Sword After Spring
I - Borne to Winter
Shirou Kōsetsu was an odd child.
That fact was as undeniable as the existence of the sun itself.
Odd didn't necessarily mean bad, of course; In her many years of tending to children in her humble orphanage, Sister Anastasia had come across many different kinds of children.
Gifted children and slow children. Energetic children and lethargic children. The pompous and the ruthless, the cowardly and the brave — Name an adjective and odds are she'd raised a baby that fit it perfectly.
And yet — not a single one of them had ever been as… enigmatic, so to speak, as little Shirou, with his large golden eyes and his odd white hair with streaks of red running through it.
There was a melancholy to the boy's presence, a yearning to his gaze that she'd prayed many times would one day fade. And those weren't the only special things about little snowfall, either.
Though he learned at a pace similar to most children, enjoying playing with toys and learning tales of heroes as much as any other boy his age, she'd always felt as if she'd been looking at someone far older. He behaved with an almost off-putting maturity, at times — and then, just like it came, it would fade.
Of course — Anastasia said nothing of it. She remained silent about it, for his sake if nothing else.
Children don't like to feel as if there's something wrong with them. No one does. But in a place where most of them ended up after having been abandoned in some way, to say anything that could further separate a child from their peers was more than just cruel.
Each of them had a reason to be there, and most weren't too happy about that. Anastasia had sheltered children who'd lost their parents after tragedies, had seen children cry thinking that their parents had hated them so.
She wouldn't do that to him, not when he was such a kind, helpful boy. She wouldn't do that to anyone.
But it was odd nonetheless.
He was diligent in his prayers like every other child she'd raised, quiet, and respectful towards his elders and curious about the world around him.
Whenever someone needed help, Shirou was the first to volunteer his aid with a smile. Whenever something broke, Shirou was the one who stepped forward and tried to fix it, succeeding almost every single time after a few hours of effort.
And when he wasn't needed, he usually progressed with his routine as if on autopilot — Always courteous, always empty. Aside from his time spent cooking, there was little passion in his eyes.
A boy void of purpose.
Until, one day, that had almost changed.
The first time she'd seen him actually get interested in something had been on a visit to a Buddhist Temple near the edges of Kuoh.
Though the Church, as an institution, had little ties to such temples and beliefs, Anastasia had made a point of establishing connections with the local temple maidens and monks. They might not be Men of God, and they certainly wouldn't approve of some of Anastasia's ex co-workers, but they were all good folk, kind and considerate, and their temple grounds were oftentimes a great chance to keep the children interested in the lessons she endeavored to teach them.
Once, during one such visit, Shirou had splintered from the group without as much as an announcement.
Very unlike him, she remembered thinking, when she and the monks told the children to wait by the temple and went off to search for him. Losing track of a child was always a horrible endeavour — and Kōsetsu could be such a distracted child, too, always in his head. The temple was safe, of course, but still…
And then he'd been found not long after, staring at old Kyūdo targets in the Temple grounds with an odd look upon his golden eyes.
Anastasia had stepped forward, ready to scold the boy from merely walking away from all of them in silence, but the head monk, one Iroshi Tsukumo, had found it to be a good opportunity.
"It's always good to see the young ones interested in our traditions, is it not?", Iroshi had asked. "If what you tell me of this boy is true, perhaps this will help him."
And, just like that, he'd decided to tell the boy about the art and its lessons. While the other monks took care of the rest of the children, Anastasia watched the old monk kneel by the boy and, with a smile, carefully explain Kyūdo, step by step.
Not many children held an interest in the philosophy behind Kyudo, usually focused on the "cool" archery part. It was only natural, of course; children always loved to have illusions of fantastical worlds and battles in their heads.
If only they knew.
Instead, she'd found herself stricken by how focused the young boy had appeared, gazing at the monk and the targets with a pair of wide eyes and parted lips. At times, when he'd interject to ask questions on what was being told to him, there'd be a hint of a spark in his eyes that had been awe-inspiring in its unusual nature.
And, at the end of it, when Iroshi offered to let him give it a try, Anastasia had inevitably given him the 'go-ahead'. These children needed to find things they were passionate about, after all, and Kōsetsu most of all.
If Kyūdo was the thing that would fill the void in his heart, well — She would most certainly not complain. And, of course, he'd need practice before he got good at it.
But if he had the passion, the interest, to pursue the art and the philosophy, Anastasia would gladly bring him to the temple more often so he could practice —
Or so it went.
Imagine their surprise when, after being guided on the steps and on how to hold the bow they'd fetched properly, the arrow released by Shirou's dexterous hands was embedded in the very centre of the circular target.
A second shot revealed the same result.
To say it had been shocking wouldn't be an overstatement.
But their surprise at his talent was overtaken by another surprise. She would remember that moment vividly, even after years had passed.
At that moment, the sun had been setting behind the woods that surrounded the temple grounds, bathing the sky in pinks and reds, reflecting off of the many blades of grass and casting a soft, hazy glow upon the boy's lean frame.
Illuminated by such tones, Shirou had held such a delicate, ethereal light to him that she'd feared blinking would wisp him away. Standing in the very middle of the field, his posture straight and his head held high, bow and arrow both perfectly poised for a third release, a faint shadow cast upon his face by the arrow's body —
It was as if something out of a painting, perfectly immaculate.
The arrow was released by the movement of only two fingers. Like magic, it split the air as it began to fly towards its target.
And in his pale face, with shadows cast over the edges of each feature and snow-white locks dancing with a passing gust, Shirou had smiled and Anastasia had seen the Lord's work.
It wasn't that he was incredibly beautiful or incredibly ugly. Kōsetsu's was a face of pretty features, she'd always thought, with eyes more striking than any. But none of that had drawn her eyes — instead, it was the smile on his lips that stole the very air from her lungs.
Anastasia knew that smile.
That was the smile of a drowning man who'd found his home.
There was a spark in his eyes, a quirk to his lips that said — I remember this. It was a nostalgic, comforting expression, one out of place in a face so young.
A comfort borne from the memory of despair.
We all have a purpose — Anastasia believed in that with all of her strength. She'd seen as much throughout her years, had learned as much from God and from his people.
And yet —
The Lord truly worked in mysterious ways, for she had never seen a child appear so empty.
For the third time that day, an arrow met its target perfectly.
Within the classroom of a public school, a scene was slowly unraveled.
"Hey, Kōsetsu," greeted a boy, his tone hopeful. "Do you think you can help us fix the AC?"
The bells announcing the start of recess had only just been rang and already his help was needed. Despite that, the oddly-haired boy smiled up at the one who'd asked for his aid and nodded slowly.
The boy who'd asked for his aid was Takeru Shimichi, a first-year High Schooler who Shirou guessed was about 16 years old and therefore his senpai. A tall, lanky boy with short brown hair who wore round glasses that made him look a little odd, wearing an open jacket and carrying his bag over his shoulder.
Takeru-senpai always looked a little ragged, but he was really quite the responsible teenager. For his part, Kōsetsu was always happy to help when it was needed.
"No problem", he responded, gathering his pens and notebooks with apt hands as he rose from his spot to follow the boy.
Life as a sixth-grader in Kuoh wasn't particularly interesting.
If nothing else, Kōsetsu Shirou found the routine of it all comfortable; Kyūdo practice, helping others by fixing things, preparing the food as soon as he got home, and walking to the Orphanage… A simple routine, undoubtedly. But it was a good one, he thought.
The simplicity of it all was rather quaint.
As for the boy himself…
At 12 years of age, Shirou Kosetsu was still an unusual boy.
His hair was still a mess of red and white locks sticking out at odd angles, though it'd gone from mostly white to about 70/30 in a few years. His eyes were still curious in color, rippling like two pools of bright gold. More than any of that, he was wise and introverted; the kind who'd keep to himself more often than not.
Fact was, Kuoh Town didn't have many schools.
Other than the titular and prestigious Kuoh Academy, two more schools could be found by traveling the city streets, both of them public - less than you'd expect for a whole city. As a resident of Saint Peter's Home for Children, Shirou was admitted into Aosakuya Academy as soon as he was of age to join their first grade.
The school itself wasn't anything particularly prestigious, depending on public funding to function and without any of the extras, he'd so often read Kuoh Academy had to offer.
Despite that, he wasn't particularly dissatisfied.
Though the Kyūdo targets in the local Temple were coupled with a nice atmosphere and some pleasant conversations with the residents, it was quite convenient that Aosakuya had their own Archery Club complete with bows and everything else.
And, honestly, Shirou didn't really need anything else. Sometimes, when he was frustrated, he could wander into the archery field and practice to his heart's content, until his worries were vague shadows and his heart was set on the target anew.
Perhaps he was a simple person.
As for his current task — this wasn't the first, second or third time Takeru had asked for his help.
Not that it bothered him, of course.
The older boy had been quite embarrassed to accept Shirou's aid for the first few times, but it seemed as if that was water under the bridge. Which was good; Shirou was more than happy to help fix the many broken appliances that popped up around campus now and then, and it was clear that they sorely needed whatever help they could get.
"Sorry to bother you with this, Kōsetsu." Takeru's words echoed throughout the populated school hallways on which they walked, rubbing the back of his head with a self-conscious chuckle. "I know I do it a bit too much."
Shirou shook his head with a laugh, waving his concerns away with the one of his hands that was free. He flashed his senpai a good-natured smile.
"It's no problem at all, Takeru-senpai." Shirou promised. "I've told you before that I enjoy working on these things, didn't I?"
"Right, right…" Takeru seemed a bit reluctant, but agreed indeed.
They reached the library room before long.
The door was already open when they got there, presumably because the AC being broken meant that it was warmer than usual. The librarian's eyes seemed to light up as she recognized him walking in, much to Shirou's embarrassment; a moment later the woman was leading him to the AC's location.
He'd garnered quite the reputation, it seemed… internally, Shirou chuckled softly to himself.
"There it is," the librarian said, pointing to where it was set on the wall. "We tried to turn it on this morning, but it only sputtered and nothing else. We don't have the funding to fix it this month, so…"
Shirou nodded at her words. Aosakuya was always struggling for money, he knew.
Grabbing a chair to step on so that he might reach the AC above, Shirou started to fiddle with the electronics. If anyone had an issue with him doing that, they didn't say anything, so Shirou found himself free to do as he usually did.
The fingers of his left hand tensed as they approached the sleek white surface of the device. With apt hands, he calmly removed the plastic covering and examined the device's interior. A spark of azure light erupted from his fingers as his left hand touched the device itself.
— Information flooded his mind at once.
In a second, he knew what was wrong.
His energy had traveled each tube and each part of the AC, imprinting the device's blueprint on his mind as vividly as he knew his own name. He still rummaged through everything for a few minutes, intent on making sure his fiddling and tinkering looked natural.
"The power cord ripped. We'll probably need to buy a new one, but I think I can work up a temporary solution," he finally stated. "Just give me a bit."
Takeru sighed, running some fingers through his brown locks of hair absent-mindedly even as Shirou worked to make sure the AC would be fine for a few days at least.
"That'll probably have to come out of our own pockets… but it's still better than buying a new AC. Thanks, Kōsetsu."
The boy nodded once again, stepping down from the chair he'd been standing on.
"There," he said to the librarian, a smile on his lips. "It should turn on now. When you get the power cord, just tell me and I'll install it for you."
And turn on it did - with the press of a button, it hummed into life, much to the relief of everyone in the library.
He'd known that would happen, of course, but it was nice to see things work as they should because of him regardless.
God knew that was a rarity.
The way home was always quiet.
Kuoh itself was anything but; a bustling metropolis of energy and smiles, each chasing a dream or passing whim of their own. Their steps were loud and disorganized, their words both hollow and soulful, full of a strange sort of lively energy he sorely lacked.
Shirou met each and every passing soul with an enigmatic golden gaze, hands tightened around the straps that held his schoolbag as he walked into this metaphorical beast's mouth and immediately felt out of place.
As usual, by the time he got there, the sun was setting.
And amidst the many pairs and groups of friends and co-workers that marked the difference between a ghost town and a living one, Kōsetsu Shirou walked alone.
It wasn't that he envied them.
It wasn't that he disliked them either.
Unlike most, Shirou didn't have anyone he'd consider particularly close to himself, his strange family aside. There was no one he'd call a best friend nor did he feel pressed to rectify that.
But he was lonely, in a way he couldn't quite describe, as if the reasoning had been undone and bled through his fingers at night. Like they'd been torn apart and blown away with the cherry blossoms.
So he walked alone.
His steps alone marked the rhythm to his walk in treets colored orange, his breathing alone composed the song to which his life played. A separate song to the rest of Kuoh, another entity, one lacking energy.
Then, at once, his steps slowed down and came to a stop in seconds.
Shirou sighed, turning his eyes to gaze upon the reddened horizon beyond the sea, and let his eyes rest there until the sun could no longer be seen.
He stood there still, frozen under the dying sun's light. A soft haze emphasized his silhouette, marking every strand and lock of hair in a soft orange glow. With lips slightly parted, he set his eyes in the horizon line and watched, entranced, as its colours began to bleed anew.
And, like clockwork, a passing breeze pulled at his hair and caressed his cheek. "Isn't it pretty, Senpai?" — so murmured the wind
And yet, like always, when he turned his head to look, nobody was there.
The sigh that escaped his lips was anything but happy. Each time, he'd fool himself into thinking he'd catch a glimpse of her face.
Time and time again he'd come here, for no reason other than to catch a glimpse of this horizon.
Time and time again would the wind whisper in a sweet girl's voice — a familiar voice, gentle and kind but with a bittersweet tone. He knew her, but he didn't, couldn't have and wouldn't have.
He had never seen that girl. Had never heard her voice outside his dreams.
And yet, like clockwork, he would come to stand at that exact spot, waiting for a glimpse of the girl in the cherry blossom.
Each time, he would feel his heart shatter.
He ignored it.
Like always, there was nothing.
Kōsetsu Shirou had always walked alone. So, of course, after a few minutes, he shook his head and kept walking.
The 'wind' offered no resistance.
It didn't take him more than 20 minutes to reach the neighborhood where the orphanage was located, but the streets were already darkened when he finally did.
If he was lucky, he'd get to look at a starlit sky; if he wasn't, he'd be too busy to care.
The door was already open when he arrived, and the instant he stepped into the house, five pairs of eyes turned to stare at him. Suddenly a bit sheepish, Shirou raised a hand as a greeting, a soft smile pulling at the corners of his lips.
"I'm home!" He called out, and his heart told him no one would answer. But that was a lie, as it always was.
A myriad of voices replied instead, gathering near the door like flies drawn to a light. A crowd of joyful faces, youthful faces, eager and excited faces alike.
"It's Shi-kun! Shi-kun is home!"
"Ah, Shirou, just in time!"
"Yo, Lil' Bro, ya took your sweet time to get here, didn't ya?"
His 'siblings' — that is, the other residents of Anastasia's orphanage — ran up to him with the desperate quality of a man stuck on death's door.
Three of them were younger than he was, two of them were older ; The youngest ones he still had hoped would be adopted like many before them, but as they aged past the 'golden' demographic that was one-to-four years old, his hopes, like theirs, dwindled.
For every five children that found a home elsewhere, it was logical that one simply wouldn't.
Shirou still hoped, of course.
The three who stayed —Aki, Iruma, and Kizuna — were all bright children with hearts of gold, all three of them standing at five years of age. As usual, he ruffled all of their hairs, laughing lightly when Aki blushed and stepped back as she always did.
"We're hungry, y'know!" Came a complaint from one of his older 'siblings'.
Samiya Inahomi was 16, almost 17, and in a year or two she'd probably be required to find somewhere to live by herself.
Because of that, Samiya was always working an odd part-time job or two in hopes of getting enough money to survive through college. She was an odd person to talk to, being simultaneously one of the most mature high school students he'd ever met and one of the most immature.
Unlike most of them, Samiya hadn't been abandoned at an early age — She'd ended up here because her parents died when she was 4, and she'd been unlucky enough not to be adopted.
Between all of them, she was the one Shirou was closest to, having practically raised him alongside Anastasia when he'd been abandoned at their doorstep as a baby. The girl could be a little overzealous, and she certainly had a short temper, but Shirou valued the time they got to spend together, moreso now that he knew she'd have to leave in little time.
"Sorry, Nee-san." He apologized, smiling with a slight tilt to his head. "I lost track of time."
She crossed her arms over her chest.
She was rather tall, standing at a little under 170cm, with black hair she usually wore in a ponytail and wearing a brown leather jacket over some more casual clothing. Her eyes were as green as a pair of emeralds, and certainly just as bright.
Samiya could be rather intimidating, especially when angry, but she meant well.
"You always say that, but I bet you were just staring at nothing for like thirty minutes again."
He didn't have an answer to that, so he just blushed and looked away, much to her entertainment. He knew when he was beaten. With a sigh, he walked past all of them and grabbed the apron he usually wore while cooking. 'Kiss the Cook', it said.
He'd still not found out who had found that funny enough to take the time to buy it and replace his old apron. He had his suspicions, though.
"Alright," Shirou said out loud. "I'll get right into getting dinner done, then."
An entire orchestra of cheering erupted from the gathering of children and teenagers. He felt his cheeks warm up a bit in embarrassment..
It was a nice feeling, this one; he rather liked cooking, as everyone who lived with him most certainly knew, and though he would've preferred to get a few minutes of rest to change and shower beforehand, he supposed he had to cater to their desires now and then.
"Will you be needing any help?" Samiya asked.
"No," he replied absent-mindedly, opening a few cabinets to get everything he'd need. "I'm fine."
Shirou was distracted, but he noticed it immediately — the way her eyes stayed on his own form for a few moments before she sighed and looked away, probably seeing the necessity of entertaining the younger ones.
There was a certain touch of melancholy to it, a tense and tender concern wrapped within a few seconds of wistful memories.
The words necessary to bring it up with her died before they reached his lips, and he let the moment fade into the sands of time as he usually did.
Whatever it was that concerned her would remain unsaid, a tense undertone to these last few colorful months they'd share, lost between their unwillingness to break the spell of routine.
Instead, like the end of a beautiful season, they let it all fade into a rose-coloured past.
His name was Shirou Kōsetsu.
His name was Shirou Emiya.
Shirou knew both of those statements were true in different ways. One he could explain, the other he could not. The boy was used to that — a division between his truths, the explainable and the illogical.
He knew that he enjoyed careless strolls near the sea when the sun was setting.
That was Shirou Kōsetsu.
He'd known how to cook before he'd ever touched a kitchen.
That was Shirou Emiya — a name he'd heard spoken in a dream.
There were other things like that, little aimless habits he'd had since before he could reasonably have acquired them, even if he himself didn't know where they came from. And then there were other things, just as unexplainable but not as small. Things like —
"Trace," he murmured, "On."
Obscured by the walls of the abandoned chapel he'd claimed as his secret lair as a child, Shirou was able to once again explore his hidden talent. The second the words were spoken, the 'machine' that was his Magic was turned on and he experienced many things in quick succession.
First came the pain.
He focused on creating a pathway in his body for the mysteries he wielded, a hot rod inserted into his spine by means he couldn't explain. It was then forged: The pathway, the tunnel, the circuit. A nerve was converted into something more, and through the excruciating pain he felt satisfaction course through his veins like molten steel.
Now, having reached the possibility through impossible pain, the miracle could be performed.
His hands touched a small pipe, and with a flash of blue light he'd grown familiar to, the energy spread through it in lines and sharp turns. Being now aware of each intricacy in the pipe's constitution, both physical and conceptual, Shirou realized the mystery that he was capable of.
Reinforcement — The act of strengthening an object through magical means, making it stronger, sharper or something like that.
It was one of three spells, or Mysteries, as he usually referred to them, that Shirou was capable of.
How, he wasn't really sure.
He'd always known that he could do something — the subconscious cue of 'You could do something about this if you did that' had followed him around since the day he was born.
Like many other things about his subconsciousness, he couldn't really make heads or tails of it.
The first time he'd done it had been mostly by accident.
He'd been tired, exhausted even, and by instinct alone he'd gathered a few materials from his room and walked to the abandoned chapel he'd taken to playing in. It had been done naturally, as if nothing more than his routine. He'd taken a seat next to this very pipe, touched it with the fingers of his left hand, and muttered the words that were now so familiar to him.
That, he supposed, was Shirou Emiya.
Each time he did this, his left arm flared in dulled phantom pain. And each time it did, by instinct did he reach to check on bindings around it that had never been there, securing them as if his life depended on it.
There was a call to it, a beckoning tune — a promise of strength.
If there was more to be discovered, he didn't know. What he did know, however, was —
— A burst of pitch-dark light turned stone into dust and air into vacuum.
He'd jumped to the left, crashing to the ground with a grunt of pain and rolling back to his feet before his opponent took advantage of his open guard.
His fists tightened around the hilts of the swords he held.
He'd been right; His opponent was truly amazing. But he had to go through her, even if the thought alone made his vision blur. For her sake, he'd do even this. For ( )'s future.
He reached into (something), and it all went black. A clash of metal and legend. Flashes of black, white and red.
"... This is my win", (she) said after a while of nothingness.
But he couldn't answer.
There wasn't enough of him left, after all.
What little was left, however, flared with a thought. A message. A warning. An oath.
[I have to defeat (someone)].
Thus, despite the lack of a mind, his soul burst with the flames of a future lost.
Truly, Shirou Emiya was the [ ] of his [ ].
Shirou shook his head, ignoring the illusion presented by his mind, and focused on the pipe in his hands.
With a nod of his head, he smashed it into the stone floor.
The stone cracked.
The pipe remained unblemished.
Here's a revision of the very first chapter of Sword After Spring, which was edited to better fit with my current standards.
I've tried to preserve the original vibe as best I could, however. This fic thrives on its verbose nature, I've found. Still, think of this as a celebration of sorts. I hope the returning readers enjoy the better-formatted chapter, and that the new readers find themselves at least a little curious about what lies ahead.
Here we go — This has been Lily, and I hope to see you soon.