Ch1: Shirou's Wish
"I wish upon the Holy Grail; I pray you find a world where you won't have to suffer any longer. I pray that you meet kind people. I pray that you find friends you can laugh with. I pray you find… a second chance….a warm, small…share of happiness…."
My eyes open. My vision was blurry. My head hurt and I was having trouble breathing. My mind wasn't working properly. Much more than warmth, the heat around me was unbearable. A world of flames was all around me. The stench of burning flesh, metal and concrete bring me to my senses. It was strange, but the scene before me was familiar.
That was disconcerting.
My vision once blurry, slowly becomes clear. Amidst the rubble I stand up. I wasn't sure if I was dreaming. I could have sworn that I had lived through this before, yet there was something off.
I was carrying something heavy. I look down and in my arms was a toddler wrapped in cloth, black hair and red eyes? Right, they were originally that color before she wished that….
"A tool of a tool. When she wished for you two to be true siblings, you had no choice to become her "big brother". Did that thought ever occur to you?"
A nagging voice in my head, belonging to a man that couldn't possibly be a priest. "Tool", I take offense to the word. I force that thought out and continue walking. The weight in my arms reassures me. Both the scenery and the child were nostalgic, but they did not belong together.
She does not belong in a place like this.
That was why I had to walk. I put power into my legs, but they were weak and child like. It seemed like I was a lot younger than I imagined myself to be.
I walk, I walk and walk, until something obstructs my path.
It was an arm sprouting from the rubble.
"HELP! I can't feel my legs, someone….someone…..pull me out….."
I grit my teeth and walk around it.
"someone…..pull me out….."
What started out as a scream settled into silent gasps in the distance. I could not cover my ears, so all I could do was ignore them.
I keep walking. I keep walking. I keep walking.
I ignore the dark burning lumps. I ignore the wreckage. There were those who were walking about like me, but as soon as they stopped by those ghastly trees and reached for them, they too would become black lumps. I ignore the cries.
I knew first hand what would happen to us if we stopped.
I keep walking. I keep walking. I keep walking.
My lips tense up as I heard that sound, it was clear that she was having trouble breathing. The burden I was carrying was heavy. My arms were screaming to let go, but I did not.
"A big …..brother protects his little sister," was something that escaped my mouth.
Where did those words come from? Meaningless words, but I could not deny them. My little sister needed to be saved, my little sister deserved more, that was the only thing in my head. In this surreal world, that was the only truth. The words were a waste of breath from a pragmatic point of view, yet because of them, I could continue living. As I was still alive, I could continue to walk. I kept moving forward, so my sister could be saved. In that sense, nothing has changed.
I keep walking. I keep walking. I keep walking. My shoes have been burned away and my bare feet are cut upon the brimstone. They bleed, but even so, I continue to walk. The terrain was irregular.
"COME BACK HERE!" someone yells.
The cries for help eventually turn into curses, but I don't stop. I can't stop. I push forward, but the fire around us is ever present.
Each step was getting heavier, but I force myself to keep walking. I could not stop. I will not stop. My body answers my request and a tingling sensation floods through my legs. It wasn't much, but it was just enough to take me past my limit.
I keep walking and take strides wider than any I had taken before.
Was it magic? The answer didn't matter. All that mattered was I could continue walking.
I keep walking and walking, for what seemed like hours, but the scenery did not change. It was then…..
My foot had got stuck in something and I had tripped. I break the landing with my shoulder. A sharp pain, but nothing I didn't experience before. The smoke was getting thicker.
I was coughing, but so was she. Her breathing was getting irregular. I was going to die, but before that, my little sister was going to die and that was something I could not accept.
My leg was stuck. It wouldn't budge. Would it be better if I just cut it off? No, Miyu would die for sure if all I could do was crawl.
I grit my teeth. It was all for nothing wasn't it? The situation was hopeless. There was no way we were going to live.
As I lay there on the brimstone, meaningless questions flood my head.
Where were we? Who were we? What did she do to deserve this? None of that matters. None of that matters now. None of that matters and that made me angry.
I was weak. I couldn't change anything. Now, all I could do now was wish, wish for my sister to be saved, for Miyu to be saved. Wishing was nothing more than a coping mechanism.
"There's always someone who wants to save the world. Always forcing others to do what they cannot do for themselves," were words I must have said to someone once.
In the end, I was nothing more than a fraud. I prayed. I prayed and prayed for my wish to come true, even if it was a meaningless gesture.
I prayed. I prayed and I prayed some more.
My sins have caught up with me. There was no out. No one will come. My sister will die. My sister will die. Even if it has become evidently clear for such a thing to be true, I still continue to wish. I still continue to dream.
It was then he appeared. A man in a trench coat standing over us.
"You're….alive….you're both alive…."
A familiar, yet unfamiliar face. In my memories, that face was always cold, yet I could only sense warmth in that smile of his. Even though he was the one saving, tears of relief stream from his face. If nothing else, the familiar stranger was sincere about his desire to save us.
Miyu was on death's door step in this world of fire and brimstone. She should have been beyond saving and yet there it was, that warm heavenly light. A far cry from the harsh heat that surrounded us. Something that humans strive for but could never reach.
It was then I realized that my wish was granted.
The name Shirou was the only thing I could recall about myself with a semblance of confidence. The name Miyu was the only thing I knew to be true about the child I was found with. The man that saved us adopted us and we both took the name Emiya. Emiya?
Maybe I should have been a more considerate step-son, but once I regained most of my strength, I snuck out of the hospital while Miyu was still being examined. A miracle, the doctors had exclaimed. In truth a miracle did happen, so I wasn't worried. What worried me now was an unsettling feeling under my skin that the nightmare wasn't over. I needed to revisit the place where he had found us…...alone. To find any loose ends and tie them up.
I ignored the yellow tape and avoided the gazes of the police officers in the area. Beyond all reason, I had an obligation to see everything to the end.
The fire had died down, and all that was left was burnt rubble. The bodies had already been cleared away. They weren't here anymore, there was no one, the people I ignored so Miyu could be saved were gone. The trees were all withered. There was nothing here. Nothing here at all. I had wanted to know who I was, who Miyu was, but it seemed like there would be no answer. All I knew was that someone was chasing her and I had to stop them. If our pursuers were to show up, it would be here.
I take the scenery in, a land devoid of all life, or it should have been.
Before I could take everything in, I felt something. A change in the wind and a tension in the air, the first of many.
Garbed in red, mindless and vindictive, a large white haired vagabond was charging at me with swords at a pace beyond what humans should have been capable of, yet I could see him coming. Beautiful twin swords glint in the sun, one black and one white.
"Kanshou and Bakuya?" the names simply roll off my tongue.
What was happening couldn't have been real. It could only have been a dream. There was no way humans could move like that. In fact, there should have been no one here. Reality must be a dream, then if everything is a dream, then…
I invoke the familiar words, putting strength into my arms and legs that shouldn't have been possible. In my empty hands appeared the same otherworldly swords as my assailant.
The phantasmal blades clash; the otherworldly metal sings. Mirrors clash against mirrors.
He sweeps at my feet and only hits air. I slash at him from 2 angles, but he meets my attacks and surpasses them.
"Ho..ly...Grai...l" was what the thing groaned. When I heard those nonsensical words, I knew I had to cut down the one in front of me.
I'm on the defensive, but I knew my enemy and that was why he could never reach me. Ten, twenty, thirty strikes have been exchanged, but not once have I been grazed. It didn't matter he was stronger. It didn't matter he was faster. It didn't matter if he was bigger. In that mindless state of his, there was no way he could beat me.
Every time our blades clashed, I remembered. Well, I remembered how to fight at least. I push forward and my body screams.
His attacks, were my own and if I could see them coming, there was no way I could be done in. I wouldn't lose to myself. It was then, my opponent came to the same conclusion and had stepped back, dismissing the swords in a haze, materializing a bow in his hand in their place, but I was already a step ahead.
I throw my swords and trace an arc in the air. My entire body felt like it was burning.
"Haaahhhh," was my battle cry as I lunge forward. I wouldn't let him escape.
I had thrown my swords and in my hands, a new pair of swords had already materialized. The spinning blades surround the target. Opposites attract and like repels. Before he could materialize his own swords to intercept them, I had already made my move.
The difference in reach did not matter to fighters like us. That's what I had remembered and what he could not recall. My opponent is skewered by my twin swords. Blood had bloomed where I had stabbed him, but he promptly disappeared. In his place was something familiar.
A card. A card swaying back and forth in the wind. I catch it.
That was the word inscribed on the card, as well as a picture of a bowman. A fragment of "me".
It was unfortunate, but he would not be the last. There's always more than one after the Holy Grail. Holy Grail?
"Am I still dreaming?"
This world I lived in was nothing more than a dream. My memories were hazy for that reason. The sensation of the wind against my skin does not convince me otherwise.
"I pray you find a world where you won't have to suffer any longer."
Even so, I didn't want to wake up. For the sake of my little sister, this dream had to continue. Anything was better than the nightmare we had escaped.
I was no hero nor could I call myself one. Even so, I have a dream and if an enemy appears, I will cut them down. I will cut all of them down. That much was certain.
Dreams were fragile things after all.
5 years have passed since then and I had turned 12 as far as I knew.
Under the stars of the night sky, on a familiar porch, I was sitting next to the man that had saved us that day, Kiritsugu. He had called me out personally while Miyu was sound asleep. She had turned 6 and was starting elementary school soon after all.
Even though he was supposed to be our "father", he was always a little wary around us, no matter how kind he had tried to be. There were questions he had wanted to ask for years and it was on this night he had decided to ask them.
"You're a magus aren't you?" was what he asks.
I grip the stack of 7 cards in my pocket tightly. I had tried to cover the darker patches of my skin with makeup, but it seemed like he already knew. It was a familiar yet unfamiliar word. All I knew was it wasn't something nice to be accused of, especially by someone like Kiritsugu. I was on guard.
"Don't worry. I'm not angry….I knew from the start."
Saber, Archer, Lancer, Rider, Berserker, Caster and Assassin. Specters in pursuit of the Holy Grail. Every few months, maybe longer, they would appear and I would have to chase them. I didn't understand it, but something told me that Miyu cannot find happiness as long as they roamed this world.
Though clearly beyond human, the specters only had the minds of beasts, acting on instinct alone. Something was done to them, yet I didn't care. The only important thing was that I already knew how they fought as if I had fought them once before.
I had a dream, a wish after all.
I had cut them down to maintain this dream and I was expecting more. Specters that did not belong in the "normal" world. They were beings that could not have been real, but that flash of heavenly light that day was the same. That meant that Kiritsugu was a "magus" too. My brain told me that, that mages were universally "users", "users" of others. People that treated others like tools. Was he watching me? How much did he know? I load the sword barrel in my head.
Throughout those isolated battles with those "spirits", I always felt like someone was watching me. I needed to find that loose end, yet as I scoured the city after curfew after sneaking out of bed, I could never find anyone. My mind raced to the worst possible conclusion.
"What are you planning with my little sister?"
The threat comes out naturally as breathing, but Kiritsugu doesn't wince.
"If that's the first thing that comes to mind for you, then I'm relieved."
It appeared to be sincere, yet In the back of my mind, a voice was telling me that "Kiritsugu" would never say something like that. "Kiritsugu" stares into the sky and into the world above the clouds.
"When I was little, I wanted to be a hero."
A hero of justice would always prioritize the needs of the many over the few. A true hero of justice would sacrifice anything, anyone, to save the cluster of lives of greater number, even if that which needed to be sacrificed was family. Even if my memories were unreliable, I vividly knew the type.
"Did you give up?" was what I asked. It was something I needed to confirm.
"Being a hero is a limited time thing. When you get older, it gets harder to call yourself one….I made mistakes…...again…..and again…...I didn't realize it until it was too late….someone like me….saving the world?...It seems so stupid now….," he says with a heavy heart.
He tries to laugh it off as senile rambling, but it was clear it was a serious thing for him. I couldn't hate him. There was no ill will. The man beside me was no threat. He has always been nothing more than our guardian. I felt bad for even thinking such a thing. Even though he was unreliable as a father, even if he couldn't cook and his "job overseas" was dubious, he was not pathetic.
"It's not stupid."
Even if I could never become a hero, I couldn't deny the beauty in such a thing. To wish for others to be happy. That in itself couldn't be wrong. The reason we were saved and the reason why we needed to be saved in the first place, but even so... I couldn't deny that a part of me admired Kiritsugu. I couldn't help but admire my dad. He was the one who had granted my wish after all.
"If anything else, you're a hero to us."
I wasn't reassuring him, I was only speaking the truth.
"So is it alright for someone like me to keep wishing?"
"That depends on the wish."
The weary man glances at the starry night sky.
"Then I wish, for all of my children to grow up strong and healthy."
Such was a mundane wish every parent deserving of the title makes for their children.
"It will definitely come true," was the promise that casually left my lips.
I didn't understand it then, the true weight of his wish.
Dad closes his eyes with a smile on his face and never opens them again.
One man's world would stay night forever.