How heroes are born.
As though waking from a long, long nightmare, Shirou blinked slowly and stared at the dawn that colored the horizon. The remnants of the blackness that had spilled from the broken grail were melting in the light.
"It's . . . over . . ."
"So it is."
Prodding disdainfully at a patch of shadow with his sword, the king of kings surveyed his battlefield. He'd long since run out of mana to maintain his golden armor, and looked for all the world like a badly misplaced high schooler who'd encountered a wolverine, with half his clothing ripped to shreds and angry red gashes decorating his pale skin. And still, somehow, moving like he'd just waltzed off the catwalk of some fashion show. Blood was obviously in this season.
Shirou glanced down at the back of his hand, on which three triangular glyphs remained. He hadn't had to ask. "But didn't you want---"
"No. Understand that I do not suffer interfering mongrels to pass judgment upon my subjects." Too exhausted to even attempt to follow that logic, Shirou simply sighed, and decided that thinking about it would only make his brain hurt. More.
"And you?" Scarlet eyes, slit like a cat's, turned on him, sharp and demanding. Even bloody and battered, his Servant lost none of the intimidating majesty that was his birthright. "What of that foolish ideal of yours?"
There was none of the usual mocking sting to the voice, and Shirou was at any rate too tired to manage a full burst of outraged indignation. He met the king's gaze evenly, and replied as he always did. "I want to become a defender of justice. I always will."
"Imbecile. The world is not yours to save."
"There's no such thing as eternity."
"It is human nature to be selfish and cruel."
Shirou was prepared for the derision and denial that always came with their discussions - arguments? - in life philosophy, and so was caught off balance when his Servant's features softened into something that might almost been a smile.
"Follow your dreams, Emiya Shirou. Perhaps one day you may even become worthy of them." As Shirou gaped, unable to find an appropriate response, the ancient king faded into the light of dawn in a shower of golden radiance, the words he would never say lingering in the silence.
Prove it to me, Emiya. Prove to me that your faith in humanity is not misplaced.
That the price we paid, so many centuries ago, was worth it.
Slowly, hesitantly, Shirou reached into his pocket and found the brilliant ruby shard, a trinket of no particular value he'd found in the vault one day. Objects sometimes created mystical connections, didn't they? He certainly hoped so, because damn if he wasn't going to make the jerk eat those words.
Cracking a tired smile, Emiya Shirou stepped out onto the path that spiraled upwards into infinity.