Chapter 1: Forging One's Self
The moon was beautiful tonight, the old man could see.
No cloud obscured it from his view, sitting on the outside of his small, mountain based home. It was only big enough for a single room, cooking utensils and a forge. The very bare essentials.
His aged face pulled into a scowl as his wrinkled fingers, worn to the bone over the years, twitched at the thought. They couldn't even hold a hammer right anymore. They were less than useless.
Senji Muramasa kept his gaze on the moon though, the usual thoughts bleeding away into the night that surrounded his home. It was the only peace he had now; far up in the mountains, away from any people or admirers looking to take his crafting style.
The crackle of small flames greeted his wizened ears from inside his hut, as did a small voice humming a tune. Not one he recalled, but it was a sonorous one all the same. His body creaked and cracked as he leaned back against the door, trying to hear more of it.
That door opened dutifully not long after, revealing his granddaughter, an average-looking girl in travelling clothes with her dark hair pulled up. It was some distance from her parents' dwelling at the base of the mountain.
"Grandfather, dinner is almost ready," she told him, peeking at the moon as she did before inclining her head in respect. "I've also cleaned your equipment in the forge. It was getting too dusty."
Muramasa stared impassively at the moon still, his mind obscured, as if he didn't hear her.
His granddaughter bit her lip, face conflicted, before venturing another question. "...Are you doing well? The herbs should be easing the pain."
The silence was tense and awkward, forged as the old blacksmith had forged many other things over the years. His granddaughter's face was forlorn as she began to head inside, to continue working for such an ungrateful old man—
"Thank you," he coughed out, lungs burning with every word as they had for years. "You're doing well, kid."
Finally averting his gaze from the object of his fascination, Muramasa felt something twinge in his heart at his granddaughter's face regaining its beautific nature.
A smile as dazzling as the sun met him, and he could not find it in himself to reject it. So he gave a small one of his own, before turning away again.
"Thank you grandfather." She bowed, darting back inside to busy herself with her self-appointed tasks. "I'll bring it out so we can sit together again."
The delightful hums of his granddaughter petered out as Muramasa resumed his vigil, once again trapped in silence. The night encroached on him more and more every day, and old thoughts ate at him as it did.
Muramasa had made his name and fortune making weapons. Swords, spears, anything that was requested of him. Even if he hated the person he took the job without regret.
He had scrounged the bloodsoaked battlefields, riddled with corpses, for his swords to take back and fix. He even gained renown whilst doing his smithing. Senji Muramasa had once been a household name, sought by anyone and everyone looking for quality blades.
He had neglected his family to hone his abilities, and moved to the mountains where he wouldn't see them anymore of his own choice – for his work. And in turn, they wanted nothing to do with him.
A regretful breath escaped his aged lips.
Was it worth it?
Was it worth shunning his family to improve his abilities? Abilities he could not even use anymore? He did not know.
Muramasa averted his gaze from the sky, eyes closing in rest.
As it had for so many days and nights…the moon refused to give him an answer.
Birds chirped in the morning, the wind rushed freely and the sun glared down in full heat. It was a perfect day, one meant for lying in and doing nothing but enjoy the wonderful weather.
Seventeen-year-old Shirou Emiya blinked away at the rays shining right into his eyes. Rubbing his ochre eyes clean of sleep, the teenager grunted as he got out of bed. He extended his arms as he did so, sighing in mild relief as his bone cracked from the exercise.
"Ah…" he let out, tidying up his bed and getting dressed into his school uniform, "wonder what Sella's cooking for breakfast."
The smell of bacon reached his nose as he journeyed down the steps, pulling his school jacket on tight but leaving the front unbuttoned as usual, and he smiled as he reached the kitchen, the sound of his sister getting ready for school above mixing with the mild chatter of the maids.
"Hey Sella, Leys," Shirou greeted the twins with a raised hand. "What's for breakfast?"
He had discovered that Sella and Leys, for all that they looked like each other, couldn't be more distinct in their ways. Sella's long white hair was pulled into a tail that lay on her shoulder, dressed in a brown apron and a dress underneath. Her face was sharp but emotive, focused on her task.
Leys, or Leysritt really, could only be called a slob. Dressed casually with clothes and a form that'd make any other teenage boy blush, she just stared at him for a second from her perch on the sofa, continuing to watch her program.
Shirou sighed. Same old, same old.
"Good morning Shirou," Sella greeted him, spooning some of the food onto the two plates on the table. "Just some bacon and toast. I hope it's to your satisfaction."
Her eyes narrowed ever so much as she spoke, and Shirou did his best to seem calm. He had seen Sella at her most possessive, and she'd never forgiven him since he first cooked himself. An even bigger dent to her pride was everyone agreeing he could end up better than her.
So he just sat at his seat and munched on the food, not bothering to even try to cook some rice. A curious glance at the clock told him Sella was right; he hadn't woken up at his usual time.
He swallowed the food appreciatively, smiling at the caretaker. "Thanks Sella, it's pretty good. Tastes different to usual before – tried something different?"
Sella puffed out her…modest chest in pride. "Yes! I cooked them in a pan instead of a grill for one. Easier to keep an eye on that way. Along with smoking for taste."
Shirou nodded, neglecting to mention he already cooked it like that – a consideration that faded to the wayside as his sister barreled down the stairs in her own school uniform, hat ajar.
"I'm not late am I?!" Illyasviel von Einzbern shrieked in fright, scarfing down her breakfast like a vacuum. "They said if I was late my manga would get stolen!"
Illya, his eleven year old sister—adopted actually, on Shirou's end—was certainly not missing in energy. She looked like Sella and Leys; the same white hair that fell in a long shimmering river, and cute red eyes that beamed at everything. She could really be a bit of a handful, but Shirou himself never minded.
Shirou's eyebrow quivered in amusement as he finished his breakfast last, getting to his feet and grabbing his school bag.
"Who said that, Illya?" he asked as they walked out of the house, waving an irate Sella goodbye. "It wasn't Suzuka again was it?"
Illya looked at him in pale horror, clutching her head and bag – which jostled a bit more than it should have as they walked down the road. Luckily the school wasn't too far away, so they had some time before splitting up again for the day.
"Worse!" his sister cried as they traversed streets amid passersby. "Rin! I promised I'd do a test and I haven't done it!"
The boy winced in sympathy, patting his sister on the head. Rin was a new student, only transferring back from abroad a few weeks ago. Initially, when he'd first met her, Shirou had thought she was aloof and a little cold; the typical honour student attitude, matched by her grades on tests. Word down the grapevine was she'd even mercilessly crushed a few love notes. So he'd actually been apprehensive of his sister getting tutored by her, even if it could only help her out in school.
That particular impression had lasted until she'd gotten into a literal fistfight with another transfer student, Luvia Edefelt—her full first name was too hard to pronounce—over him one day.
It had certainly been one way to learn they...or anyone, really...had an interest in them. It had also been a way to gather the enmity of almost every male student at school in one fell swoop, and more than a handful of the girls as well.
"I'm sure she'll understand if you tell her that," he consoled the white-haired girl, who just let herself droop down even further towards the ground.
Like she was being marched to death row, Illya looked up at him with resignation in her wide eyes. "But Shirou…she's a demon teacher."
The amount of sheer gravity in the tiny girl's voice made Shirou stop for a brief time. He scratched his cheek in the awkward silence, falling behind his sister who still put her head down and marched the green mile.
Trying to think of how he could continue the conversation even as they neared the school, Shirou looked to the side, purely by coincidence and one of those inexplicable impulses.
Something looked back.
He blinked at the shadow that stood in a nearby alley. It was...hard to see, even when he squinted. Shirou focused on the abnormality. He hadn't ever seen something like it before in his life.
The black thing moved for the briefest of moments, and he saw a parting in the black shape. It fluttered like cloth, and a pale slit opened up where a head would be.
Two grey-ish green eyes, a shade almost like old copper, stared into his own.
The moment stretched into eternity as they just looked at each other. The crowds around Shirou didn't matter, nor did the students starting to filter into the school distract him. Almost like he was in a trance, the boy just matched the gaze of the mysterious figure.
Then the shadow blinked, and as if it had never been there, it disappeared backwards into the alley, keeping his gaze all the way.
"Shirou!" his sister called out to him, snapping the boy out of his trance. "You're going to be late!"
Ignoring the way his heart pounded away at his ribcage, Shirou slid an easy smile onto his face and ran up to his sister standing next to the school gates. She clutched her hat like a lifeline.
"Hey, it'll be fine." Shirou rubbed at her shoulder in consolation. "Just be honest. I'm sure Rin can't be that bad."
Illya pursed her lips, saying nothing as she suddenly grabbed him into a hug. Her hands couldn't reach around him completely, but Shirou hugged her back all the same, letting her press herself into his familiar warmth.
"Feel better?" he asked her when they separated, to which she answered with a small but radiant smile. "See? I'll meet you after school and we can walk back together."
"Ah…" Illya replied as they continued walking into the school grounds, the large building standing tall before them. "I've got tutoring with Rin after school. I'll see you at home though!"
His smile dimmed a bit as his sister ran off, her hair flying behind her. Shirou scratched his head again, an indescribable feeling rising up in his chest.
If he was honest with himself, he wasn't entirely comfortable with how much time Illya spent with Rin. He knew nothing bad was going on, but she was spending more time out than at home with him, Sella and Leys recently. For an eleven year old, that wasn't typical behaviour.
But he wouldn't push it – not yet. Illya might be younger than him but she still deserved her own privacy. If only Iri was here to talk to her, things would be much less awkward...
Shirou peered into the sky again, a neutral expression on his face, before hitching his bag further up his shoulder and walking into the main body of the highschool. Familiar students crowded the hallways as he switched into his indoor shoes, dozens of chattering conversations forming an equally familiar background drone—
Until it was pierced by a cry load enough to serve as an air-raid siren.
"SHERROOOOO!" the strident, but undeniably feminine voice called, "where are you~?"
"Get away you hag!" another girl's voice, just as loud but if anything even harsher, rang out in conflict.
Hairs rose on the back of Shirou's neck and he paled like death was upon him.
"Damn it," he cursed, eyes wide and fritting between rooms for cover.
He had grown used to Luvia being overly friendly to him, and Rin's retaliations against both the girl and Shirou himself. But those were individual exposures; both at the same time? That was just asking for trouble! It was suicide!
He needed a place to hide, and quick!
Shirou rushed off, pushing between bodies and through cries of annoyance, trailing apologies as he went darting underneath outstretched arms in search of his very last sanctuary. Up stairs he went, then down stairs when he took a wrong turn.
Soon though, the desperate boy saw the sign for the Student Council room. Breathing a sigh of tense relief, he burst into it and shut the door as fast as he could. Sliding down to the ground, he listened as shrill laughs and outraged cries ripped through the school…and passed the room that was his refuge.
He waited for what felt like an infinite amount of time before Shirou at last got to his feet and wiped his forehead clean.
"Phew…" Shirou let out before turning and sitting at the table, like a weight was lifted off his shoulders. "That's that done."
"Why do you even try to entertain those vixens, Shirou?" a calm but firm query cut through his stress. "You're wasting your time."
"Hey Issei." The redhead smiled and turned to the glasses-wearing boy who stood at the door like a sentinel. "How're things at the shrine?"
Wearing glasses and a severe expression below his neat black hair, Issei Ryudou could be described as a killjoy. He obeyed every rule, completed every assignment. He was the perfect teacher's pet.
But nevertheless, he was Shirou's best and closest friend, and had been for years. Ever since, well…
Unnoticed by Issei, Shirou's hand closed into a tight fist at the memory of another boy who once held his position.
"Things are going well," the boy responded, sitting opposite his friend. "The Temple work's going well. Practice too, though I have a long way to go."
His eyes sharpened like a knife and stabbed at the door – and the faint noises of the two girls elsewhere in the depths of the school.
"Those vixens will be my ultimate test," he finished, rubbing his face clean before focusing on Shirou again, "and they'll be your downfall."
The redhead chuckled in amusement. "Maybe yeah. Still, it's pretty cool you've got your future planned out like that."
The other boy shrugged before looking a bit more intently at Shirou. The redhead began to wilt under the gaze, coughing into his hand.
"What do you have planned for after highschool, Shirou?" he inquired, leaning closer as if to interrogate him. "We're closer to it ending than not by now. We should all have at least an idea."
The Emiya boy opened his mouth to respond – but nothing came to mind. Gaping like a goldfish, no answer came to mind to save him from the awkwardness. The silence was astounding, and telling.
"Shirou?" Issei's brow furrowed in concern. "Are you alright?"
The boy stayed silent, looking out of the window into the clear air and bright sun. Soon, he sighed and rubbed his forehead, looking at Issei with something that could only be called confusion.
"I don't know, Issei," he confessed, airing his sudden doubt. "Maybe I'll get some advice from my dad when he gets back. He does a lot of work, maybe he can give me some pointers."
The student council president leaned back in his chair, watching his friend intently before wiping his glasses clean.
"Well, it's something to think about at least," he responded, getting to his feet and arranging his documents for the day. "Rome wasn't built in one day. I'm sure you'll find something."
Shirou said nothing as he went through his classes for the day, tuning into the lectures only to take notes and solve problems – typical student things. Even so, as he smiled and laughed and made his way through the day that was altogether bearable…the question still revolved in the back of his mind.
What would he do with his life?
The shadow moved through the unfamiliar city, over pipes and old buildings. The shroud flapped, revealing gloved hands and a clinking birdcage in which a robotic cube bobbed animatedly.
"Ihihihihi!" it chirped, like an oddly annoying bird. "One guy looking at you gets you running Gray? Didn't think you'd be that nervous!"
The shadow didn't say anything for a few minutes as she dashed through Fuyuki, doubling back and even taking to the rooftops to avoid the general populace. At last, it reached a building with absolutely nothing unique about it; it was just another house on the fringes of the city, bereft of mirrors.
It was her hideout for this assignment.
The shadow unlocked the door to the small abode, locked it tight behind her and checked her Bounded Field. She sighed gratefully at no signs of intrusion – the Field was as secure as she left it.
She unhooked the bird cage and laid it on the table on the ground floor of the building. It jumped up and down, looking into the depths of her hood.
"It wasn't that Add…" Gray replied at last, moving over to grab a phone from its landline socket. "It's that…I could see them coming. They can't know I'm here."
"Eh, whatever floats your boat." The cube 'shrugged', eyes dimming in boredom. "Are we still going out tonight?"
"Of course," the girl replied, dialling a specific number in the phone.
She didn't say anything, her face tranquil and slate-clean as she waited for the dialing to go through. In the meantime, she removed her heavy cloak, the cloth black as night, to reveal her normal clothes. She didn't remove her hood however – it was her only safeguard against a painful reminderl.
Her gloved hands reached unconsciously up to her face before recoiling as if they were burned as a gruff voice finally answered.
"Hello?" Gray's smile was small, but it was as genuine and vibrant as the sun outside. "Gray?"
"Master," she replied, sitting on a chair at the side of the phone's socket, "I'm calling you like we arranged."
"Ah, good work," the man complimented over the line, the sound muffled by shuffling papers. "Are they performing their tasks?"
Gray bit her lip before answering the query. "I…haven't been able to see them do so yet. But they've integrated into the local highschool as they were told. I'm sorry master, I couldn't see anything else."
Her master sighed, but out of exhaustion and not at her. That didn't stop the fear bubbling to the surface in her stomach. "It's fine Gray. I wasn't expecting results so soon. I'd be over there myself if it weren't for the paperwork and meetings."
The hooded girl nodded. She had been deployed alone to keep an eye on the girls meant to hunt the mysterious Class Cards, and make sure they performed their tasks. Her master was meant to accompany her, for she was just a sixteen year old girl in a foreign country, but paperwork and teaching kept him grounded for now.
Though perhaps if he was more organised he'd be far more productive- his apartment could only be considered like a dump. But she kept that mildly critical statement to herself.
"For now, just do as we talked about," her master advised. "Keep an eye on them, report to me what you find. I'll be over when I can."
"Alright master," Gray agreed, her heart clenching at knowing the call was coming to an end. "Please take care of your hair while I'm here."
Her master made a noise that was both a chuckle and a groan, coughing from a cigarette. "I'm not completely helpless Gray."
Gray made sure not to comment at how obviously false that was as the call ended…and she was left alone in the average house, in the average neighbourhood, with only the sentient cube as her company.
She was familiar with loneliness, of feeling like the only one that she could talk to. But away from her master…it was so much starker.
As the day began to die, the sky turning crimson and then black with night, Shirou left school alone. His fellow students left in droves, each in their own little groups of friends. Talking amongst themselves, they were almost ignorant of the school brownie-electrician.
He preferred it that way, at least today.
Shouldering his bag, his amber eyes looked over at the elementary school, imagining what his sister would be up to. Staying under supervision whilst getting tutored? Or just reading her manga and trying to forget her stress?
He chuckled at the image of Illya running from Rin like one of the American comic books his dad had gotten him years ago – the ones he still had in his room.
His eyes aimed at the sky before he began to make his way home. Trudging through the streets, Shirou let himself think about the question Issei had posed to him innocently, not with frustration but simply trying to figure everything out.
"What am I gonna do after school's done?" he said aloud to himself. "I can't be an electrician all my life."
It was true that Shirou did well in school; at least, his grades said as much. He wouldn't ever be an honour student, or even an unexpected treasure – he was average. But it was something he was comfortable with.
He did like working with the electrical devices Issei asked him to fix on occasion, and had a certain passion for it like his workouts. He had the stacks of magazines and some manuals to improve on his mechanical knowledge as well.
Shirou bit his lip as he continued his aimless journey, going a different route home. Not straight on, but winding through the alleys until he was close to the old, ruined Fuyuki Hyatt hotel.
If he was fine with his life at the moment—properly content—then why was it that Issei's question had caused him to keep thinking about it?
He came to a stop against the wired fencing that surrounded the old building. He looked up at the sky and sighed, rubbing his neck.
"Wish you were here dad," he whispered to the wind. "It'd be nice to talk to someone about this sort of thing."
Sella and Leys were kind, but they weren't quite as worldly as he knew his dad was. He journeyed all over the world, doing jobs with his wife Iri, Illya's mother, for a living. Shirou didn't know what his dad did abroad and he'd ever pried, but that didn't stop the flames of irritation from bubbling back up again as they did sometimes.
His adoptive parents went months without coming home, only letters and phone calls. When would they actually be back in person?
Shirou wasn't sure if this dark dog of emotion burned inside his sister or Sella or Leys, but he couldn't ignore the small voice in his head that brought these doubts.
"I'm being stupid," he berated himself, pushing off his perch and moving to continue home. "Dad and Iri have good reasons for being away so often. I should trust them."
He pushed the thoughts out of his head, the lights above him beginning to shine on the street…only for his foot to come down on something.
"Huh?" Shirou raised an eyebrow, peering down at the rectangular thing he had stepped on. "A card?"
It was a weird type of playing card he admitted as he held it up to the street light, brushing off the dust from his shoe. It had the image of an armor-clad knight holding a sword on one side, and something that wouldn't be out of place in one of his manga on the other.
"Magic?" he hazarded a guess at the design, flicking the material. "Probably from a series or something."
The boy looked around for whoever had dropped it, but he was the only one in the area. Shrugging, and after a moment of deliberation, he pocketed the card—
And the world twisted.
The sensation lasted for less than an instant. The world twisted and twisted and twisted, every part of Shirou going through pipes in every direction at every speed in every way—
Then it stopped.
The boy collapsed against the fence, sweat dripping down his face, staining his uniform. His hands shook, and his legs began to fall from underneath him. His face paled like a sheet of paper, bile threatening to escape his mouth.
For a few minutes he oriented himself, the nausea dying down bit by bit until he could breathe.
"What…" He coughed up some spittle, wiping it clean with his sleeve. "What the hell was that?"
Silence answered Shirou as he got to his feet…and gaped.
The signs…everything was reversed. No matter where he looked—the street he had walked up, the hotel itself—everything was mirrored. Signs were backwards, streetlights were backwards.
Everything was just…unnatural.
Before Shirou could even ruminate on what the hell was going on…the hairs on his neck rose up.
His breath stopped cold in his lungs, frozen by a primal fear. His instincts told him to look around, but his body refused to do so. He was little more than a statue as a sound reached his ears from behind him…in the hotel's yard.
The sound of blades sharpening.
His body jittered and shook with tremors, instincts still blaring at him to run to hide to get away to live—
His eyes, at long last, turned to look behind him and caught on the warrior staring straight at him.
He didn't look like any sort of fighter Shirou had ever seen. Short but wild hair dotted his head, a prominent lock falling between his eyes; green against bloodied sclera, red trails dripping down his cheeks.
Two spears were clenched in his hands – one tipped with red and the other with gold. They were ornate, impeccably crafted, and deadlier than anything he had ever seen.
But it wasn't that Shirou paid attention to.
It was the sadistic grin directed right at him.
The warrior said nothing and did nothing but smirk like a serial killer. He raised his weapons, pointing them right at the boy.
All thought left Shirou and he ran.
Shirou ran like a man possessed through the streets, his hunter right behind him. His bag caught against a wall as he ran around it, and spilled everything. Shirou paid no heed to it however, continuing his mad dash to get free.
He needed to be free, he needed to live!
His lungs worked overtime, every breath feeling like a weight seeking to drag him down. Soon, his legs gave up and Shirou fell to the ground in a heap.
He cried out as his arms scraped against the concrete, blood dripping as he rolled and collapsed against a mailbox.
"Gah…hah…" Shirou breathed out as he stumbled to his feet, shaking at the blood on his hands. "What's going on…"
The redhead didn't get another chance to run away.
He blinked…and the warrior was there, staring down at him with bloodthirst in his eyes and in his smirk.
Time slowed down for the boy, eyes wide as he beheld the person who would kill him. He didn't even try to run or move.
He just let the thing kick him in the ribs.
Red hot pain seared his insides as Shirou screamed in inarticulate pain, holding his chest as everything burst inside. Bone stabbed into his chest, he couldn't breathe without it feeling like a Herculean task.
Shirou laid in a heap even as his neck was nearly twisted off when the warrior bent down and grabbed him by it, wrangling him before throwing him with impossible strength into a wall.
The wall cracked from the force, Shirou's spine nearly snapping in two. Blood poured in rivers from his mouth and his wounds, staining his seat and the road a rusted red. His vision swam and dimmed, darkening at the edges.
He was going to die.
The warrior raised his golden spear, pointed right at Shirou's heart. He smirked, laughed at his prey.
He was going to die, die die die diediediediedie-
The spear glinted in the moonlight, outshining even the streetlights around it.
He was never going to see Illya again, or Sella or Leys or Issei or anyone else he cared about. Shirou was going to die here, and nobody would ever know.
His bloodied fingers twitched as the warrior shifted in front of him, moving to make the deathblow.
That's not what he wanted.
The card in his pocket, forgotten in the chaos, blazed to life.
The spear soared forward, aimed for his heart—
Shirou widened his eyes, his resolve pumping in his heart as he shouted to the heavens themselves.
"I want to live!"
The words had barely left his lips when, in the space of an instant, a blinding white light enveloped the boy from view before shooting into the sky, forming a tower of blazing luminescence pulsing madly with magical energy. A wind whipped up, flinging all the nearby debris away and repulsing the mad warrior too, forcing him to back away.
He'd raised his guard on instinct as he retreated...but as it turned out, he'd done so too late. The warrior's eyes widened as something slashed at his chest, carving into his armor with a startling sharpness.
The warrior jumped back, blood dripping from his minor wound that was already near healed. But he ignored it…to stare at the sight before him.
Shirou stood there, but he was...different. His clothes were done away with for one thing; his school uniform had been replaced by black hakama on his lower half, wrapped in red cloth tied with white in front, and a white cloak enveloping his otherwise-bare torso, affixed to the strap of the crimson, embroidered igote covering his left arm. The kegetsu boots he wore scraped against the concrete as Shirou looked down at himself, then at the cracked, bloody-edged katana he wielded in his right hand. It was ready to break apart...but it did not do so.
"What the…" he breathed, before looking back at the warrior—Lancer—who was still wide eyed.
Shirou said nothing as new power, new resolve coursed in his veins. He gripped the sword and adjusted his stance, the point stabbing right towards the Servant.
"If…if you're going to kill me," he spoke, tightening his grip, "then I'm gonna do my best to beat you."
As if that served as a signal, Lancer leapt forward like a beast and swung both of his spears at the boy.
Shirou swung his half-broken sword at the spears…and a chaotic shower of sparks burst into existence.
Though he didn't know it at the time, nor would he until it didn't matter, one fact was established by this impossible event.
The Holy Grail War had begun.