council's intention was to Banish Excalibur."

"That was the Council's intention. Novice Rin acted against it."

Saber looked stunned. "Rin would never act against her duty..."

"Well, she never used to," the Council Master replied mildly, though he observed Saber's reactions with interest. "In any case, the entire ritual was merely designed to trap the mastermind behind the collection of the Grail War Weapons. While I succeeded in saving Excalibur, the culprit managed to escape and he got away with a dangerous artifact that allows for passage across the Dimensions."

"So what does the Council intend to do?"

He sighed. "The Council has decided to send Novice Rin to pursue the enemy. The mission is her punishment for insubordination. She can return only if she prevails against the Novice Master and retrieves the Key. And—if she fails to follow the enemy fast enough, she'll be trapped in the Dimension she's in with no hope of return."

Saber paled. "How long will it take her to accomplish that task?"

The Council Master replied soberly. "I don't know. It could take months. It could also take years."

"When does she leave?"

"She leaves at sunrise."

Saber looked aghast. "So soon?"

The Council Master shook his head. "It can't be helped. The Gate will not stay open for long, and it's no longer ours to command without the Key."

She turned away from him then. "I see..." After a few moments, she asked, "Would you excuse me for now, Merlin? There are things...I need to consider."

His heart ached as he watched her leave the room. Centuries ago, he had raised her and loved her. And then he had given her away. At that time, he had been young and his gift for the Reading primitive. He had seen Britain's destruction but had believed its fate to be reversible. He had made Saber King so she could reverse that fate. Centuries later, as his magic had grown, he had eventually seen the futility of it all—and had regretted the death of a blonde and green-eyed child who had only known duty in her life and never happiness.

Now, she had another chance at happiness—but only if she didn't allow her sense of duty to get in the way. The Council Master sighed. It would have been so much easier if he'd allowed himself to interfere. But there were limits to that approach, and he'd learned them the hard way.

Alone in his room, he muttered, "If this doesn't work out, it'll be Viviane's fault, not mine."


She was in her cell, composing a letter to Sakura, when she heard the door being unlocked and the sound of familiar footsteps.

"Why did you do it?"

She paused, but didn't turn around. She couldn't trust herself to look at those emerald eyes with composure.

"It didn't...feel right," she replied quietly.

In the next moment, she found herself wrapped in a fierce embrace from behind.

"I'm sorry, Rin..."

She turned around and entwined her hands with Saber's. Then closing her eyes, she touched her forehead against the blonde's.

"There's no need to apologize. It was my choice."


"Don't say it," the Mage whispered, brushing her thumb gently across the blonde's lips. "We have duties, Saber. For as long as...what we have stops here, we can keep them. There's a man I need to pursue—and there's a man you need to marry." Then taking the blonde's hand, she held it for a long while against her cheek with her lips pressed against its palm. Then she moved away with a resolute expression on her face.

"You have to go now, Saber. I don't have much time left...and there are things I need to do and goodbyes I need to make..."

 "Rin...." Saber whispered.

The Mage looked away. Her voice, when she spoke, was tremulous.

"Perhaps, in another world, in another time...things turned out differently between us. But not in this world and not in this time. Goodbye, Saber."

It was only after she couldn't hear the footsteps anymore that, once again, Rin allowed herself to cry.

Chapter 26

Title: Chapter 25

She didn't know what to choose. She didn't even know how to go about choosing.

All her life she had bound herself to duty. While obligation had made her suffer, it had also spared her the agonies of decision-making. In every single prior case, responsibility had dictated her actions.

But in this case, she had two opposing duties, did she not?

The first was to remain faithful to her love for Shirou.

The second was to assist Rin in a dangerous mission she had been responsible for creating.

Saber covered her face with her hands.

She was lying to herself and she knew it. Her allegiance to Rin had nothing to do with duty...and everything to do with what the Mage made her feel.

But Shirou also made her feel things. If it was difficult to tell where duty ended and love began, it was even more difficult to tell where one love ended and another began...

Shirou made her smile. Rin made her laugh.

Shirou understood her heart. Rin understood her soul.

Shirou made her warm. Rin set her on fire.

One offered her security. The other gave her freedom.

To one she was a queen. To the other she was a king.

She had always been a king.

She had always been free.

She understood that now.

Rin. She wanted Rin.


He was in his room, packing, when she made her presence felt.

"There you are," he smiled. "I was looking all over for you. I got a note from Rin saying that we could leave now—though she also sent her regrets about not being able to see us off."

He'd gone on packing for a few more minutes before he realized that she hadn't answered. He looked up then, and the sadness on her face gave him a foreboding of grief.

"Saber...?" he asked, his smile vanishing.

"I'm not leaving with you, Shirou," she spoke softly.

He looked at her for a long time. When he spoke, there was a trace of desperate entreaty in his voice. "Is this about Excalibur?"

"It is, Shirou, but not in the way you think." She looked away then. "Rin is in trouble because I didn't want to let go of the Sword. She acted against the Council's wishes and prevented them from Banishing Excalibur."

He took a deep breath. "I know how strongly you feel about duty, Saber, and I understand that you feel responsible for what happened to Rin—"

She cut him off with a firm shake of her head. "I'm not staying to help Rin out of duty, Shirou. If it were a matter of duty...I'd stay by your side."

"Why are you staying then?" he asked quietly.

"Because..." she looked at him then, and there was a plea for understanding in her emerald eyes. "Because I can't bear to be away from her, Shirou. I can't bear to be away from Rin."

He knew then, from the way she'd said it, that he'd lost her—and that, at that same moment, she'd finally found herself.


He was dreaming, as always, when he felt her presence in the room.

He opened his eyes, and for a few brief moments, saw the seven-year-old girl-child who had clung to him for days on end. The rush of nostalgia that assailed him then was as keen as a blade through his chest.

She looked at him resolutely. "I need a favor."

The Council Master raised an eyebrow.

She hesitated briefly. "Will you give me back my Sword?"

The Council Master smiled. "I thought you'd never ask."


She was in a Hallway between Dimensions—a tiny black speck in the cavernous corridor between worlds.

She had never felt as alone in her life—and she had been alone almost all of her life.

They had sent her through the Gate without ceremony, and it was only her memory of the Council Master's blessing that had allowed her to make the traversal with head held high.

He had told her of the Hallways—that there was a journey yet to be made between the Dimensions. He had also assured her that they were not unpleasant, that after a few hours, they tended to assume a form comforting and familiar to the Traveler.

Right now, Rin didn't know if it comforted her that the Hallway she was in had come to resemble the environs of Avalon.

She tried not to think of the memories those environs conjured; tried not to remember the sight of a blonde woman with emerald eyes, or the sound of her silvery laughter, or the touch of her slender arms.

She was sure she wouldn't have known what loneliness meant if she'd never had those memories.

She would just have been alone, the way she'd always been—and not alone in this acutely painful sense of missing a badly wanted presence.

She was in the middle of her reveries when a quiet voice called out.


Rin froze.

The Council Master hadn't told her that there would be apparitions in the Hallways.


She turned around.

The figure before her couldn't possibly be real. No one else could have gotten through the Gat—

"The Council Master helped me pass through the Gate."

Rin shook her head.

"You shouldn't be here, Saber," she said quietly.

"It was my choice to be here," the blonde replied calmly, drawing near.

Rin shook her head again. There was exasperation and the slightest tinge of anger in her voice when she spoke. "This is my battle, Saber, not yours—"

"I didn't come here out of duty!"

The Mage stopped short.

The blonde halted a few feet away from her. When she spoke, her voice was soft. "I didn't come here out of duty, Rin. I came here...out of love. I came here because...I love you. And I want to be with you even if it contradicts what I've always believed in about loyalty and obligation."

The lump in the Mage's throat made it difficult to speak. "But can you live with that, Saber?"

"I've tried living otherwise, and it only hurt me...and the one who loved me."

Rin looked away for a long moment. "He'll never forgive me," she whispered.

"He already has," Saber interrupted gently. "You know Shirou, Rin. Even if it hurts him, he only wants the happiness of those he loves."

Rin shook her head. "I can't take you with me, Saber. I may never ret—"

She never finished her sentence, for Saber's mouth was suddenly on hers. It was a fierce and ardent kiss, and when it ended after a long and breathless moment, the blonde looked at her with glittering emerald eyes and asked in a low voice:

"If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you don't want me—that you've never wanted me in your arms the way you have me now—I'll go back and never look for you again."

Rin looked at her for a long and serious moment. "Is this what you really want?" she asked the blonde softly.

Saber smiled. "What do you really want?"

Rin reached out and brushed a thumb across the blonde's lips. "You," she said simply. "I want you."

"That settles it then," Saber replied with a smile. She'd started to draw away when the Mage pulled her back again for a long and tender kiss.

When they finally drew apart, Rin murmured: "That's strange..."

"What?" Saber asked with some concern.

The Mage frowned slightly. "It's just that I had a sense of déjà vu when we kissed...Like, it wasn't just the first time or the second time..."

Saber hesitated. "Funny, I felt exactly the same thing."

They stared at each other for a few moments before the Mage finally shook her head and smiled.

"It doesn't matter...Not when there'll be a third time, and a fourth time, and many other times after."

The blonde responded by taking her hand and tugging her forward.

"We should be going. Merlin said the Gate on the other end wouldn't stay open for long."

Rin froze.


Saber laughed. "So there are things after all that even you don't know." Then smiling tenderly at her, the blonde spoke softly, "Come on, I'll explain things while we walk..."

 And somewhere in another world, in its distant past and its distant future, a Sorceress and a Wizard smiled.

Chapter 27

Title: Epilogue

Thirty months after the end of the Fifth Holy Grail War...

He'd been numb the whole trip back to Japan from England. For all that he and Saber had had problems, for all that things had been strained between them for months, he'd always hoped that they'd work things out—that things would turn out right, in the end, somehow.

So it had...hurt when she'd told him—hurt with an intensity that had taken him entirely by surprise.

And yet, he couldn't bring himself to hate Saber or Rin.

He remembered the warmth and the tenderness on the blonde's face when she'd told him about Rin.

In her place, he would have done the same.

Love. All his life, he had bound himself to love. How could he expect Saber to act otherwise?

But it had hurt nonetheless. When and where, for Saber, had duty ended and love begun?

Shirou sighed. His ideal had won—but his heart had lost. He was rooting half-heartedly in his pocket for his keys when the door opened and a soft voice interrupted his reveries.


He looked up and found a pair of blue eyes staring concernedly at him.

"Sakura..." he smiled tiredly at the raven-haired beauty. Without waiting for him to finish, she ushered him gently into the living room and poured him some tea.

The kindness of the gesture formed a lump in his throat. Looking at Sakura, he realized that, over the years, she'd performed countless gestures of kindness—and he had never really noticed.

"Is everything alright, Emiya-kun?" she asked softly.

He shook his head and smiled. "Everything is alright, Sakura. Everything it should be."

[End notes:

This ends the longest story I've written, so far, and I hope the reader enjoyed the considerable amount of detail in the storytelling. This won't be the last time I'll be writing about Saber and Rin though. I already have a crossover sequel planned that will show their relationship at a more advanced stage. As usual, comments, reviews and ratings on this story would be greatly appreciated :0)


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