Souichirou Kuzuki was a quiet, intimidating boy, and content to keep it that way.
He sat at the back of his classes at fuyuki university. He didn't answer questions, and when he did, it was invariably curt, concise, and correct, like a soldier delivering a report. He didn't have friends, most dissuaded from initiating conversation by his relatively tall frame of 180 cm—5'11", tall by japanese standards, whose men averaged out at about 5'7 ½.—blank expression and, though they didn't know it, a reflexive, unconscious intuition of deathly danger.
It was inevitable. The twenty year old aspiring teacher simply didn't move like a human. Or rather, he moved too humanly—exactly as a human should move. Dedicated athletes had a glimpse of this, an economy of movement, a deepness of breath, a relaxed, almost predatory gait. But only a glimpse.
In the east, this was referred to as the technique of Breathing and Walking, and certain sects of monks would spend their entire lives training to do what Kuzuki did as naturally as, well, breathing.
It wasn't an inborn trait, at least not for Kuzuki. It was a hard-won talent, gained after a childhood of martial arts training that civilized countries would call "barbaric", mostly because of its mortality rate, something like ⅕ if Kuzuki had to guess. Most governments weren't aware of its existence, of course. Not unless they utilized their agents.
The Brotherhood simply wouldn't approve of that kind of flagrant publicity, and would respond to leaks most… unfavorably.
Kuzuki didn't plan to attract their attention by leaking anything, anytime soon - or ever, preferably.
Avoiding their attentions was difficult enough as it was.
"Class, we'll be having a guest speaker today," the attractive, thirty-something philosophy teacher announced excitedly. "A local celebrity, I'm sure you've heard of him. Will everybody please give a grateful greeting to today's guest speaker, published author and award-winning scientist, Emiya Shirou!"
As she spoke, a short man with white hair and tan skinned walked into the room. Souichirou heard his peers break out into whispers. He caught fragments.
"...Emiya Shirou is speaking HERE, of all places… he could go anywhere he wants, in tokyo, even…"
"He lives in fuyuki city… I saw him shopping with his sister once, he was actually really nice, kind of snarky though…"
"...Can you imagine what it must be like to be that rich so young? He's probably stuck up…"
"...He's so CUTE!" One female classmate squealed to her friends.
Narrowing his eyes, Souichirou reexamined the man, who, upon review, was actually a boy. Ten years old, maybe eleven, though he was by no means an expert. He wore subdued red and black colors, and when he glanced up, directly into Souichirou eyes, he was overcome with the knowledge that he was going to be killed.
He had to physically restrain his reaction. Nevertheless, his grip left imprints in the wooden desk and his heart beat so loud in his ear he was sure the assassin could hear from the other end of the room. Panic started to cloud his mind, before he cut through it easily.
Nevertheless, he felt the killer's gaze dangle above him like damocles dagger.
How can none of them see? He wondered furiously. But that was a stupid question, and ridiculous to contemplate. These people were soft, and ignorant of the shadows that leered out at them from beyond their carefully sequestered worlds. Still, their untrained instincts at least understood the warning Souichirou had said through his body language. Could they not also smell the blood that suffused the room upon the boy's entry?
The boy was a killer. Sent by the Brotherhood, and no doubt here to dispose of a ruined asset. A man who'd abandoned them after accomplishing his first mission, Souichirou was a loose cable to be tied up.
The boy-assassin walked to the middle of the room and gave the professor what seemed to be a sincere smile. "Thank you for letting me speak before your class, Miss Fujitaka. I am always humbled by the opportunities I receive to pass down what knowledge I can."
All the while, Souichirou's mind went insane inside his skull. His instincts kept flying out of control with the boy's every movement. His graceful, cat-like, murderous walk. The way he reached out to shake the older woman's hand, almost innocently, like a fox playing with a dog before the pack attacked it. The experienced scan of a room as he walked toward the podium.
He looked short, even mounted on a box behind the podium that had been set up by the professor.
The boy's silver eyes did a quick scan of the faces before him, and Souichirou once again felt them pause on him. Not surprised.
Had they shown him a picture? Of course they had. Procedure must be followed.
"Hello there," Emiya began, voice carrying an authority and depth Souichirou hadn't expected in a boy so young. Neither had the rest, apparently, because he felt them sit up straighter slightly, miming attentiveness unconsciously. Some did it because of the voice, the rest followed, unconsciously mimicking their classmates.
"I know I'm not exactly what you expect in a guest speaker. Perhaps you expected someone whose feet don't hang in the air when they sit down." A couple of chuckles. "But I assure you I'm qualified, at least, to speak about today's subject. The wonderful Miss Fujitaka informed you were working this quarter on existentialism, is that right?"
A few of the overexcited girls from earlier said yes far too loudly to be appropriate.
"I'll take that as a yes then. Some of you may know, and others may not, that I recently published an autobiography," Laughs from students. The only sign of irritation was a twitch of one eyebrow, but he also seemed like he'd expected it. "It seems ridiculous, I know. My life's barely started. But I'm of the opinion that there's at least as much wisdom to be learnt from the young as the old. I think you'll find that there are people who experience more in twenty years than others learn in seventy, and that there are some experiences that demand to be told." They'd stopped laughing. "Through the Fire: Finding Purpose in Tragedy is the name. All of you are old enough to remember the Fuyuki Fire that killed 447 people only three years ago, in the now destroyed Shinto District. Of those present, I was the only survivor."
Those who'd laughed leaned down in their chairs guiltily, unable to look him in the eye. Emiya continued, eyes distant and not. Souichirou could tell that though what would come out of his mouth next was true, it wasn't the whole truth.
"Amnesia is a mental condition in which the patient loses access to all or part of their episodic memory, through physical or emotional trauma. At eight years old, I had no memory of anything that had come before. No mother, no father, no name. I could speak, understand language, write, and sing Donguri Korokoro. But my identity was frustratingly empty. They're still unsure if the memories are suppressed or all the smoke I inhaled damaged them irreparably. Either way, I don't think I'll be getting those back any time soon." This was not said sadly, but resignedly, nostalgic, almost, for a time he couldn't remember and never would.
"I was, predictably, very lost, and crushed by what I now recognize was a terrible case of Survivor's guilt. Because how could I survive, when everyone else died? Luck? Fate? It's absurd. There was nothing special about me. I wasn't stronger, I wasn't a better person. And yet, I'm alive. I'm alive, and all 447 of them are dead. Because when I walked through the chorus of screams and pleas for help, I did nothing. I walked. They died, and I went on."
Here he smiled bitterly. "The sad truth about life is it's not the brave ones that live on. Being a good person doesn't entitle you to anything. In reality, the ones who survive are the selfish ones, the ones who'll steal bread from a cell-mate to stave off death in a concentration camp, the ones who'll eat another human being when trapped underground." A breath. "The ones who'll watch others burn alive to extend their miserable existence another second."
"After the fire, I isolated myself. I did not play with other children. Not when I could hear their horrified screams in my sleep. I exhibited the usual symptoms. Anxiety and depression, social withdrawal, sleep disturbance and nightmares, physical complaints and mood swings with loss of drive." He listed the symptoms detachedly, like he was reading off a chart, clinically and with no inflection.
"The only thing that kept me getting up in the morning was a memory. When my father rescued me from the fire, I thought his pure, relieved smile would be the last thing I saw. His happiness that he had saved at least one person. A Hero's smile."
He continued, but now something like certainty entered his voice, but it was entirely unnecessary, as the room was already his captive audience. Their ears hung on the edge of his lips, on the rhythm of his speech, on the painfully honest ring of his story. They were trapped on this ride with him, and they could no more escape it then they stop the beating of their heart.
"It's the job of every human being to give meaning to their own lives. There is no greater entity that will make your life worth living. There are no absolutes, and morality is at best a fad and at worst a lie. The buck stops with you. If you don't decide what you value, what you believe makes you human after everything's ash and the sun explodes, the reason you get up in the morning and the last thing you'll ponder as your breath leaves your lungs a final time—which is the only certainty you can have in this world—then you will have values assigned to you. You'll sort of fall through life, and though your body may stand straight your spirit will always be drowning, at the mercy of the swell and crash of powers beyond your ken."
The boy with fire eyes and a voice like the groan of machinery and the clashing of swords and the battlecry of warriors leaned forward, and the class leaned forward too. "You are the creator of your own reality. The world you live in is created of your own perceptions, an illusion created by your mind to interface with the World. And you are the master of your perceptions, and by consequence, the master of your world. You decide what has value and what is meaningless. You decide is worth achieving and what is a waste of life. You get one life, one time, and what you do with that currency is your sole purview."
He ended it, and in that silence you could have heard a pin drop.
"The world is an absurd place, where bad thing happen to good people, good things to bad, and, most absurd of all, good or bad don't exist at all, outside of your own skull. But that's what makes humans exceptional. We can see the world as it should be, instead of as it is. We are not constrained by reality. What makes us human is the empty space between human nature and the terrible silence of the world, at some points touching, at others not. It is not the goal of the human mind to model itself after the natural world, rather, it seeks to model the natural world after itself.
"And never forget: your dreams, your ideals, your values, they can change the world. The road between the world and human nature is not a one way street. So find yourself, or build yourself, and laugh as the world groans uselessly against against your Truth, only to find it unforgiving and brutal and immutable as the stars, and witness where it gives and grinds and bends itself in your image."
The boy stepped down from the platform. No one clapped. The silence was deafening.
"I apologize, but I forgot I actually have an appointment to attend to. Unfortunately, there's no time to take questions. If you're interested in reading more of my personal ideal, and more on how to find or create your own, please buy my book. You'll find it at most bookstores around the country."
As he exited the room, the class broke out into cheers and claps and whistles.
Souichirou watched the door slam shut, silent, feeling acutely the emptiness inside his soul.
This would not be the last time he met Emiya Shirou. Of that, he was certain.