The sound of gunfire faded away into the dusk as one line cut their losses and retreated, leaving piles of machinery and bodies littering the blasted ground in their wake. They retreated because the remaining army hadn't the resources to force a pursuit, and for a few hours or days there would be a brief respite.
Somewhere in a glittering metropolis untouched by the war, some bigwigs in their polished black shoes and spotless pressed suits were delivering speeches of triumph, while another city was perhaps urging their citizens to persevere in the face of defeat. Or possibly, as was often the case, both were proclaiming victory. To those in the trenches who numbered their days by the skirmish, it may as well be a different universe altogether.
Wherever, whatever the fighting was about, the smell of metal and gunpowder was the same. The air tasted of ashes, and the ubiquitous old red of dried blood and mud seeped into his boots and clung to the underside of his fingernails. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a decent bath or eaten a full meal, and for a crazy moment wondered if there was a packed lunch delivery service somewhere nearby that hadn't run away or been blown up. The things were everywhere, weren't they?
He wasn't sure when he'd started to realize the truth about his future. It hadn't been some sudden, divine revelation - just a growing suspicion that eventually solidified into certainty. She had known, too, although she had never mentioned it until the very end.
"Say hi to me again, when you meet her?" she had said, even as he searched frantically through his vault of blades for something that had the power to heal. "I know she's a bit cold and a jerk sometimes . . . but you know that too, I guess . . ." She had smiled at him through the blood and grime, a shaking hand pressed against the pocket of his coat where he always kept the pendant.
In the back of his mind he could hear the clink of chain and turning of gears, grinding out an endless rhythm, so different from the naÃ¯ve ideals he used to harbor. Countless times he'd thought about his future self, all those years ago, and figured that that guy was perfectly justified in his low opinion of the walking disaster area that was Emiya Shirou.
Even tired and worn, he didn't stop, because somewhere in the kaleidoscope of ten thousand worlds, he had made a promise to keep going. He wasn't sure whom the promise was to, or when exactly he'd made it, but that somehow mattered less than the fact that there was an oath in the first place. And a real hero didn't go back on his word now, did he?
I was not wrong.
Chuckling quietly to himself, the man who had once been Emiya Shirou left the rust-colored battlefield in search of more lives to save.