For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Prologue

The heat was unbearable. All around him it raged, a dull roar muted by the streams of choking black smoke that rampaged through the building like cloudy streams of polluted black water, thick and oily. Each of his senses was assaulted. The building screamed, it groaned a tortured cacophony of crashing timbers and the constant hellish roar of the fire. Dry air hot enough to blister his lungs was all he could suck between coughs, the rest filled with smoke and ash. He could not open his eyes against the heat but even through tightly squeezed eyelids he could see the glow of the inferno. His skin was scorched, saved only from instant immolation by the heavy weight of flesh pushing him down.

Mother, Father.

The boy's thoughts were an incoherent mess of terror and agony and horrifying realization. He was going to die. Here. On the floor of this building. He was going to be burned alive, screaming, tortured, and the only thing preventing that fate for another precious heartbeat was the bodies of his parents, thrown atop him by the blast. He trembled and despite the heat tears began to flow down the boy's face. Faced with the awful certainty of his death and the deaths of both people he held dearest he wept.

But fate had other plans for Shirou.

As he hung there on the cusp of life and death surrounded by flames he saw a figure approaching through the smoke. The figure was tall and slender, his movements hurried but controlled. The motions of a man who never rushed, who enjoyed complete confidence in his own prowess, and who could bend that prowess to any task that he set his mind to as easily as an ordinary man would rise from bed. The fire did not seem to phase him and he strode towards where Shirou cowered like a filing drawn to a lodestone.

Shirou was dimly aware of strong arms lifting him before he blacked out.

When he awoke he was outside in the cool night air lying on his back. His vision was blurry from the heat and the smoke but he could see the flashing lights of ambulances and fire trucks and, in the distance, the towering inferno from which he had just been pulled. He coughed and tried to sit up but a gentle hand held him down. He couldn't make out the man's face but he knew, without knowing how, that he was the one who had rescued him. His ravaged throat left him unable to speak but he could overhear voices talking, words and phrases lost to blackness as he teetered on the edge of consciousness.

"Poor thing…only survivor…can't be more than six years old…get him to a hospital…yes sir, right away."

Shirou's deadened senses sharpened suddenly and inexplicably. If the hair had not been burned from his flesh it would have been standing on end. For whatever reason he got the distinct impression that the next words would be very, very important. Important enough to shape the rest of his life.

"Are you the one who pulled him out?"

"Yes, I am."

"Are you the boy's father?"

"I…I will take responsibility for him. His parents were…in there. But I'll take care of him from now on."

"That's fine, but right now I need your signature on a medical release. What is your name?"

"Kirei. Kotomine Kirei."