Disclaimer: I own neither Fate/stay night nor Kenichi the Mightiest Disciple. Their owners are Type-moon and Syun Matsuena respectively.
Shirou grimaced as he rolled his shoulder, feeling the recently repaired bones grind against one another. He had just resigned from the archery club due to the scar that had already half-formed on his skin. In reality, he had only left to focus on his part-time job and to quiet Shinji down. Taiga had been complaining recently about Shinji constantly bringing the topic up, and Shirou had decided that he might as well make it easier on everyone and leave the club, especially considering that he had only been in it for just under two months.
It was likely that Sakura had already gotten home and started cleaning up the house while he was helping Shinji finish up with the last of the bows. Shinji had kept going on about making it to Captain of the archery club within a year, and Shirou had given him some tips for his shooting to help his friend get the position. The two were still at odds, at least slightly, but ever since Shirou decided to resign from the club Shinji had stopped being so openly antagonistic. Relative to his usual brand of in your face insults anyways.
Shirou hoped that his shoulder would be fully healed soon, so that Sakura didn't have to come over and help him anymore and so that his employers didn't have to wait for him to start heavy work again. He wasn't entirely sure what he was going to do until his shoulder got better, but he figured that he might as well help Issei and anyone else who asked.
A confrontation on the road up ahead caught Shirou's eye. A couple of thugs had stopped their car in the middle of the street, for no apparent reason, and were harrassing an old man and some girl that Shirou didn't recognize. The uniform she wore indicated that she was from Homurahara Gakuen like him, which was strange because Shirou figured that he would have heard about a girl who looked as good as her.
But that was besides the point, because his legs had already taken him halfway across the block, and the...conversation, was already becoming audible.
"-only deserve to walk on the side! That's the nature of things, got it?" The age and clothes of the men indicated that they weren't part of Fujimura-san's local branch, so Shirou couldn't just get rid of them by playing that card. Looks like the hard way.
The second thug, a mustachioed, tan, and broad shouldered classic gang member, smirked down at the girl, "That's right, because we're strong, we can do anything we want!"
The first one, still looming over the girl, leaned back and swept an arm at the surroundings, "Just see for yourself! All these guys are obeying our rule-hey! Who're you glaring at, ya little punk?" Shirou kept walking forward, the three random thugs finally noticing his determined approach. The first turned and leaned forward to snear right into Shirou's face, "This your girlfriend, boy? Think you're gonna be a big man and defend her?"
The other two made to laugh but Shirou just nodded, shifting to get around them and next to the girl. The one right in front of him snatched a hand out and grabbed Shirou's left arm, jerking him to a stop. Shirou matched his glare, though he couldn't quite pull off the snarl that the older man used. "What the hell are you doing, punk. You have to stop and pay respect to your elders and betters."
Shirou put force behind his words, "I'm sorry, but I can't just stand around and watch you harrass a girl and an old man. If you continue I'll stop you." He jerked his arm with enough strength to break the thug's grip and darted past him, standing next to the girl in the center of the small circle.
The tanned thug growled at him and reached over, grabbing a handful of Shirou's shirt. "What did you say you little shit!"
Shirou knocked the arm aside with a blow from his left hand, following it up with a shoulder charge to knock the guy over. The first and third thug reacted quickly, one getting a punch in on Shirou while the other moved to restrain the girl. In the meantime, Shirou managed to shoot off a quick warning before he got in close with his chosen target, "Oi, get out of here!"
Shirou hissed as he felt his bones grind against each other once more, but pushed past his suddenly blotchy vision to spin and drive a fist right at his attacker. His punch met a solid guard, making no headway, but it ended up meaning little.
A blur of motion and the man in front of him flew sideways, the guy's head probably ringing from a heavy impact. Shirou couldn't help the involuntary widening of his eyes when he saw the blond girl from before twist into a smooth landing from the violent double kick she had just unleashed on the guy. The adrenaline rush of the moment seemed to slow everything down, and for that instant all Shirou could do was watch her spin through the air, braid whipping in a circle around her head and movements as graceful as a gliding bird.
The moment ended and from behind Shirou heard a shout of anger. He whipped around to catch sight of the tan thug ripping a knife from his pocket and preparing to charge the blonde girl. The sight of the bare steel, pointing straight at the unaware girl, sent every alarm bell in his head off.
With nary a thought, Shirou sprinted to intercept the man, but before he could get over there the girl had kicked backwards, sending the knife flying.
Again, she spun into the air and a moment later the thug was laying on the ground, completely incapacitated. Shirou glanced around for the knife, making sure it hadn't hit anyone and double-checking the other two thugs for weapons of their own.
A stab of pain made it through his concentration, causing Shirou to grimace. He heard an intake of breath nearby.
"Oh no! Are you hurt?"
Shirou shook his head at the girl, who had her hand on her mouth. "No, it's fine. Just an injury from one of my clubs. More importantly, did you get any injuries from kicking that knife?" Shirou looked her over for a second, but then he realized just what it might seem like he was doing and blushed, turning away slightly.
The girl just shook her head, long blond braid twisting with the motion. "No, I can handle a little trouble like that easily. But thank you for the help!"
Shirou smiled happily, "No thanks needed, I'm just glad to help. Do you need me to walk you home or something?" Belatedly, he recalled the old man who had fallen to the ground. His cursory search revealed nothing, and he had a moment of consternation that the man hadn't even stuck around to thank the girl for going to the trouble of saving him.
It was the girl's turn to blush, before she straighted up slightly, eyes wide. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I forgot my manners!" She bowed slightly, "my name is Fuurinji Miu, a freshman at Homurahara Gakuen."
Shirou returned the bow automatically, "My name is Emiya Shirou, also a freshman at Homurahara, it is nice to meet you."
She smiled at him again, "It is nice to meet you too, Emiya-san. Maybe I'll see you at school sometime?"
Shirou nodded, "Yeah, just ask for Shirou or Emiya and someone will point me out to you."
Whistling, Shirou walked under the high stone wall that headed straight for the school. Sakura had left for her middle school before he did, and now that he was no longer in the archery club he didn't have to worry about showing up early in the morning. He was still early enough to beat the student rush, though there were a few other high schoolers ahead and behind him.
A familiar head of hair, an uncommon golden blonde, caught his eye. Shirou tried to figure out why it was familiar before he remembered the girl from the day before. At the time, he hadn't really thought on it, but the speed and skill that she displayed put to shame anything he had ever seen. He had run over that moment in his head all night, and he'd come to a conclusion about himself, though he was reluctant to ask his question.
But just like with Kiritsugu, even if he had to beg and trouble another, he would try and find a way to become stronger. He had to, if he wanted to save others and become a hero.
Squaring his shoulders, Shirou caught up to the girl, Furinji Miu if he remembered correctly. "Ohayou, Furinji-san!"
Miu turned around at his voice, face lighting up. "Emiya-san! How are you doing today?"
Shirou rubbed the back of his head, "I'm doing okay. Hey listen..." Pausing, Shirou lowered his arm, unsure where to put it and not really sure how to go about asking her his question. With a sigh, Shirou decided to just power stubbornly through like he always did. Miu had by then started to tilt her head to the side, looking vaguely like a curious cat. "Furinji-san, I was just wondering where you learned to move and fight like you did yesterday."
The girl cocked her head further to the side and took a second before her eyes lit up with understanding. "Oh! You mean where I learned my martial arts?"
Shirou nodded, still not sure how to go about his request. "I recently resigned from the archery club, and I kind of..." He hesitated, but figured that he had to put everything on the table if he was going to ask her for something. "I need to get stronger."
Miu regarded him with a faint and innocent curiousity, but Shirou couldn't help but feel like he was under a microscope. The feeling only intensified when she asked a question of her own with eyes that seemed to be targeting his very soul. "Why?"
Shirou glanced away, eyes focused on the sky and face a little red. He sheepishly scratched the back of his head and shot her a nervous glance before coughing and plowing on. "I need to get stronger so that I can really save people. I didn't do all that much yesterday."
She cocked her head to the side again, giving him another few seconds of silence to sweat about her response to his dream, however roundabout the confession had been. She smiled at him, a bright smile that made him pause in his nervous glancing around and instead focus all of his attention on her. For a moment, all he could do was think about how pretty she was, before he caught what he was thinking and nervously continued avoiding her eyes. She answered him brightly, "That's really cool!" She put her hand to her face to think while Shirou gaped at her, unused to anyone (read Taiga) taking his dream seriously. "Well, my grandfather is the one who trained me when I was a kid, but right now we just moved into a new dojo in town. If you want, you can stop by about training there."
Shirou continued to gape at her, but shoved it aside and grinned happily at her. "Thanks a lot, Furinji-san. If you want, I can bring some food over or something like that when I visit. How many people would it be needed for?"
She suddenly got very intense, giving him a look like a hawk who had just spotted a rabbit a mile below. "Would you really? If you can cook for 8-no better make that 16-then that would be great."
Shirou backed up slightly at her focus but just nodded, "Yeah, I can do that. Would tonight be okay?" Why did it sound like they were eating dinner AT the dojo? Did they live there?
She smiled back at him. "That would be fine." Unexpectedly, her smile became more hesitant. She lifted a leg up and began to twist her foot on the ground. Looking away, in a darting manner similar to Shirou's earlier actions, she asked her own question. "Um...Emiya-san, no one has ever protected me before like yesterday...so I was wondering if you would like to be friends?"
Shirou blinked slowly, then smiled, "I would be happy to. You can call me Shirou in that case."
Another blindingly bright, blue-eyed and pearly white smile broke upon her face. "Okay, Shirou-kun!"
The massive, slightly beaten and worn, gate did not make for a very inviting picture. The gate itself didn't mesh very well with the wall to the two sides, seeming to meet it unevenly. Then again, Shirou remembered how his house had looked when Kiritsugu had first taken him there. And now? Now he wouldn't ever consider any other place to be his true home, not after living there for so long.
Shrugging, Shirou stepped forward to push the entrance to Ryozanpaku open, only to find it impossible. Scratching his head, he looked around for a lock, peeking in and attempting to knock a few times. The lack of a bell pull or some type of ringer confused him. With a sigh, he tried pushing at the door once more, and to his great surprise it gave just a little. Deciding that he should do something after coming all this way, he pushed with all his might on one of the two doors, but his progress was painfully slow, a creaking pace like the opening of fortress gates. Unexpectedly, a big hand tapped the door, forcing it open with bone-jarring force.
Shirou face-planted on the ground, grumbling slightly as he stood up. 'Who did that? Just shoved open a door that someone else was opening? It was like pulling out a chair that someone was about to sit in.'
He tried to get a good look of the person who had opened the heavy door for him like it was nothing. Then he had to look up. And then again. A long white beard accompanied by white hair and a wise face? That fit the old martial arts master stereotype. The whole, "cannon barrel arms," part didn't fit very well at all.
Remebering his manners, Shirou straightened up and then bowed, "Hello. My name is Emiya Shirou, and I was wondering if this was Ryozanpaku?"
The giant old man leaned down, one bushy brow quirked as he examined Shirou. On Shirou's part, the lack of response and frankly massive and intimidating frame had him sweating in his shoes. But he remembered the ease with which this man had opened the heavy door, and decided that he had to do anything possible to reach that level of strength.
"Hmmmmm..." For a moment, Shirou thought a truck had parked out front or a small earthquake had struck, but then he realized that the rumble was coming from the old man in front of him. "Yes, Miu mentioned that you would be coming. I must say, I'm surprised that you offered to bring dinner. Could it be that you went and got take out for us all?"
Shirou lifted the big basket he had shoved all of the food in, gesturing to it with his chin, "No, I cooked the food at home. I made lotus root chicken for the primary dish, if that sounds alright."
A whirlwind of activity, a parade of monsters, a funeral march of the absurd: those were the only words Shirou could think of. The first man to descend upon the basket was a giant, dark-skinned and silver-haired man with an almost innocent look on his face. The second was another giant of man, this time wearing a leather jacket and sporting a large scar across his nose and face. Both were twice Shirou's size, and the two quickly started to argue over the food, and by extension, Shirou.
"Wait a sec, Apachai! We gotta get this back into the house so we can eat it later, not now!"
"Apachai! It smells good!"
A third blur, much smaller than the other two, bounded through everyone and somehow snatched a roll from the basket before Shirou had a chance to separate the existence of three new people crowding his personal space. The blur resolved itself into a short man with a hat wearing Chinese clothing.
Shirou blinked as the two larger newcomers moved off towards the buildings, one arguing forcefully and the other happily replying. A massive hand clapped down on his shoulder, and Shirou blinked again as he turned to the gigantic old man who had first greeted him. "Don't worry, you get used to it. My name is Furinji Hayato." A gleam of eyes through bushy brows. "Now, if this cooking is worthy, we might consider taking you on as a Disciple."
Shirou gulped at a sudden feeling of foreboding, as if a thousand souls were crying out in shared pain and misery.
The next day, he showed up at the gate ready for training right after school. He had had to make do with his part-time earnings, but apparently the meal had been enough to convince them to lower the entrance fee. The most amazing thing of all, though, had been one of the masters who ate with them. The man's name had been Akisame, and within a few moments he had set Shirou's shoulder in such a way that it no longer ground when Shirou shifted it. He could even lift heavy loads without worry, though impacts were apparently a bad idea. Wearing a mustache and hakama, Akisame fit the image of a wise Master so perfectly that Shirou felt rather reassured to have him as a teacher.
The other masters had introduced themselves, sort of. The first and largest, dark skinned man, Apachai Hopachai, had been rather enthusiastic in greeting Shirou and eating his food, to the point that Shirou wondered who was more childish, Taiga or the big martial artist. The second, the leather jacket wearing Shio Sakaki, had declared that he would never take a Disciple. The third, the smaller Chinese man Ma Kensei, had taken Shirou's easy reply to that declaration and decided that Shirou was more interested in looking good in front of girls. Which meant, to Ma, that Shirou was the perfect candidate for reformation through teaching his various special techniques for getting the better of women, otherwise known as peeping.
A fourth, Shigure Kousaka, had spoken in an absolute monotone, introducing herself and commenting that Shirou's hobby of cooking was not very manly, but the food was very good. He would have been offended, but he was distracted by her large assets barely contained by a sheer-cut pink kimono. Along with her long black ponytail, he'd been to busy trying to keep his mind on track to pay attention.
All told there were six Masters at the dojo, though Akisame had been made Shirou's Master for the time being. He and Kensei fussed a little more over Shirou's shoulder and sent him home saying that he needed at least one day of rest so that his shoulder could firm up more, and then they would begin teaching Shirou martial arts.
At least, that was what Shirou had expected.
Instead, he was now getting dragged through the gate and positioned in a squat over a burning candle, with two heavy weights in his arms and various sharp implements pointing at him to force him to stay still.
"What the hell is this!" Truth be told, Shirou was well used to pain in training, but this was just ridiculous.
The man had the gall to look wise, kneeling and sipping hot tea while Shirou sweated and strained to keep still under the weight. "You are well-developed for your age, but for the needs of this dojo you are woefully inadequate. Even more, we cannot teach you techniques or spar whilst your shoulder finishes mending, so for now we are simply going to build your body. This is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen your shoulder by gently stressing it!"
Shirou threw back his head and yelled at the sky, "This is not gentle!"
Really, Shirou was perfectly capable of being stubborn and doing reckless things, but even for him this was to far.
To Shirou's great relief, he was let out of his squat before he collapsed from the strain. To Shirou's great horror, he was tied to a big sled which his Master sat on. He was then told to run all the way to the Shinto train station.
"That's embarassing!" The annoyed yell actually raced far afield of Shirou, who was straining to stay ahead of the cracking whip being held by Akisame.
Akisame cut a terrifying figure with his glowing eyes and sadistic glee, but his response came out perfectly reasonable. "You must be willing to endure anything if you wish to follow the path of Martial Arts. What is a little shame in return for greater strength?"
Shirou would have sighed in resignation, but he was to busy panting from the effort of running as fast as he could.
"I have seen rocks that moved faster than you!"
By the end of the day, Shirou could barely move. He was laying flat out on his back, legs burning and shoulder throbbing. The entire run had taken nearly two hours, despite being a supposed sprint. It ended up being more of a whip torture session.
Akisame seemed satisfied, at least. "Good. Your development has just begun, though, so do not rest on your laurels." Shirou have a half-hearted wheeze, struggling mightily to snort derisively at the implication that he had triumphed over something. "We will continue tomorrow, so be here directly after school."
Shirou struggled up for a half a second, managing a strange sort of sitting bow as he did so. "Thank you, Koetsuji-sensei."
Akisame paused, and gave Shirou a small nod, "You are indeed not a rude child."
As Shirou collapsed, saving energy for the walk home, he did his best to divert blood and other bodily resources to his brain so that he could figure out if that was an insult or not.
That night, Shirou was forced to sit in his workshop with his back resting against the wall so that he wouldn't collapse. Apachai had given him a stick to walk home with, and Shirou could honestly say that he had flashbacks to Kiritsugu's smiling face when his Father had saved him from the flaming ruins of Fuyuki, such was his relief that one of the Masters was sane and kind. Well, kind anyways. Better than Fuji-nee, at least.
With a huff, Shirou expelled the air in his lungs and calmed his breathing, which had taken ten minutes just to get under control. Concentrating, he emptied all of the stress and exertion of the day, pulling his body from its tiredness and focusing his will on his body.
It felt like a hot bar of iron, heated in a furnace till it was glowing white with heat, entered his spine. But as always, Shirou pushed on past the pain of creating a magic circuit from his nerves. Today he had had his fair share of struggle, but his daily Magecraft training must continue, if he ever truly wanted to be a hero.
Shirou practiced his magecraft steadily for an hour, and when his makeshift circuit finally cooled off, Shirou let a satisfied smile cross his face. With his own training in magecraft, and new Masters willing to teach him even more, he was surely on his way to becoming a superhero and saving everyone.
It took roughly a week for Taiga to get fed up with Shirou's late homecomings and generally beat up condition. In that time, she attempted to corner him every lunch only for him to dissappear. After school, he was gone before she got a chance to do anything, and even at breakfast he was so dead tired that she could get little more than vague responses about martial arts and training.
Of course, Taiga was recalling when he was younger and would come back beat to hell by bullies that he had stood up to for no apparent reason. So, in the interests of protecting her meal ticket...-ahem- little brother, Taiga ordered a few of her grandpa's guys to tail Shirou and figure out what he was doing.
Apparently Shirou was in fact going to a dojo, one that was brand new to town, every day after school. He would go in, not quite fresh but certainly okay, and come out a few hours later after dark fell with his body barely managing to stagger back home. Even more disturbing were the rumors circling town of the red haired boy seen dragging someone on a sled around town at a dead run.
So Taiga was going to come to the rescue like a good big sister.
Drooling slightly at the thought of getting Shirou back in the kitchen (Sakura had improved greatly in the few weeks that Shirou had actually been home to help cook dinner, and when they worked together on breakfast it was heavenly, but without Shirou there for dinner it just wasn't the same), Taiga walked up to the front door of the dojo, Tora-shinai sheathed in its tiger-print cloth bag.
The lack of a doorbell of some kind was annoying, but Taiga was okay with that. "Yosh! Let's see what's going on inside today!"
A quick scramble and Taiga had made it to the top of the wall. Let it never be said that Taiga Fujimura was a strictly law-abiding citizen.
Taiga jerked sideways, arms flailing comically as she straightened atop the tiled wall and tried to get a look at the person who had appeared from nowhere just to her right. "Kyaaaahh!"
A crash and billowing of dust greeted Taiga on the inside of the wall. Groaning, Taiga sat up with wide, teary eyes, "Waaaahh! That hurt!" Whirling about, she pointed up at the wall, "You!" only to see that it was empty. "Huh?" She scratched her head, standing up from the ground and dusting her back off. "Where'd you go?"
"Who are you?"
Prepared, Taiga flipped Tora-shinai around and swung it, the cloth cover coming off with a noise akin to ripping paper. "Hya! You think you can-where'd you go?" Blinking in confusion, she turned around and tried to find the person who was tormenting her. A lightbulb went off in her head. "Aha! You can throw your voice, can't you! Well I won't fall for your dirty tricks like Shirou-kun did!" Clenching her fist, Taiga struck a pose and raised her arm in challenge.
"How does one...throw a voice?"
Taiga put her hands on her hips and "humphed" triumphantly with her eyes closed, "Don't think you can get me by playing stupid." She raised her head, holding Tora-shinai out. "I will find you, just you wait!"
Taiga lightly waved her shinai around in the direction of the voice, expecting it to meet no resistance. "Didn't I already tell you-what?" She turned around to see Tora-shinai resting on the head of a woman with zero expression on her face, regarding the practice sword carefully. "Kyaa! You really were there the whole time!" Jumping back, Taiga got into a kendo stance but the woman stayed still, not moving to draw the sword that had caused Taiga to retreat.
She cocked her head almost imperceptibly to the side, checking out Taiga's stance. "You are...good."
Taiga smiled, preening at the praise yet also appearing unaccountably bloodthirsty. "I will defeat you and take Shirou-kun home where he belongs! Cooking me dinner!"
Tora-shinai teleported, going from Taiga's hand to the hands of the woman, who was now standing alongside Taiga inspecting the blade with a blank gaze. "But not...good enough."
Taiga stared at her, dumbfounded for a moment, until the woman slowly raised a hand and clenched it in triumph, giving a small 'Yes!' gesture. Taiga mostly ignored the movement, instead falling to her knees and wailing at the sky. "Waaaaahhh! Now Shirou-kun won't come home and spend time with his big sister anymore!"
"Fuji-nee!? What are you doing here?"
Taiga jumped up, all smiles and brightness again. "Shirou-kun!" In a flash, she crossed the distance and grabbed onto Shirou's hand. "Come on, Shirou! We need to go home so you can keep teaching Sakura how to cook dinner! I mean, to keep you away from these nasty martial artists!" Shirou flailed wildly in her grip, or at least as wildly as a limp noodle could move itself. Taiga headed straight for the woman holding Tora-shinai, reaching over to grab the wooden practice sword and yank it away. Her tug proved ineffectual. "Let...go!" She strained, dropping Shirou to the ground and putting both hands, feet, and her back into pulling the weapon away, but the woman didn't budge.
Shirou sighed on the ground, "Fuji-nee. I'm training here. I really do want to go home and help out, since I feel terrible that Sakura is doing so much for me, but this is important."
Taiga let go of the shinai, gasping, and rounded on Shirou. Her eyes blazed and a phantom tiger roared along with her. "Whatever happened to that wonderful little Shirou that I remember! The one who would help out around the house without question! You get home right now and take over cleaning the house!"
Shirou looked away, ashamed. "I know. I really am the worst for making Sakura help out so much, but this has to be done. If I don't..."
Taiga paused, giving Shirou a close look. Then she leaned back, crossed her arms, and gave him a knowing smirk. "Heh heeeeee~. You're still on about that aren't you, Shirou-kun~"
Shirou glared at her, "Stupid Fuji-nee. I thought we agreed not to bring up old things like that!"
Taiga wagged a finger at him. "Now, now Shirou. If you don't want me to tell anyone, you should just forget about it and come home to cook quietly for me."
Shirou shook his head, "I'm really sorry, Fuji-nee, but this is something that I have to do. If I don't get stronger, then I can never live up to my Father's dream."
Taiga stopped looking quite so superior, losing her childish exuberance for a moment and narrowing her eyes at Shirou. For a while, she simply stood above Shirou, who was still flat out on the ground, and stared into his eyes. Then she humphed, turning around and grabbing Tora-shinai lightly. The woman let it go without resistance, and Taiga started to head for the wall she had come in by. She waved over her shoulder. "Fine, Shirou-kun! But you better make sure to spend extra time with us at breakfast then!"
Shirou sighed on the ground, ignoring the blank gaze that Shigure was giving him. Somehow, he wasn't sure how, but somehow, he just knew that gaze was asking him what he had meant earlier, and just why Taiga had so easily accepted his explanation. "Well, back to Akisame-sensei. I have to make the most of my time."
Shirou struggled through the pillars of wood, doing his best to hold the weights in his outstretched hands. He was slightly proud that he could manage to lift a pair of rocks nearly as big as his chest, but it was obviously not enough for his Masters. Still, he ploughed on, staggering here and there when he almost overbalanced.
"Lower your head more!" A stick wielded by Akisame whished through the air, scraping his scalp and ruffling his short hair. "Weave through the pegs quickly!" The switch continued to fly through the air, smacking Shirou whenever he stumbled or slowed down. Shirou did his best to keep up, trying to get his body to move correctly.
"Do you understand why we are doing this training!" Akisame paused in his hitting, but made sure to prod Shirou back into his scrambled movements.
Shirou couldn't really think while concentrating on weaving back and forth through the pegs, but he tried to answer Akisame anyways. "To get stronger?"
Akisame whacked him on the head, "No! You must think deeper! What is the underlying reason for the training?"
"Ack!..." Shirou stumbled again, trying to find an answer. "Um...to build a foundation?"
Akisame whacked him on the head again, "Yes!" Shirou tried to rub his head as he grumbled about unreasonable Masters, but Akisame smacked the arm before he could put the rock down. "There is a saying that "Power is the foundation of everything." No matter how polished its skills are, an ant cannot defeat an elephant."
Shirou narrowed his eyes, again trying to think through the situation. "So then...I am the ant?"
Akisame gave him a deadpan stare. "Aren't you insulting it? The ant, I mean?"
Shirou cocked his head, pausing in his back and forth movements. Then his head fell slightly, along with his arms, an air of depression falling for a half a moment before he straightened and continued moving. "So then I have a lot of improving to do, don't I? Even if I can't challenge the elephant, I can at least get stronger than the ant."
"Shirou. An ant has the strength to lift something that is a few times heavier than its body weight." Akisame gazed into the distance, hair obscuring his eyes as Shirou paused in his movements once more. "Learn from the ant, but don't give up on surpassing the elephant."
He turned back around as Shirou faced him, still squating and holding out the stones. "So, what do I need to do to surpass the elephant, Koetsuji-sensei?" A certain light had kindled in his eyes, as if the distant goal was not so impossible, even if he would have reached for it anyways.
Akisame laughed. "First, we shall take a break. It does no good to work out constantly, as the body needs a chance to rebuild."
Shirou nodded decisively, setting down the stones and sitting. Collapsing was a more accurate description, but Shirou would never acknowledge that fact.
On the patio of the dojo, several of the Masters had gathered, drinking tea and watching the newest disciple train. Elder Furinji spoke up, chuckling triumphantly. "As expected, it was a good thing to make Koetsuji teach. He does it well." Shigure sat next to him, sword sheathed and face unchanging. Apachai sat next to her and smiled happily, nodding with Hayato. "He understands the young man's heart well, and controls it properly."
In the background, Shirou attempted to sit up as Akisame stood and said, "Okay, break time's over!"
Above the three Masters, reclining on the roof, Sakaki barked out a few laughs. "Pfft. If he continues being so stubborn, the kid'll drive himself into the ground without going anywhere."
Furinji laughed again, a deep rumbling belly laugh. "Ho ho. Then Sakaki, do you want to train him instead?"
Sakaki looked away even though no one could see him, "N-no way. I don't train disciples!"
Apachai hopped up, pointing at himself, "Then Apachai thinks he should teach that boy as well!"
Shigure's response was deadpan, as usual. "You...don't even think about it."
The Elder did his best to cheer up the suddenly depressed giant of a man, "Well, maybe when Shirou is a little stronger!"
The last Master, Ma, popped up next to where Akisame was running Shirou through his paces, "Your sides are too sloppy!"
Shirou glanced at him, still straining to hold up his weights and keep his squat steady. "Eh?"
Ma got down next to him, squatting as well and going through the steps. "Extend your leg first, then carry the weight. You can use the foot's surface to gain balance."
"Like this?" Shirou attempted to imitate the movement, moving a little jerkily but otherwise getting it.
Nodding, Ma moved through the rest of the step again to show Shirou, "Right. Use the center of the foot to focus on gaining balance!"
As Shirou settled into practicing the steps, Akisame watched carefully then spoke aside to Ma. "Isn't that "Bear Step" from Chinese Kung Fu?"
Ma nodded, leaning over to whisper. "Since he's already learning different techniques, I figured that learning a bit of Kung Fu wouldn't hurt either."
Akisame rubbed his mustache. "I'm not sure if he can handle it, but you might be right. He certainly seems determined enough, and his body is at least well-coordinated. What was the saying? 'To neither kill nor save the Disciple?'"
Ma smiled evily, glancing over at where Shirou continued on obliviously. "If he dies in the process, then we'll just continue on and accept it. We can always go out and find more raw material to experiment with."
"Apachai!" The big man stood nearby, clenching his fists excitedly at learning how to teach a Disciple.
Shirou shivered, but passed it off as a muscle spasm. He'd been having plenty of those recently.
Flames. Death. Ruin. Smoke. All about was nothing but destruction, nothing but the end of humanity. People struggled with all their might, putting forth 110% to save themselves, to save others, to save valuables, to save anything that they possibly could. And yet none of those people made it. Try as they might, strive as they would, their hard work was not rewarded.
And Shirou walked through it all. Past the grasping hands and melting bodies, under the flaming street lights and pillars of blackness, through streets choked with rubble and the dying, Shirou stumbled on to save himself.
A light...and the dream ended. Chirping birds greeted Shirou's morning and he groaned. He had always thought that he was tough. He had thought his daily routine had been enough to get him prepared for the future, but it hadn't been. At least now he had a Master who willingly prepared him to continue, even if he had yet to learn any proper techniques. A good foundation was necessary, after all, and Shirou would always push on through whatever it was that he had to do to save others.
The sound of cooking in the kitchen reached him as he stumbled over. It had been getting harder and harder to get up early, but he somehow managed to get up before Sakura arrived most of the time. Today the nightmares had kept him asleep for longer, unfortunately.
"Morning Sakura." He walked into the kitchen behind her, looking over her preparations. It seemed that she had done a good job even without him there. "You've gotten really good at cooking lately."
She smiled at him. "Well, with you always out late doing your training, I've gotten lots of practice with dinner."
Shirou wilted a bit at that. "I really am sorry that I'm making you do all of this extra work to help me out around the house. If it weren't so important that I go to the dojo, then I would take care of this myself."
Sakura's smile widened slightly, her eyes gaining just a bit more light. "Don't say that, Senpai. I'm glad to come by and help out, and you already taught me so much." She lifted the dishes to take them over to the table, and Shirou's eye caught on something on her wrist.
His hand shot out, and he pulled back the sleeve of her uniform slightly to see a bruise on her wrist. His eyes widened, and then narrowed, a simmering anger in his gut. Sakura flinched at the expression on his face, almost dropping the dishes. Shirou would have noticed, but he was to busy questioning what was going on. "Sakura, what is that."
Sakura lowered her head a little, unable to meet his eyes, "...nothing."
Shirou stepped forward, insistent. "That is not 'nothing,' Sakura. Did someone do this to you? Who?"
Sakura dropped her head further, and Shirou's mind halted. For a second, he could only remember all of the rumors about Shinji and all of the little temper tantrums the boy constantly had. He growled, "It was Shinji, wasn't it." Sakura shifted her hair to cover her face and walk away, but Shirou grabbed onto her arm and turned her around to face him. "Why didn't you tell me? If I have to I'll straighten him out myself!"
Sakura looked up suddenly, giving him a strange and disbelieving look, before her expression changed to something just slightly desperate. "No! You can't fight Onii-san, it will only cause problems for you two."
Shirou shook his head fiercely, "Sakura, I can't stand by and watch this happen. I just can't."
He would never turn away from someone who needed to be saved again, never.
"Gwaaahh!" The smack of fist on flesh caused all of the gathered students to suddenly stop gossiping and whispering. Shirou ignored the onlookers, furious. It had taken everything he had to restrain himself from knocking Shinji across the block, but in the name of past friendship and at Sakura's insistence, he had held back.
"Shinji, if I ever see anything like that again, I will personally put a stop to it. Do you understand me?" His tone was heated, and his arms tense. Shinji lay there in a daze, half knocked out and barely able to get up. "I. Said. Do you understand me!"
Shinji snapped to at the commanding tone, and glared with a mixture of fear and fury. "What was that, Emiya! You think you can tell me what to do with my own family!"
Shirou snarled down at him, "If you're hurting one of them, then yes!"
Shinji scrambled back as Shirou advanced, standing in a half-crouch but unable to look away or run from the fire in Shirou's eyes. For a moment, neither of them moved, eyes locked, then Shinji's gaze darted to the side, his body turning away from the heat of his one-time friend's glare. He straighted up a moment later, eyes narrowed and face creased in anger. He raised his nose and looked down at Shirou. "You think you can push me around like some thug, Emiya? I'll show you what a real fighter is like, just you wait. There's plenty of them in town."
With that, Shinji marched away, shaking with rage. Shirou watched him go, but turned back from the purple haired boy. He didn't care what Shinji did, just so long as it wasn't directed at Sakura or anyone else.
Sakura glanced about before she caught sight of him, unused to anyone calling out to her on her route back from school. Shirou waved to her, and she suddenly looked down to avoid his eyes and turn back onto her route. Shirou wasn't having any of that.
"Sakura." He caught up and reached out to grab her shoulder, turning her around again. He leaned down until he had caught her purple eyes, as dull as the day he first met her, and used his most firm and reassuring voice. "Sakura, if Shinji ever does anything like that ever again, just tell me and I'll take care of it. Now, I'm going to be spending weekends at the Ryozanpaku dojo to train because Fujimura-sama has released a bit more of the money that Dad left me. Don't worry about going to help out at my house on the weekends, and if you want to talk to me, just ask Taiga to show you where the dojo is."
Sakura gave him a quietly bewildered look, before she smiled with more feeling than he had ever seen from her. "Of course, Senpai." Then she lowered her head and scowled at him, "But you really shouldn't fight with Onii-san like that."
Shirou smiled at her scolding, glad to see life in her eyes again. "Don't worry about it Sakura, it's just a guy thing."
Shirou sat gingerly on the roof across from Miu, gobbling whatever food he could get. He didn't want to be rude, but he was seriously starving and all of his muscles hurt from being stretched way past their limits. The rotten Masters had decided that if he wanted to eat he had to catch it first, which meant that he had to beat them to the food on the table while simultaneously defending his plate. Ridiculous, cliche, and childish. It reminded him of Fuji-nee, honestly. He smiled at the thought, pausing to look at the quarter moon that was out for the night.
Miu spoke up, breaking the low sound of the wind and Shirou's eating. "It's nice, sitting down to a meal with everyone."
Shirou stopped eating again, thinking about his reply. He remembered eating with just Fuji-nee and his Dad, back when he was younger and neither of them could cook. He thought of the past two months with Sakura, a return to those days when it wasn't just him and Taiga at the table. "Yeah, it really is."
"Do you eat with your family like that every day?" Miu was looking at him happily, taking note of the smile on his face.
Shirou shrugged but nodded, "Sort of. It's more of a surrogate family than anything. There's Fuji-nee, she's been coming over to eat for as long as I can remember, and now there's also Sakura, who helped me out when I had first injured my shoulder."
Miu's eyes were curious, "So you don't have a family anymore?" At Shirou's nod, she looked slightly sheepish, "I'm sorry that I asked." Before Shirou could reassure her, her eyes got more distant, as if they were inspecting something from a vast distance. "My parents died when I was younger, and my grandfather took me in. We travelled a lot, but it wasn't until we got to Ryozanpaku that I really found a family. Everyone is so nice, even if their definition of normal is off-kilter."
Shirou smiled at her. "I'm glad you found a home. It can mean more than the world to have a proper home."
Miu's lips curled into a half-smile, and she gazed at the moon. The two sat in silence for a bit, watching the few stars that peaked through the light of the city. "Anyways, this view is amazing, isn't it?"
Shirou nodded, "It is. It reminds me of sitting on the porch with my Dad when I was younger, just watching the yard and the starry sky as he told me stories." The nostalgic smile recalled long nights with a cup of tea, and that final night in which he was given his dream by the man who had already given him everything.
"Is that your favorite spot at home?" Miu's gaze was eager, and at Shirou's affirmative she sighed in slight wonder. "This is my favorite spot. I used to have a dream, that when I made a friend one day I would gaze at the stars from on top of the dojo sitting beside them. This is a new dojo, but the feel is just the same."
Shirou stopped, watching the peaceful expression on her face, and he found himself mirroring her calm happiness. There was that usual little glow, knowing that he had helped make someone happy. There was something else, as well, but he refused to acknowledge it. He glanced down at the grounds, where he was put through his paces so that he could gain the strength necessary to save people. "So, you already fulfilled one of your dreams, huh? I'm glad that I could help."
Miu turned to him. "So, what is one of your dreams for the future?"
Shirou pursed his lips, not really sure how to answer. Technically, he had already told her, but it wasn't really in so many words nor was it a declaration of a dream, so much as a reason to get stronger. Finally, he decided to tell her, if only because she looked so happy up here. "My dream...is to get strong enough to save everyone. I want to be a hero for others, to be able to stop people from hurting with my own two hands, like my father saved me." He looked at Miu carefully, and a wry smile quirked his lips. "It looks like you're helping me to achieve my dream, by showing me Ryozanpaku. Thank you, Miu."
Down below, several of the Masters who were lounging around heard Shirou's declaration, and finally made up their minds that Shirou would indeed make for a perfect disciple of the Katsujinken.
Unaware of the decisions made in the dojo, Miu hesitated but smiled in response a moment later. Again hesitant, she shuffled her legs and looked away. "Well, since you told me your dream, I guess I'll tell you mine." She took a deep breath and faced the ground in front of her, hands wringing themselves nervously. "I want to become a good wife someday." She looked up at him, gaze unexpectedly fierce yet far cuter for it.
Shirou smiled reassuringly at her, "I'm sure you will make a beautiful bride one day." Miu blushed at that, looking away again. Shirou finally realized what he'd said, and looked away as well.
Attempting to keep up with school, cleaning the house while dead tired to keep Sakura from doing it on her own, training his magecraft late into the night, and still getting a good few hours in every day at Ryozanpaku had started to wear Shirou down. He always had a good routine going, and now that he had replaced his "helping people" time-bar the early mornings-with more training at Ryozanpaku, his mind and body were slowly wearing down. He could deal with his body being tired, that was simply another hurdle to overcome, but his mind had been hard to focus on tasks lately, as if everything was scattering his thoughts.
He needed to find his center, and he could really only think of one way to do that without resorting to more magecraft training, which was as straining to his mind as everything else, or cooking.
"Shigure-san, is there anywhere that I can practice archery?"
He didn't feel right going to the archery range at school having so recently left. For now, he would see if he could take his time and get some repititions in at Ryozanpaku.
Shigure silently pointed to a corner of the grounds, where a target was set up for ranged practice, probably for her weapons. Shirou smiled at her, "Thanks, Kousaka-sensei." He hurried off, unaware of her little fist pump behind him. He was equally unaware of the darting shapes the pursued him across the dojo grounds.
To an outside observer, the sight would be distinctly reminiscent of a horror movie as the protagonist, or first victim, wandered out into the woods alone.
Blissfully unaware of his stalkers, Shirou set his feet apart and assumed the stance he had been taught at the club, taking out the borrowed bow and stringing it. Controlling his breathing, he made himself into nothing and let loose his concentration, both focused and unfocused in his mind. He grabbed arrows from his quiver and smoothly drew and fired them, one after the other, sliding through the eight steps of kyudo. Each arrow followed the path he imagined.
The arrows steadily thunked into the targets, forming an expanding ring.
In the trees nearby, on the wall, and kneeling atop the dojo, the Masters watched him practice his archery as he had been taught at school.
Furinji Hayato, the Invincible Superman, smiled in satisfaction. "So he does have a talent, and in Sei no less."
The night was as calm as always, the streets leading from Ryozanpaku to his house empty thanks to the unusually late hour. Shirou walked home slowly, conserving what energy he could. All things considered, he was doing far better than he used to, but he had a feeling that his magecraft training had suffered from his fatigue every night. Shirou sighed at that thought: what magecraft training? He was determined to advance in his father's craft no matter the cost or obstacle, but he knew it would be years before he could truly do anything with it.
For now, he was satisfied to be making headway by using the route provided to him by the Masters at Ryozanpaku. He had no true idea what he would do to repay them, but he could only believe that they had helped him as much as his father.
"Oi! You Emiya Shirou?"
The loud, guttural call that demanded his attention broke through Shirou's haze. He turned lethargically to whoever it was and squinted with tired eyes, trying to figure out whether or not he knew the person. "Yeah, how can I help you?"
There were five of them, fairly big teenagers who looked to be between their second and third years in upper-secondary school. In the front, a muscled thug sauntered forward, all cocky arrogance and superior attitude. "So you're the punk who's been goin around town and saying you could beat any gang in Shinto?"
Shirou gave him a look that was equal parts confusion and disbelief. He did his best to think a way around the situation or even to figure out just what the hell was going on, but decided that there was nothing he could do. He shook his head in exasperation, "I have no idea what you are talking about."
The punch caught him completely unaware in the half-lit street.
"Gaah!" Shirou fell down on all fours, surprised and a little punch drunk from the long day and this last blow to the head. As if from a far distance he heard the cocky one scoffing.
"Hah! You think you can shoot your mouth off and get away scott free by playing dumb? Get real, fool!" Shirou forced himself to stand, legs and shoulders aching from the training he had been doing that day. The one who punched him was actually posing, arms crossed and head jutting forward aggressively at Shirou as he laughed.
Shirou spat, a little bit of blood hitting the ground. "What was that about?"
The leader, or at least Shirou guessed he was the leader, got into a street brawling stance and moved forward. "Oh? Still playing dumb? I wanna see if you can actually live up to your boasts. Lets hope so, or else I'm gonna break you in half for making me come all the way out here for nothin."
The first punch came for him, a wide haymaker. The Masters had yet to properly teach him anything beyond various ways of moving, but Shirou had never let a little thing like having no idea what to do slow him down. The response was instinctual, a rapid step to the side that spun him past the opponents guard and then a second step to push past him. He hammered a haymaker into the thugs side without even thinking about it.
To Shirou's great surprise, the guy went down, sliding a few meters with a cry of pain.
Shirou could fight, certainly, having gotten in his share of schoolyard scuffles, more than his share thanks to his habit of stepping in to save others; however, he had never finished a fight...quite so quickly. Not only did he never have a reason to, but his usual method of fighting involved staying up until the other guy went down from exhaustion or gave up. Now, the punk who had challenged him was barely staggering upright, clutching his side and glaring angrily at Shirou.
"What the hell you little shit. Going for my kidney? That coulda burst it! Fuck it." A flick and a small glint of reflected light showed the pocket knife the guy had pulled out. Shirou tensed, knowing that he was genuinly in danger right now. His best bet was to run, otherwise he would die.
The knife came in another wild swing, and Shirou stepped back to avoid it. To his dismay, he stepped right within range of one of the other thugs, who grabbed Shirou from behind and held him tight. The guy with the knife smiled at Shirou, a distinctly unpleasant smile. Shirou struggled wordlessly, doing his best to escape and straining his arms. The smug smile faltered as Shirou forced the grip of the person behind him apart. Without pausing to wait, the guy in front lunged with his knife.
For a second, Shirou could only think about the person behind him, and he froze. The only thought he had was if the knife missed, if the knife went into the person he had already unbalanced. With a heave, he ripped his right arm free and threw it forward to hit the knife away. At the same time, he pushed back with his left, forcing the thug holding him backwards and away from the approaching weapon.
The thug with the knife kept going forwards, and the blade nicked Shirou's hand and bicep as it went past. Hissing, Shirou bulled forwards and knocked the punk over, kicking the knife away when it was dropped. The thug cried out as he fell again, only this time it was not a wordless cry. "You idiots, help me with this guy. We gotta make him pay for talking shit!"
Shirou backed away from them, warily keeping an eye on the switchblades and brass knuckles that had been drawn. His eyes darted around, knowing that he stood no chance even with the physical conditioning. He should try and run to minimize the trouble, but at this rate he was cornered and the idiots were swinging without regards to who was nearby. His gaze alighted upon a branch that had fallen from one of the trees above. Shirou moved over, shuffling carefully while the four, now five, thugs approached him threateningly. The leader had gotten up from the ground and retrieved his knife. "Just give up now, and it will all end with nothing more than that cut on your hand and a scar on your face. If you insist on being an idiot, I'm afraid I'll have to send you to the hospital to teach you a lesson. Maybe if you beg I'll pass on carving your ugly mug up; you don't really need the extra treatment."
Shirou grabbed the branch from below himself and settled into a low stance, only half listening to the boasting that the thug was going through. He closed his eyes for half a second, and constructed his magic circuit faster than ever before. His body lit on fire, the pain in his hand and arm disappearing like mist before a blaze, but he ignored the sensation and finished the circuit. "Trace. On."
A quick Structural Grasping to figure out how to reinforce it, and a Reinforcement to make the branch strong enough to stand up to the knives. A few twigs on the branch bent and cracked under the strain of prana, but otherwise the spell was successful.
Shirou sighed in relief, it looked like he had pulled it off this time. He returned his attention just in time to see the first of the thugs slash down at him. With a shout, Shirou whipped the branch to the side, and it cracked on the knife hand with enough force to break several fingers and send the blade spinning off into the night.
Shirou had only a moment to hope the knife didn't hit anyone before another thug came at him, swinging his weaponized fist. Shirou jumped back, instinctively avoiding the attack. His jump carried him further than he expected, and Shirou blinked momentarily. He focused on his legs, and realized that the act of going through with creating his magic circuit had restored his energy levels. That, and he had never jumped quite that far in his life, and he remembered one time when he had striven for hours to make a high jump that he would now, it seemed, manage with no effort.
He didn't take the time to contemplate the development, instead jumping forwards at the similarly confused thug and swinging with his branch, causing one thug to go down clutching his arm. Shirou felt his mind focus, a calm analyzation of the situation.
He was under attack, and he would defend himself quickly to put an end to the fight, but he saw no reason to cause any permanent harm. With a battle cry, he swung wildly at another two, but the third got in close with a stab. Shirou tried to spin around him as well, but the two he had been pressuring closed in, eyes sharp and angling for his chest.
A swing of his makeshift weapon blocked both attacks, but the one he had dodged made a blind cut and managed to score a long gouge, thankfully only getting the skin and little muscle on Shirou's arm. Hissing in pain, Shirou lashed out and broke a forearm. The other two had backed off, staying out of range of Shirou and his stick. Ignoring their caution, Shirou roared and charged, a wide arc of the branch forcing them back. Without waiting around, the two broke off and ran from Shirou, who by now was bleeding through his long-sleeved shirt and panting heavily.
Shirou checked the three on the ground, making sure to throw the two knives across the street. Heaving a tired sigh, he dropped the branch and called the hospital. He sat down next to the three and told them to wait for the ambulance. Settling in for a long night, he sat back and stared at the night sky. "Well, I guess I can consider that a successful use of magecraft for the night."
He didn't get back from the hospital until 2 o'clock.
The next day passed in a haze, and Shirou knew he slept through several classes, especially when Issei berated him for it during lunch. But really, he got almost no sleep the night before, and the two cuts had been deep enough to require stitches. By the time he made it to Ryozanpaku, he was barely up to making it through the door, but he pushed it open with some determination and got inside.
"Ah, Shirou, are you ready for a new element of your training?"
Shirou nodded at Akisame, straightening up and getting ready for another day. He followed Akisame into the dojo, where a strange, man shaped statue stood in the center of the tatami mat floor. Akisame pointed to it, seeming very proud, "This is my special training device, 'thrower'."
Shirou grabbed ahold of the gi wrapped around the statue, which was roughly his own height and just reached Akisame's shoulder, and made to lift it to see how heavy it was. He grunted in effort, barely getting its feet off of the ground. "Whoa! It's heavy!"
Akisame's response was totally deadpan. "That's because it's a lump of rock." He got back into his all business mindset. "For now, we'll set aside the complicated techniques to start you on the basics. Now that your body is conditioned enough, we will begin teaching you how to fight with the fundamentals!"
Shirou grabbed ahold of the belt and front of the gi, and strained to lift the statue in a way that would let him throw it. He gritted his teeth but his efforts got him nowhere, until Akisame tapped his shoulder and had him stop. "Haha, your perseverance and eagerness will serve you well, Shirou, but you must learn how to throw properly first. You need to think about the center of the weight."
Shirou gave him a quizzical look, and Akisame elaborated. "It is also known as the balance of the mass. For a person, it'd be around their belly button." He placed his hand on the head and put his foot at the base of the statue. "Simply said, by placing force on the two ends of the weight center..." The statue spun like a propeller until Akisame tapped it to set it back down upright. "You can easily knock them down!"
"A-amazing!" Shirou was again fully eager to try his hand at it, and settled in to try the throw again. He got a few practice attempts in with Akisame watching carefully, before his sleeve rolled up on one throw. Akisame stepped in with narrowed, once more glowing eyes and grabbed Shirou's hand.
"What is this, Shirou? When did you get a cut like this?" Akisame was particularly stern, glaring Shirou down.
Sheepish, Shirou rubbed the back of his head with his other arm, "Uh...well there were some random thugs on the way home yesterday with knives. I managed to fight them with a stick and I ended up waiting for an ambulance to make sure they were alright."
The glowing eyes increased their radiance. "Really now. And you didn't see fit to inform us of this?"
Shirou looked at him, confused for a second, but his eyes brightened in understanding. "Oh, don't worry. I can deal with this today, its nothing really. I can keep up!"
Akisame raised an eyebrow at him, but nodded and backed off. That wasn't his concern, but he could respect the determination. He eyed the bandage on Shirou's hand with a new intensity instead of the mild curiousity from earlier, but otherwise the training went on as normal.
It wasn't until Shirou's training with Apachai that Akisame renewed his scrutiny.
"Shirou, ready to go?"
Shirou nodded decisively, "Yes, Sensei."
Apachai smiled happily, eyes closed and hair band on. "I don't know about other fighting styles, but if you need to kill, then it's Muay Thai! Apachai learned it that way..."
"Guh..." Shirou wasn't really sure how to take that, but he nodded anyways. "Okay, Sensei...but I don't really need to kill anyone right now..."
Apachai smiled at him, "That's okay, I'm sure you will have people to kill in the future!"
Shirou gave up on composure and fell back half a step, downright terrified by the mixed messages. A smiling killer? Wasn't this what he had promised to save people from?
Akisame spoke up from the patio, "Hmmm, wouldn't it be better if you taught him what kind of fighting technique Muay Thai is?"
Apachai turned to Akisame and his face went completely innocent, "Huh? It's to kill people and..."
Shirou shook his head slowly at his newest teacher, not really sure whether he should be taking these lessons. But Akisame made up for the half-hearted, or maybe just misinformed, reply. "Ah, Muay Thai is historically a traditional martial art used for close quarters combat, originally developed in the Kingdom of Siam, which is now known as Thailand...or at least I think that's what Apachai is trying to say."
Apachai clenched a fist and nodded excitedly, "Right! Exactly!"
Shirou gave him the stink eye, 'That's not what you were saying at all. I'm getting strange Fuji-nee vibes...' But he had to train, to make the most use of his time so that he could save others. More than that, Shirou knew that some day he may have to kill, just like his Father had told him when he was younger. "Okay, let's start Apachai-sensei."
The giant man jumped up and came down in a stance, "Right! Then first, Tan Garde Muei!" Shirou followed the stance and stood with his hands clenched and held palm forwards in front of himself.
Apachai nodded then swept an elbow forwards, "Next is Ti Sok! Muay Thai uses the elbows and knees a lot!" The two repeated the motion in tandem, Shirou watching Apachai carefully.
Akisame continued lecturing from the patio, keeping watch over the lesson. "Most current martial arts, prohibit the use of knees and elbows during a match..."
As Shirou followed his Master in the steps of Muay Thai, he let his curiosity get the best of him. "Why?"
Apachai answered as enthusiastically as ever. "That's because if you get hit wrong you die!"
Akisame nodded in agreement, still in lecture mode. "True, but, Muay Thai focuses on these two techniques instead."
Shirou frowned, throwing another elbow, "Why?"
Again, Apachai shouted his answer happily, "That's because if you get a good hit in, you can kill him!"
Shirou's frown deepened, then he asked a question that had been plaguing him since he was a child. Or rather, he asked a question that only someone as strong as these Masters could give him an answer too. "So...is this a martial art designed to save, or to kill? Is there a difference?"
He was answered by the Elder when the venerable man walked out from the dojo proper, "Ultimately, no matter what type of martial art it is, the objective is how to efficiently destroy your opponents. After that, it just depends on the heart of the fighter."
Shirou continued the steps, but he listened intently to something that had been especially relevant ever since he saw Miu cartwheeling through the air to save that old man the other day. The Elder continued, "If it is used for your selfish gains, then it becomes 'violence.' But if you use it to protect yourself, to help someone else in need, then even a killing technique can ascend to true martial arts."
Shirou nodded, gaze even more determined than before. He already knew what his path was, and he now knew how he could save others effectively with this training. That had always been his concern, and it always would be.
As he returned his full attention to Apachai, the giant pulled a crazy fast knee, hands behind his head to imitate a hold on an opponents head. "There, the last is Ti Kau Kon! The trick is to not hold back! And with this, any opponent of Shirou will go straight to the afterlife!"
Shirou tried to block out Apachai's encouragements, fairly sure that he would be corrupted by their innocuous influence. He could think of nothing more insidious than the shouts of a 7 foot tall giant with killer knees and elbows.
Akisame watched Shirou practice, satisfied that Ryozanpaku's pupil would succesfully make use of his training instead of going off to fight randomly for the sake of fighting. That eliminated one possibility, though it raised a few others.
After a bunch more repetitions, Apachai stood across from Shirou with punching mitts. "Good, Shirou, you're doing well. That's it for the basic moves. We'll start some mitt hitting now."
Shirou stood in his Muay Thai stance, "Yes!"
Apachai smiled kindly, "Okay, try hitting!"
Shirou nodded and went forward, musing on the lack of 'killing' being mentioned and the return of Apachai's usual innocent demeanor. So far, there wasn't a single shadowed face or glowing eye. Shirou inched forwards, testing the waters. He could distinctly recall the first time Apachai tried to practice 'holding back.' No stone statue deserved to be put through that treatment.
Apachai's eyes blazed and his smile turned into something evil, his face darkening until only the glowing light from the eyes and pearly white gash in place of his mouth showed.
Nope, not going there.
Shirou backed hurriedly out of range. He may be willing to throw his life away for another, but dammit! Even he had a self-preservation instinct, he just overrode it whenever someone else was involved!
Apachai's face lightened and he called eagerly to the nervously retreating Shirou. "What's wrong, Shirou? Hurry up. Mitt hitting is fun!"
Shirou got flashbacks to Fuji-nee and whenever she got ahold of Tora-shinai, and backed up another dozen feet. "Really, can you really take it easy on me?!"
Apachai staggered backwards, clutching his face with the punching mitts. He slumped and turned away to head back into the dojo or find a dark corner to clutch his knees and rock in. "Apachai sad...to not get trusted by my disciple...and I practiced 'taking it easy' so much too..."
Shirou felt bad, really bad. "Ah...wait up..."
"Apachai cannot live anymore!" He knelt on the ground and tried to pick at the grass blades while still wearing the mitts. It was kind of pathetic, really. Shirou's heart lurched. "I have no confidence. Sorry I was born..."
Shirou couldn't take the pain in his heart anymore, and shouted, "Let's do it, the mitt hitting!"
Apachai spun upright and bounced on his toes, excited. Shirou backed away so fast he almost fell over, but the tell-tale signs of Apachai's depression forced Shirou to suck it up and throw a punch.
"See, mitt hitting is really fun!" Apachai's face was no longer shadowed, instead bright and happy.
Shirou threw a second punch and smiled back, happy that Apachai was happy. "You're right!"
Apachai nodded rapidly again, "Now then, dodge from over there."
Shirou got out a "huh?" and then a truck hit him. Well, it was a fist, but it might as well have been a speeding car: it would have been safer for Shirou.
"Hiyaaa Paawwww!" Shirou went spinning away as Apachai roared to the heavens, the full force of his attack meeting Shirou's head.
Somewhere out in the multiverse, a Counter Guardian smiled for no reason he could identify.
Shirou's stitches had snapped open at the hit, and his blood formed a red trail like a spinning firework in the night sky. He came to a halt a dozen meters away, laying flat on his back and emptily gazing up at the sky.
"Huh?" Apachai's momentary lapse of reason was met by a bewildered face.
Then it was met by Sakaki's berating fist. "What do you mean 'Huh'?! You Moron! Are you trying to murder your disciple?!"
Miu ran over from where she was maintaining the dojo. "Shirou! Shirou, get a hold of yourself!"
Ma and Akisame approached from nearby, mildly exasperated. "What, what? Did Apachai finally do it?" Ma glanced between the broken body, trail of blood, and kneeling Apachai.
Akisame sighed, "My my..."
Apachai shook his head in denial, "Apachai took it easy!"
As Akisame walked over to check on the disciple, Miu took Shirou's pulse. All of the blood drained from her face. "Shi-shirou is..."
Akisame chuckled, shaking his head at the dramatics of youth. "Hahaha, why are you overreacting so much? It's not a training method that kills so easily..." He froze as he checked Shirou's pulse.
"1 2 3!" Akisame pumped Shirou's chest with his hands. "1 2 3!"
Shirou woke up to the mustachioed face of Akisame and a cloudy sky. He reached up with a hand, remembering Kiritsugu and the day of the fire...and Akisame sat back, wiping a hand on his forehead. "See, there! It's nothing, eh?"
Miu clutched her face, wondering what exactly she had invited upon one of her classmates. "Nooo!"
Shirou sat up, looking around. No flames? Almost died? No biggy.
Akisame and Ma started spouting off things like "Just a bit of overworking!" and "You should really be more careful, training with wounds!"
As Shirou got back up to train again, Akisame paused in trying to reassure the boy that he hadn't almost died by not mentioning that he had almost died. He watched Shirou get led off to stitch up the cuts, to the boy's protest that they were nothing.
He came back not a few minutes later and tried to go right back to training with Apachai, though the other Masters stepped in.
He was treating the pain as both expected and minor...Akisame could only wonder how he would treat the near-death experience if he remembered it, which he didn't seem to.
Akisame filed the incident away for later. Their new Disciple was certainly interesting. His observations were confirmed a few days later when Shirou just shrugged and went back to work when he learned that Akisame was increasing the size of the throwing statues.
A week later, Shirou ended up in a half-dozen more fights, or chases. He managed to escape from the teenaged gangsters who had taken to just hanging out on his route to and from school simply to catch him for a good fight. It was getting to the point that he was going out of his way to avoid his usual roads. He was fearful that they would start showing up at school looking for him and cause trouble at the front gate. It seemed that someone had started rumors around town that he had declared Miyamachou as his territory and that the gangs in Shinto were all wimps.
When the hell did Fuyuki sprout a bunch of crazy martial arts thugs?
At any rate, Shirou found himself doing things he never really expected. His body, which had previously been at what he thought was the peak physical condition for people easily a year older than himself, had apparently done something ridiculous. Without increasing in size whatsoever, his strength and stamina had easily tripled, maybe even quadrupled. Shirou was incredibly tough, having stood up to random bullies a lot as a kid, having worked out every day since he was little, and now getting trained and regularly hit by the Masters at Ryozanpaku.
So the one time he got cornered and decided to just hold up his arms and take the blows instead of escalating to the level of a knife fight, it felt like nothing compared to what Apachai could do. He got a handful of more bruises atop his usual ones from training, and nothing else. The three gangsters who had ran him down into an alley eventually gave it up as a bad job when Shirou stood for the tenth time.
The summer vacation was fast approaching, and Shirou was looking forward to focusing on his training at Ryozanpaku and not having to head out where he had to escape more roving hunters. It seemed that his Masters were feeling similarly, since they kept showing undue concern for him. It was actually a little more terrifying than their usual blase disregard for his well being. The most terrifying was Akisame, who had never shown any hesitation in placing him into ridiculous situations. Shirou still hated the weight sled with a passion.
It wasn't until he was called into a meeting that he learned the full designs of his Masters.
Akisame stood with his finger held straight up to lecture Shirou, eyes shining with an eerie inner light and an intense face. "It's been decided, my disciple, that you will live a new lifestyle. It's a lifestyle that consists of a disciple and their sensei who devote their entire lives to learning the 'know-how' and techniques of all martial arts. To put it simply, it's a martial arts that needs the devotion of one's life and a life that cannot live without the martial arts." He stood up, his voice rising with enthusiasim and his tone pitched like a prize giver from a game show. "And you've been selected for the lifestyle! You've done it! Amazing!"
Shirou gave him a deadpan look. "So you want me to stay at Ryozanpaku full time?" The assembled Masters nodded in unison, even the normally taciturn Shigure getting in on the act from where she clung to the ceiling beams with her toes. Shirou put his chin in his hand and thought. It would give him the opportunity to take some of the chores in Ryozanpaku off of Miu, and it would also let Sakura and Taiga stop worrying about the house if no one was there. "Okay, I just need to tell my guardian Taiga and one of my friends who likes to come over for breakfast."
The assembled masters gave each other thumbs up, their teeth and eyes glinting, but Shirou ignored the attempt to rile him up. Instead, he grew an aura of gloom. "Oh no...I have to convince Fuji-nee...I'm doomed."
And so, Shirou got beaten over the head by Tora-shinai a dozen times until he promised that he would let her come to Ryozanpaku every day to eat dinner with him.
Somehow, the thought of Taiga with the rest of the insane Masters at Ryozanpaku seemed like a gathering of the perfect storm. Maybe Sakura would come and keep her under control?
"Shirooouuuu-kuuuuuun~. Hurry up and pass the green beans~." Taiga shot teary eyes at Shirou, slumping at her seat on the table between the Elder and Shigure.
Shirou, meanwhile, fought tooth and nail for his food. "Gaaahh! Why the hell won't you let me get any food, you crazy Masters!" Sakaki took advantage of Shirou's angry rant to dart in and grab his grilled beef. Shirou glared at him and tried to steal something back, but got nothing as Sakaki lifted his plate and balanced it in the air, out of Shirou's reach. As Taiga began to smile evily at the entertainment, Shirou turned his glare to her. "Get them yourself, Fuji-nee. This is ridiculous!" Apachai took advantage of Sakaki's laughter to steal the whole plate, which started another scuffle.
Taiga ended up trying to steal from Shigure and nearly lost her hand to a fork. She sat next to Shirou from then on to, as she insisted, "protect her little brother from the mean martial artists."
Miu gathered a few of the dishes, but her practiced motions paused when she realized that some of them were missing from the table. Her lips thinned in anger. "If Apachai is stealing things again..."
At Shirou's startled question, Miu faced him prepared to go on and on about missing food and vanishing side dishes, but her mouth halted mid-motion and left her gaping. Shirou was standing there, peering around a stack of dishes and looking as if one of the founding principles of his existence had been knocked out from under him. Shirou took her gaping as an answer, strangely, and shook his head sadly. "I always thought Apachai-sensei was a kind person, but to think that he steals." He balanced the stack on one hand and tapped his pointer finger to his cheek. "Then again, that could just be him acting as immature as always. I swear that he and Taiga are alike as peas in a pod. Truthfully, I'm not sure if I fear Tora-shinai or Apachai's fists more."
Miu pointed at him, eyes confused and disbelieving all at the same time. "You're helping me with the dishes!" The shouted statement came off more as an accusation than anything else.
Shirou stopped contemplating the mysteries of dual personalities and turned his head down to face Miu, quirking an eyebrow. "Well, yeah. I feel terrible that I haven't been able to help out around here, and it was already bad enough that I was making Sakura cook me dinner. She was always too kind for her own good. So now that I'm living here, I have to help at least clean up if I'm to busy to help cook."
Miu gaped again, then got a little teary eyed. She turned away and wiped her forearm on her face. "It's so wonderful, to actually have someone help me manage the dojo."
A flash of light came from the floorboards, followed by an indignant voice. "Hey, I'm working hard to build up a new medicine practice here in Fuyuki too!"
Miu stomped on the floor absentmindedly, cracking the boards and eliciting a scuttling sound, as if a giant bug were scurrying under the floorboards. "No pictures, Ma-san."
Shirou scratched his head in confusion but shrugged and went back to clearing the dishes.
It was incredibly hard to get any privacy, but Shirou was determined to find a place to practice his magecraft. In the end, he chose to visit his house and drag a bunch of the junked electronics and mechanical parts over to his room in the dojo, setting them up and saying that he liked to tinker.
With that, he was able to secure an hour late every night to sit down and build his magic circuit, going through his usual magic training.
He wasn't entirely certain that his Masters weren't observing him somehow, but he figured that so long as he stuck to Structural Grasping and some light Reinforcing he could keep his more esoteric abilities secret.
"Trace on." Today, he wanted to try something new though. Probably the hardest thing about martial arts for him was learning the forms and techniques. Ever since he first started learning to throw from Akisame-sensei, the other Masters had chipped in and taught him various techniques. The lessons from Ma and Sakaki were straightforward enough, usually boiling down to repeating the motions over and over for basic punches, kicks, and stances. It was nice to finally get proper instructing in fighting, since Shirou knew now that he had to learn to fight if he would ever manage to save people like his Father or Miu.
The lessons from Apachai and Shigure, however, were almost always strange, painful, or terrifying: often all three at once. Where Sakaki would give him roundabout advice for facing down different styles and Ma would demonstrate a specific technique for blocking a kick (while managing to somehow work in time to molest Miu), Apachai would try and teach Shirou ways to elbow and knee his opponents then randomly whale on him with a giant, blindingly fast fist that carried more force than a truck on the freeway.
Shirou wasn't sure how he was still alive, but he figured that more than Kiritsugu had saved him the day of that fire, and thanked whatever it was that it had stuck around up to Ryozanpaku.
Shigure's lessons were the most unconventional, either taking the form of teaching him to have a clear head when threatened (Shirou would never look at the apple on the head trick the same again) or sparring with him using a rolled up newspaper. The one time they practiced with spoons, Shirou ended up bleeding out on the ground with Apachai once again holding his limp form as if he was a poor, dying woodland creature. At least that time it wasn't Apachai's fault.
But that wasn't the problem. The problem was that he kept making mistakes. Whether it was in the way he moved when he punched, the way he stood when he blocked, or the placement of his feet when he dodged, Shirou made little progress. In short, he had no talent for learning whatsoever, despite his own practice over the years when it came to some simple fighting techniques and general fitness.
Add on that the constant training was wearing on him still, especially with the necessity to practice magecraft and his renewed determination to help Miu take care of the property, and Shirou had nearly sheered his nose off on the grindstone he was using. He was being forced to turn down the requests of others at school, even. But though his progress was slow, it was all so that he could save more people in the future.
For that, he would do anything.
To his mind, it was fairly simple. He could only save those he chose to save, and he was choosing to save all of those in the future who would truly need his help rather than the few who needed his help with smaller problems in the now.
And then, there was the madness of the random fighting. Shirou was incredibly glad that he had chosen to live at Ryozanpaku, because he would have otherwise been forced to beat up random thugs for no reason at all and far more often.
A really annoying fight came when he happened to accompany Miu on a shopping trip. A small gang came after them, and Shirou fell straight into a heedless rush for the enemy, striking out with fists and knees that rendered the trio of clueless idiots senseless before Miu could do more than realize that someone was threatening them.
After that, Shirou volunteered to take care of all of the shopping trips himself. He couldn't stand it if Miu was hurt by the people after him. Not that they were a threat.
It was kinda embarrassing to be chased for no reason.
Anyways, Shirou had had a very busy time recently, and it was getting hard to center his thoughts when he was actually a little excited to try something new. Stupid Shirou, focus!
The circuit burned, growing slowly down his back like molten lead or a fiery root. Breathing deeply, Shirou kept his entire being concentrated, and finished building the circuit. Releasing another gust of air, Shirou opened his eyes and stood up. Grunting from the sore muscles of the day of training (who trained using firepits these days? Really?), Shirou settled into one of the Karate stances that Sakaki-sensei had showed him.
Again centering his breath, he murmured his personal aria for all of the spells that he knew. "Trace. On."
Glancing down at his feet, he saw a ghost of the stance, an intimate knowledge of the position of every part of his body appearing like a wireframe model in his mind. Remembering the experiment he had performed earlier, Shirou did his best to recall what he had seen of Sakaki-sensei's demonstration when he had performed a quiet Structural Grasping on him.
Shirou had been completely uncertain whether or not it would work, but apparently he had been right in his idea.
Structural Grasping was a method of taking in the shape and form of a material object, usually machinery or tools. Shirou had really only gotten practice with the electronics and pipes in his workshop at home, but a few times he had done it to himself to practice for when he tried reinforcing his own body. He was in no way truly ready to do that, lest he burst his own limbs, but he had experimented just to see.
Here, though, the human body was being treated just like a machine. Shirou was being pushed through the motions until he reached peak efficiency.
So his skill with Structural Grasping would help him to perfect his stances by imprinting what he had to do in his mind far more clearly than merely watching. The only problem was doing it without alerting anybody, but for now he would be happy with simply correcting his own stances. Not even his lack of instinctual body placement would impede his progress. Shirou wouldn't let it.
So he shifted his foot a few inches to the side, matching it up with the way that Sakaki had stood earlier.
He could do this. He would work and work and work until he was strong enough to save everybody, because that was his only path in life. The path of a savior.
Takeda pushed back a few strands of his silvery hair and cracked his neck, left hand stuffed into his pocket and travel bag slung over his shoulder. Tall, well groomed, dark skinned, and muscled: Takeda was the envy of half the male population at the station. Glancing at the hot sun in the sky, he heaved a gusty sigh. "Really, that Kisara, sending us out to some town way off just to scout for a good fight. She's battle mad." He turned around and grinned at his big, judo using friend. "Know what I mean, Ukita."
Ukita chuckled and smirked back tauntingly. "Admit it Takeda, you just don't want to be out in the summer heat. Cramps your style, right?"
"Tch." Takeda quirked his lips but otherwise turned back to the streets of Shinto. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
As Takeda faced the city, a random street vendor wearing a smock with a medely of fruits on it got up in his face and started waving around fresh fruit like they were the holy grail. "A freshly delivered pineapple for you, my street-wise friend? What about an orange! Everyone knows orange juice is the breakfast of champions! Do you think Rocky got by without a proper meal every morning?"
Takeda smiled at the enthusiastic and spindly merchant, but shook his head. "Sorry, no. I'm on a budget for this trip." Hitching his bag up, he started walking in a random direction. "Now, let's go find us some brawny idiots to interrogate. C'mon, Koga."
Koga, much smaller than the other two, scowled but walked alongside them. "I told you to stop treating me like a freakin kid."
A/N: Okay! So, I've been putting this story down and refining the world around it since January, and I finally decided to get it put up online for now. I've hit a bit of a block and need help with motivation, as it were. Suffice it to say, though, this entire story has already been lined out in vague details, and the final approach and a lot of the later characters have been birthed fully formed onto paper. Of course, I have to reach these plots and characters first, but I believe I can do it.
The biggest thing about this story, to me, is that it only loosely follows the storylines of either. I basically sprint off into the wilderness rather than directly follow the plot of Kenichi, though I do plan to have a few of the major arcs and certainly the same people. As for fate/stay night, I will have Shirou participating in the Holy Grail War. The biggest problem with that, of course, is trying to balance the Masters against the heroes of the Grail War.
Not an easy thing to do. At any rate, I do have ideas for all of this I just need to reach it. And it will take a long, long, loooong time before I can have the Grail War happening in Fuyuki. If measured in-universe, we're talking roughly two years. The timeline I have is rough but serviceable, and basically has Shirou getting injured around a month or two into high school, then leaving the archery club and joining Ryozanpaku a month or so after that. This gives him a little under 2 years to train, then he gets his baptism by fire.
I also have fit Martial Arts into Nasu's verse, though any theories that anyone has on how that should work would be awesome and greatly help me iron out details. As for having Martial Arts organizations running around the world with money and influence...I've basically just had them stay in the East, where the Clocktower and other traditional magi ignore them and consider them nothing more than brutes.
Read, have fun, I know I am.