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A Different Path

By HallowedWizard

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Trivial Changes: Summoning of Saber

An endless field of blades stretched out towards infinite horizons. Some were a monument to a past hero; a record of their feats. Others were trivial, nameless weapons that carried no epic tale. In this realm, there was no discrimination. Legend stood side by side with the mundane. Together, they served a single purpose, carried a unified existence: sword.

Flames wreathed the edge of this realm, heating and forging the steel contained within. Continually creating, continually reinforcing, these flames continued to burn. The blades were finished, but this land remained incomplete.

The original form was lost in the flames, erased and rewritten. Now, the mist over the terrain had cleared. The horizons were in sight and the world began to materialize. This was a familiar experience, something that was at the edge of the subconscious mind.

A dream. The one known as Emiya Shirou was dreaming. He knew this. Since that fateful day when he lost it all, he had only dreamed of fire and swords. This dream was expected. The flames he felt that day had imprinted themselves on his soul, his very being. He did not know why he also dreamed of swords, but knew it was a matter of course at this point.

They embodied him, represented his own life of being erased in the flames and forged anew. But something was different about this particular dream. A minor shift in the blades and their purpose. A revision in what had been hardened steel. It was-

"Senpai? Are you awake?"

Shirou woke with a start. The pipe in his hand fell to the floor, clattering against the concrete base of the shed. The red-head sat up and looked around the room. "Wha-?"

A small giggle sounded from in front of him and he turned his weary eyes towards it. A beautiful young woman with violet hair, accentuated by a pink ribbon tied on the left side, leaned over him with an amused smile. Her kind eyes matched the color that framed them, and right now seemed to sparkle with mirth. This was Matou Sakura, Shirou's underclassman that showed up in the mornings to help prepare and share breakfast in his household. She wore her school uniform, which meant that breakfast preparations were already done.

Shirou closed his eyes and gathered his bearings. He was in his shed, where he kept his projects and various broken appliances. Sakura was here to wake him up, so that meant that he had slept in later than he intended to. Geez, that's the second time this week.

He sighed. Last night, he had stayed up to practice his magecraft. It began as it usually did, with his slow and painstaking process of creating a magic circuit, but for some reason it had taken longer to form than usual.

"Ah." That was why he was so tired. He had done a successful Reinforcement for once, but the effort and pain to perform it had left him drained, and he fell asleep shortly after.

Shirou opened his eyes. Sakura smiled and leaned back, giving Shirou some space to move. He stood up and scratched the back of his head. "Sorry Sakura," he said. "I didn't think I would be this tired..."

Sakura shook her head. "No, don't worry about it. I know Senpai works hard all day, so it's fine if you sleep in every once in a while."

Shirou frowned. "But it's already been the second time you've had to wake me this week. Geez, and only a day apart too." He sighed. "I'm not a very good Senpai if I can't even get up in time to help you prepare breakfast, Sakura."

"That's not true at all!"

Shirou raised his eyebrows. Sakura wasn't the type that went for vehement denials.

The purple-haired girl flushed and continued. "I like having Senpai depend on me too. You're always trying to do everything by yourself, so I like times like these when I can help you." She finished with a radiant smile.

"...Eh?"

Sakura blushed and turned around. "U-um, don't forget to change before you come in. I'll... I'll set the table." She rushed off before Shirou could get in a reply.

The red-head ran his hand through his hair and let out an exasperated sigh. "Geez, today is going to be one of those days, isn't it?"

Shirou shook his head and changed into the spare uniform he had in the shed. With that done, he clasped his hands in a small prayer to the shed before heading to the house to start his day.

The table was already set by the time he arrived. The main course was simmered lotus root with chicken. A bit elaborate but the leftovers would probably be for Sakura's lunch later. The sides were rice and miso soup, a staple of their breakfast.

Sakura was already seated and smiled at Shirou from her place at the table. To her right was another person Shirou had grown accustomed to seeing in his home.

That person was completely contrary to Sakura. Where Sakura was lady-like and feminine, that person was boisterously loud and tomboyish. Her choice of clothing only accentuated that aspect of her personality, the black and yellow striped sweater giving her the appearance of a tiger. Of course, no one would dare to say that to her face.

Fujimaru Taiga, Shirou's guardian and self-appointed big sister.

Shirou nodded at her as he took his place at the table. "Ah, good morning Fuji-nee." He avoided her gaze as he sat down. Hopefully, she would be distracted by the food and wouldn't notice how late he was.

"Hey, Shirou. Why are you just coming in right now?" It seemed that the tiger wasn't as sleepy as it usually was today. Shirou gave her a sheepish grin and rubbed the back of his head. "Um, Fuji-nee, I can explain..."

Taiga narrowed her eyes and frowned.

Shirou gulped.

Though she was childish at times, Taiga had a serious side to her as well. It came with being the princess of the yakuza in Fuyuki city.

When she stared at him like that, Shirou couldn't help but feel a shiver run up his spine. If she was mad enough to take out the shinai for a 'practice spar', Shirou doubted even his magecraft could save him, despite his recent success.

Just as he was ready to bolt, Taiga let out a sigh and released the tension she was holding. "I guess it can't be helped. It's rude for you to make a girl as cute as Sakura do all the cooking, but I know how hard you work. Just... don't do it again, alright?" She frowned. "I worry about you, too. I mean, it's great that you're pursuing your dream but... don't overdo it, alright?"

Shirou let out a relieved smile. "I know Fuji-nee, I know."

After that somber opening, breakfast returned to its usual pleasant affair. Taiga was as energetic as usual, spouting off tale after tale and ranting about how stupid certain students were. Sakura was her usual reserved self, chiming in at the right moments, but mostly giving a content smile throughout. Playful banter and a familiar atmosphere, that was morning at the Emiya household-

"Crap! I'm late again!"

-and it ended as usual with Taiga rushing off to the school, with Shirou and Sakura following after they secured the house.

The Emiya residence was on the top of a hill. If one were to visit it, they'd be surprised that the humble Emiya Shirou lived in such a fanciful home. To be honest, the upkeep of it wasn't much, despite its grand appearance. His adopted father had settled most of its affairs, and the rest were taken care of by Taiga's father. Seeing as the latter's father was the head of the yakuza in Fuyuki, there wasn't much Shirou had to worry about.

...Though it was a bit unnerving at times when unsavory looking men gave him nods as he travelled about the town. Then again, it was something he grew accustomed to and it didn't bother him much these days. Not to mention that those same unsavory people paid well for him to fix their bikes and cars.

Shirou shook his head. There was a time for reminiscing and it wasn't now.

He and Sakura were walking to school, taking the path along the walled road down the hill. It was a bright and dazzling morning, pleasant for a stroll like this. Yet, Sakura was acting strange.

As they walked, the younger classman cast Shirou sidelong glances when she thought he wasn't looking. She would also occasionally frown and glance downwards, muttering something to herself.

"Hey Sakura, are you alright? Shinji hasn't been bothering you again has he?"

Sakura stopped to give Shirou a surprised look, but that eased into a pleased smile and she shook her head. "Ah, it's not that, Senpai. I'm glad you're worried for me but Onii-chan hasn't been a problem. It's just-" Her smile dropped as she gave Shirou a searching look. "Senpai, promise me you'll stay home this weekend."

Shirou gave her a perplexed look. "Huh? Why do you want that?"

Sakura frowned and nibbled on her lip. "Well... um..."

Shirou saw that and shook his head. "Don't worry about it Sakura. If you want me to stay home, I'll stay home. I was just surprised that you asked. It's not often you do that, you know?"

A small grin spread on Sakura's face and she gave a meek nod in return. "Thanks Senpai."

The two stopped walking as they reached the gates of the school.

"Well," Shirou said. "I'll see you on Monday then Sakura. Have fun at Archery Club today."

"See you Senpai. Um... be careful, alright?"

Sakura left with a small wave in departure, and then headed towards the Archery Dojo. Once he saw her off, Shirou started off towards his class, shifting his bag to his left hand as he did.

A sharp pain caused him to almost drop it.

Shirou frowned and rubbed his hand. "Man, nothing's going right today." He sighed and walked towards his homeroom.

Classes were more of the same, ending early as they did on Saturdays. Afterward, Shirou spent some time with Issei, fixing various broken appliances around the school. It was all routine, a simple recurrence of Shirou's habitual actions. Nothing too exciting happened, and it seemed to be another pleasant, normal day.

Then he bumped into Shinji and got roped into cleaning the Archery Dojo.

Shirou sighed as he restrung yet another bow. "They're getting careless these days." He lifted the bow and pulled the string back, testing its draw strength. Satisfied, he set it back in its place with the other bows. "That should do it."

He took a look around.

It was dark now, and Shirou was alone in the dojo. It was hard work, but he had tidied the place up, even polishing the floor to a sheen. A bit excessive, but it wasn't in his nature to do less than his best when it came to things like these.

He brushed himself off and turned out the lights.

"I'm off now." Calling out that customary farewell, the red-head left to return home. He locked the doors behind him and headed along the route back when he heard it.

Steel. It was an unmistakable sound, as clear to him as someone shouting his name.

Shirou paused and shook his head. "That can't be... right? I mean, who would be out this late? And clashing steel?" He let out a small laugh. "Yeah right, like that would happen."

He took a step along the path when he heard it again. Louder this time, metallic clangs reverberating through the otherwise silent night. There was no mistaking it. That was the sound of full on combat.

"I have to go home. I promised Sakura, didn't I? Besides, it's not like this is anything important-" He remembered. The murder cases happening in the nearby town and surroundings. They had all been killed by something like a sword, hadn't they?

Shirou paused. That was right. Then this wasn't something he could ignore. Emiya Shirou could not possibly stand by while a potential threat to others loomed. It was in his nature, too ingrained to yield.

"Sorry Sakura, but I can't leave this be." With those words, Shirou took a deep breath and stepped towards the clash-

"Who's there!?"

-Only to be face to face with a man dressed in blue, a blood-stained lance by his side.

Shirou jumped backwards. "Gah!"

The man was dangerous. That lance was deadly. It was foolish to think that he would be able to do anything. He couldn't even get his magic to work properly.

Run.

The man grinned. "Oho? So you saw, didn't you?"

Run. Shirou couldn't move. The murderous presence emanating from the man froze him to the spot. Run!

"Well, bad luck kid. Looks like this is-"

RUN! Shirou took off at a dead sprint, running back into the school. The man in blue was forgotten, and the only thought in Shirou's mind was to run, as fast and as far as he could. He didn't pay attention to where his feet guided him, focused only on putting as much distance between him and the murderous man in blue as possible.

Damn... Should've listened to Sakura. Shirou leaned against a wall for support and heaved in as much air as he could. He'd made it back to the school, covering enough ground at a speed that would make the track team envious, and the man in blue was no where to be seen.

"I should have known it would be another one of those days," Shirou muttered. "First, I wake up late, Taiga notices it, and then this? Next time, I'm just staying home."

"Impressive, kid. You sure run fast for a human."

Shirou stood with a start. The man in blue was in front of him, crimson lance poised to thrust. "But time's up."

A burning pain seared through Shirou's chest, and he fell to the ground. The man in blue wrenched his lance out of Shirou's chest and sighed. "Tough luck, kid. But don't worry, it won't be much longer." With that said, the man vanished, leaving Shirou to bleed out against the school's main hallway.

Numb. Shirou couldn't feel anymore. Even that searing pain in his chest was fading away. Everything was. Despite that, one thought remained. Sorry Sakura, I didn't keep your promise.

He closed his eyes and waited for the end. Strangely enough, it never came. He didn't know how long it was, but after a while, Shirou realized that he wasn't dead. He jerked forward, and the tightness in his chest reminded him that, yes, he did get stabbed with a lance.

Shirou didn't wait around. It was a miracle that he was alive, but that didn't matter. He promised Sakura that he'd stay home this weekend, and although he'd already broken it, there was no way he would let it stay broken. Not to mention the fact that the crazy guy with a spear is still out there.

Shirou got to his feet and headed home, moving as fast as he could with the pain in his chest. He did so without looking back, and didn't see the gem pendant lying next to him.

The night was ominous, but nobody else jumped out at Shirou as he made it home. Once inside, he looked for a weapon, something to fight back if that blue lancer appeared again.

He armed himself with a rolled up, reinforced metal poster, and sat in the living room, waiting.

It wasn't long.

The man in blue, or rather the blue lancer as Shirou took to calling him, appeared within minutes. After some banter about how Shirou should stay dead, the lancer attacked. Shirou fought back, but the man was superhuman and before he knew it, Shirou found himself flying into his shed. He scrambled to his feet, only to find the blue lancer in front of him, his lance poised to pierce his heart again.

"Well, it was a good run kid. That was weird magic you used, but it wasn't too shabby. Heck, you could have been the last Master."

Shirou didn't respond. Is this it? I'll die here without even being a hero?

The lancer locked eyes with Shirou. "See ya kid. Stay dead this time, alright?" He spun his lance and thrust.

No. Shirou glared at the lance inching towards his heart. I won't accept it.

He had just died, faced death moments before, and here he was again, positioned to suffer the same fate. I can't die here.

He was saved. He was saved so he couldn't die so easily.

It pissed him off. For someone to kill that easily. For someone to die that easily. Dying twice in one day was even more ridiculous.

Shirou denied it, rejected the fate in front of him.

And then it happened.

A myriad of colors, shimmering with a kaleidoscope of lights, filled the shed. The moment before the crimson spear pierced Shirou's heart, a black blur shot past him and brushed the thrust aside in a clash of steel. Without pause, the parry was followed with by a blinding slash.

Sparks flew as the lancer raised his weapon to defend. "Kuh!" The force of the blow sent the lancer staggering backwards. He glared at Shirou, but then leapt out from the shed.

With the immediate danger gone, Shirou's savior turned, allowing him to get a clear look. Shirou's first thought was that his savior was young, looking only a few years older than himself.

Tame black bangs framed an effeminate face. His eyes were contrary to his appearance, paired onyx that would not bend or break. Yet, they were warm, giving off a sense of compassion and playfulness. He was garbed in a plain black outfit, consisting of a cloth coat with matching pants and boots. A pair of sheathes hung behind him, one of the blades they hold in his right hand.

"So, I guess you're my Master?" The black swordsman ran his free hand through his hair and let out a sigh of exasperation. "Man, Asuna would kill me if she knew what I got myself into." He shook his head, a warm smile on his face.

Shirou blinked. "Huh? Master?"

"Yeah, I guess you're as confused about this as I am..." The swordsman sighed again. "Anyway, Servant Saber at your disposal." He frowned in thought. "On second thought, you can call me Kirito. I doubt anybody here would know who I am." The last words were said in a murmur.

Shirou looked on in confusion, the shock of recent events still settling in. "Kirito?"

A sharp pain shot through Shirou's left hand, causing him to grasp it. He looked down and saw that a runic pattern in the shape of a sword had been drawn on it. The marks glowed in a rainbow of colors, then settled to a pitch black.

Kirito nodded. "Well that settles it. The contract's just been announced." He turned back towards the shed's doorway. Just outside, the blue lancer stood, weapon ready for a second bout. "Sit tight, Master. I'll be right back."

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