All Heaven's Evil: Alter
A howling wind blew across the wind, scattering crystal shards. White dust covered the earth, robbing it of color. Here, where a thriving city once stood, only rubble remained. With the End of the Era and the fall of the Devil Kings, nearly all of the world's countries and cities had been razed to the ground with no survivors. Italy and its capital, Rome, was no exception. And so, despite the wind's ferocity, there was no being present to experience it.
Because of that, no one noticed his arrival. Amidst ice, wind, and snow, a man emerged within the ruined city.
He was tall and muscular, possessing a body that could have served as a model for the sculptures of ancient Greek Heroes. It was so perfectly defined that it was unthinkable he was of flesh and bone rather than chiseled from stone. Or that should have been the case if not for the strange lines running throughout his body.
His skin was an ordinary tone, if not slightly pale, but the lines that could be seen running across it certainly weren't. Every part of his body was covered with jagged lines that looked like cracks. Some were thin, barely visible, while others were inches across and impossible to ignore. All of them coalesced where the man's heart should be and pulsed silver, as if his body was held together by liquid mercury.
Despite his bared torso, the man wasn't unclothed. A silver sash fastened what looked like the bottom half of a longcoat around his waist and legs. When the wind blew, it shifted to reveal black pants and matching leather boots, both bearing a strange geometric pattern of a box.
Silence. For a few moments, the man stood without saying a word. His hair, a deep crimson, gently swayed as his eyes were closed in contemplation. When he opened them, golden irises were revealed, quickly scanning the surroundings.
"…So that's what happened." Shirou muttered to himself.
The 'truth' behind his existence. In this world, Emiya Shirou did not exist. There was no ordinary student who attended Jounan Academy and Emiya Kiritsugu never roamed the world in pursuit of his ideal. Both of those facts had been a fabrication, pieces drawn together to give him a role where none should be. Even the King of the End was a third party, an 'Emiya Shirou' from another space and time.
Shirou was a fake. After using his Magic, he had been destroyed. The one who obtained a True Magic and entrusted everything to the Sword he crafted no longer existed. With his final act, his Origin had shattered and those pieces of Shirou's soul vanished into the void.
At least, that should have been the case. But someone had intervened. Pandora, a true goddess and the All Giving Woman who gave strength to humans in order to fend off the heretic gods, sought a champion and drew his broken soul together, granting him a new beginning after his end.
The reason for her actions then, and his new existence… the one responsible for drawing in the pair that had been resting in Avalon to serve as his Swords was…
Shirou shook his head. Thinking about that matter could come later. For now, he had to figure out what had happened in his absence. It seemed like barely a moment had passed for him, but clearly that wasn't the case.
He was definitely still in Italy but there were no buildings, no people, and even no lingering souls. Only silence and snow remained.
What happened to Liliana after she left him in the restaurant? What about Godou, who had gone off with his companions? And what about Doni, who called him with a frantic warning?
Shirou didn't know, but from what he could see, didn't think it ended well. But that was just what he thought. It wasn't certain. And since it wasn't certain, there was still a chance that they were fine. And so long as there was that single chance remaining, as he was now he-
"So you're finally back. Hmph… it took you long enough."
A voice called out to him. One that he hadn't heard in a long time. One that he didn't expect to hear at all.
As that calm and aged voice echoed in his mind, Shirou muttered, "Marquis Voban?"
Deep in the depths of Rome, buried beneath the city, ancient underground passages existed in a land of the dead. Although portions of it had been uncovered in recent years, ancient catacombs containing bodies and relics from the distant past remained undisturbed. The reason for that would be the dark miasma shrouding everything in darkness.
Mortals could not hope to draw near and those that did would wander around in the darkness, lost and forgotten until they joined the dead buried there.
But that was natural. After all, it was the entrance to the Underworld.
Within that place where the dead reigned, in a chapel with faded paintings upon its walls, Marquis Voban sighed from a throne of skulls. He had just relayed his message to Shirou and now had nothing better to do than wait. Around him the risen undead, the remains of those who died an unjust death in the land above, stood at the ready.
"That damned kid," Voban muttered. "I acknowledged him as my king for defeating me, but to go and leave behind such a mess…" He sighed, for once looking like the elderly man he was.
"M-Mister Voban?" A tiny voice called out to him. It was a child, a young boy dressed in ragged clothing.
Voban closed his eyes for a few moments and muttered under his breath, but then said, "What is it, child?"
The young boy flinched, and then said, "U-um… we were wondering if we could have some food now? Y-You said that we could after a few hours a-and…" The boy trailed off, averting his eyes from Voban's sharp gaze.
If Voban's past self could see him now, that man would have put him to the blade in an instant. Humoring children, hiding the few survivors deep underground, using his Authorities not to gain servants but to give a false life to the lingering souls filled with regrets… Defeat had softened him. Far too much. But-
"…It can't be helped."
Voban waved his hand and figures emerged from the darkness.
The boy flinched but somehow managed to remain calm even as the full form of the figures appeared.
Corpses with features indistinguishable from decay. Beneath tattered clothing, grizly wounds revealed bleached bones and rotted viscera. It was a horrific sight, only mildly softened by the fact that they wore backpacks filled to the brim with canned food and other supplies. These were the undead servants that Voban sent to scavenge in the city above.
Because the end came so suddenly, there were plenty of places that still held supplies. And since the heretic gods responsible for the end either no longer cared or thought it ordinary for undead to roam the earth, Voban's servants were able to wander the land undisturbed.
One of the corpses raised a hand and pointed at the boy, gesturing for him to follow.
If any ordinary person were to see that, they would have screamed out in fear for the boy's life. However, the boy himself was neither afraid or cautious. Instead, he let out a bright smile and bowed towards Voban. "Thank you, Mister Voban!"
Leaving those words, the boy quickly followed the undead back into the darkness, no doubt heading off to gather the other little urchins that Voban had saved.
The oldest Devil King stared off at the child's retreating figure. "…Right. It can't be helped." The Marquis muttered those words again and then shook his head. "Bah." Voban's gaze turned upwards and he said, "That king of mine had better hurry up. I have more than a few choice words to say to his face."
If he had not been shackled by Shirou's words, none of this would have occurred. Rather than being trapped underground and using his Authority over the undead to protect little urchins, Voban would be outside fighting against the countless Heretic Gods that had descended on the world.
Instead, he had been degraded to a mere babysitter. Him, the most feared Campione in the past three centuries, nothing more than a nanny.
The thought of it was enough to drive hm mad… but again, it couldn't be helped. Since Voban's noble king had up and vanished for the past few months and with the other Campione either dead or driven insane as was the case for Kusanagi Godou, Voban alone was forced to hold the burden of safeguarding the future of humanity.
While he loathed it and wished he could do otherwise, there was no point in ruling over an empty world even if he enjoyed solitude. After all, how would he gain amusement when there was no fools to try and oppose him?
So there Voban remained, seated upon a throne of skulls and bearing the demeanor of a proper Devil King… even if his current role wasn't exactly that. As he did, the Marquis found his gaze turning towards the wall opposite of him and the ancient fresco – a water color painting – detailed upon it.
"The tale of Orpheus. A man who ventured deep into the underworld to retrieve his lover but failed at the last step."
Saying that, Voban shifted his gaze downwards towards the stone sarcophagus resting at the base of the fresco. Unlike the rest of the chapel and even the rest of the catacombs, the sarcophagus was new. Made of pure marble and covered with countless runes, the combined work of lingering souls from both the Bronze-Black Cross and the Copper-Black Cross, the power of Osiris was imbued within. That power, and in turn that sarcophagus, served as the resting place for a young maiden slumbering between the veil of life and death. However, that power was fading. Despite possessing the Authority of Death, Osiris was not the true ruler of the Underworld and could not control the cycle of life and death. At best, with the power of Osiris, the sarcophagus could only delay the inevitable.
Seeing that, Voban muttered. "Don't take too long, King. Your Eurydice cannot wait much longer."
Godou shook his head. Staring at the pooling blood before him, he muttered, "Another failure."
There were countless legends of resurrection recorded in the History Compilation Committee's archives. Although nothing more than myths and fables, with Athena fully restored to her status as a Goddess and Yuri enhanced by Godou's bestowment of the Youth, Godou was able to slowly sort out the grains of truth hidden within those tales.
Some were true but implausible. For example, there existed a ritual of resurrection that required the lives of a thousand newborn infants. Using the newly established life and souls as a catalyst, it was possible to revive someone recently deceased. However, with the world's population as it was numbering only a few hundred at most, it was impossible to perform until at least another few decades.
Godou couldn't wait that long.
Others were plausible but didn't work when tested. For example, there was a record where offering the soul of one close to the deceased and a body of similar structure would call back the deceased individual and grant them a new life through willing sacrifice.
However, when Godou attempted the ritual with Erica's father and Arianna, nothing happened except both of them dying in the process in a rather bloody and painful manner.
The last category of rituals were those that were true but incomplete. For example, there was a record of someone using the Holy Grail to materialize the soul. With a prepared vessel in hand, either in the form of a homunculus or something similar, it was possible to grant the soul a new life. And since the soul carried the record of the self, the vessel would reshape itself in the form of the image written onto the soul, thus resulting in a true resurrection.
Yet, while Godou managed to obtain the Holy Grail by killing Guinevere and her knight, the ritual was impossible to perform. There was no shortage of vessels for Erica's soul. He and Athena had prepared over a dozen of them from girls that roughly matched Erica's build, preserving them in stasis magic after Athena had taken their souls. The problem was that the key portion of the ritual, specifically the ritual itself, was missing. The only records that remained was its description and that it involved a Sorcery lost to the ages known as Heaven's Feel.
But even if they didn't have the exact ritual, Athena had assured him that it would still be possible between the Goddess and Yuri if they utilized the Tokyo leylines.
That just left the task of locating Erica's soul.
The easiest method would have been to use her body as a catalyst, but after that traitor had killed her, Erica's body had vanished.
The next best method would have been to call her soul back with something linked to her as a catalyst, but the invasion of those damned Heretic Gods had thrown that plan out the window.
All that was left was for Godou to physically examine the process of life and death in order to determine the place where souls were being drawn to and look for Erica there.
It was a dark chamber in the back of a nondescript library, the former secret base of the History Compilation Committee. There, a large ritual circle had been established through the flesh and blood of thirteen Witches and Hime-Mikos. In the center, a stone table was placed over a seemingly innoccuous cup.
Godou stood at the front of the table, carefully watching as blood flowed down along its surface into the cup. As it did, he used a combination of the Goat and the Ram Authorities to try and sense where the soul of his latest sacrifice vanished to.
But he couldn't.
A voice called out from behind. Timid, yet kind. "M-maybe you should take a break, Godou-san."
"Take a break?" Godou's voice echoed in the chamber, cold and sharp. "Yuri. Don't you want to see Erica again?"
"I do! I really do, Godou-san! But… this is…"
Godou turned around.
Yuri was standing there, just within arm's reach. As she had been for the past few months, she was dressed in her shrine maiden outfit. With it, even though the chamber was dimly lit, her pure beauty seemed to glow and served as a beacon of light.
With his constant failures and despair, she was the only thing that kept Godou going.
Yet, at that moment Yuri's beauty was marred. She avoided his gaze, her face pale, and said, "…This is a bit too much."
Godou was silent.
Too much? If anything, it was too little. What were a few worthless lives to his beloved Erica? If not for the fact that he needed them as resources, he would have let the Heretic Gods rampage and wipe out the survivors long ago. Instead, he protected them. Because of that, because he gave them their lives, they owed him at least that much in return.
Those were Godou's thoughts. Even so, he didn't let them show on his face when he looked at Yuri. Instead, he put on a soft smile and drew her into a hug. "You're right, Yuri. I've been acting a bit scary recently, haven't I?"
She stiffened at the sudden contact. But, when Yuri heard Godou's voice, she relaxed and hugged him back. "Yes, but I understand why. It's… only fair, right? Godou-san is the one protecting everybody. So… a little selfishness is fine."
Hesitant, but self-rationalizing. Even if Yuri didn't seem to completely believe in her own words, by the end of it, she had convinced herself.
Godou smiled and took a step back. "I'm glad you feel that way, Yuri. But you don't have to force yourself. In fact, why don't you go back and get some rest? I promise I'll be back soon. Then we can… have some private time. What do you say?"
Yuri flushed and muttered, "Pervert", but then she nodded and walked out of the chamber. The moment Yuri shut the door behind her, Godou's smile vanished and he turned back to the corpse laying on the table in front of him.
A figure materialized from the darkness beside him. It was a woman with indescribable beauty, a sculpted Goddess in the flesh. With a pure white dress and a golden wreath around her equally pristine white hair, she stood in complete contrast from the dark and morbid chamber.
"Athena." Godou greeted his Goddess and said, "It seems like you succeeded."
The Goddess nodded. "While it was a bit troublesome to guide Yuri's thoughts without her notice, it seems to have worked out well in the end. To think that pure-hearted girl would eventually begin to approve your ruthless resolve… well, I suppose it is proof of love's blinding light."
Godou gave a curt nod and turned his attention back to the corpse before him.
It was a girl. Young, at most a first year in high school. Her cute face was frozen in despair and disbelief while her dark brown twin-tailed hair was splayed out in a mess behind her head.
He stared at her for a moment longer, as if to burn her image into his mind, and then sighed. "…I thought that the familiarity would be strong enough to sense her soul as it left, but it seems this was a failure."
Athena followed Godou's gaze and then waved her hand. Shadows emerged from beneath the table and covered both the dripping blood and the corpse. When the shadows cleared, there was no sign of anything ever being on the table.
"That is to be expected," Athena said. "Even for myself, it is difficult to perceive the soul. However, I am sure that Milord Godou will be able to do it. After all, you are someone who has surpassed the limits of both the humans and the gods."
As if in response to Athena's words, a sword of pure darkness, laced with crimson, appeared in front of Godou.
Staring at it, a cruel smile twisted Godou's face. "You're right. I am 'Victory' after all. It's only a matter of time."
Yes, a matter of time.
Then, he could revive Erica.
Then, he could find out how that traitor had vanished before his very eyes.
…And then, he could kill the lying Senpai who he once thought his ally.
Only a matter of time.
Shirou ran through the ruins of Italy towards the location that Voban had told him. As he did, he did a quick analysis of his body.
Being confronted with the truth of his existence had caused his powers to collapse. Tracing, his Authorities, reinforcement… before he was able to use them all at once because a balance had been in place. However, now… they weren't gone, but they were different.
He could no longer sense his Authorities. The divinity from Angra Mainyu, the stolen portions from Voban, Caine's Lacrimosa… they were gone. Shirou was no longer able to draw forth their powers. But that didn't mean they no longer had an effect. Rather than being separate abilities that he called upon, they became a part of his existence.
His presence became unnoticeable, hidden from creation by Angra Mainyu's Void Avesta.
He could hear the lament of the unjustly slain through Caine's Lacrimosa.
With Voban's usurped Dead Servant ability, he gained control over life and death.
Red Punishment granted him control over flames… and Durandal granted him control over steel.
As for his magic… reinforcement was no longer necessary. The process through which he returned to the world refined his body to something beyond humanity.
Projection… was possible, but he possessed a superior Divine Instrument Forging process that he could now use without cost. The caveat was restricting it to a single weapon at a time, but he possessed both the skill and prowess to do so without delay.
And then there was his reality marble. Before, with his shattered soul, it was impossible to utilize. But now-
Someone was alive.
The thought cut through his own, wired to his mind via his newly acquired senses.
Shirou came to a stop and surveyed the area.
Snow covered rubble in every direction. And in that rubble, something living remained. However… it didn't seem to be entirely human?
Shirou frowned and walked towards the source of life he felt.
It looked like the place had been a plaza of sorts in the past. Around him, Shirou could see the bleached bones of corpses long dead. For something to be alive in that setting could only be considered a miracle.
At first, he saw nothing. No matter how Shirou surveyed the area, he could see only snow, the dead, and rubble. But his senses told him that there was more than his eyes could see.
Just as he was about to melt the snow with flames in order to get a better look, something moved and caused the snow to shift.
Shirou braced himself. A single blade appeared in his hand, one forged from loving sacrifice and the ideals of swords that could reach the imperial villa. Although there shouldn't be anyone who could see him at the moment, he couldn't be too careful.
More snow shifted, revealing a pile of scrap metal. But after that, there was no more movement. Furthermore, the sign of life that he felt was dimming, and in its place was a growing aura of death.
Curious, Shirou drew closer.
And then a voice called out to him.
'…Teacher? Is that you?'
Shirou froze, and then said, "…Doni?"
'It is, huh? Great. Great… I could see you one last time before I vanish.'
Shirou frowned and stared at the metal. It was impossible to see the figure of that energetic and eccentric blond Campione from the scrap in front of him. However, Shirou could sense that aura from the one who called him a teacher.
It was getting thin. In truth, it was already a miracle for him to have held on for so long. Staring at Doni's remains, although Shirou couldn't see the man himself, it was possible for him to get a glimpse of his soul through his new powers. And from that, he could see what Doni meant.
A soul with pure silver. However, it was completely corroded in places with rust. Like steel left out too long, it was rotted through and about to shatter completely.
"…What happened to you?"
Something like that couldn't be done normally. To receive so much damage…
'Hah, it's nothing much. I just used an ultimate attack. It's a shame. I almost got her, but it looks like I had a single misconception. Ah, but what am I saying. Teacher. It's been good. I don't know what the world's like right now, but I'm sure that with you, it can-'
"Don't talk like you're going to disappear."
Shirou focused. Although it was different, although he didn't understand everything quite yet, he knew one thing about himself.
This body was made to save.
A soul shattered across time, drawn together, collapsed, and then reforged. Although it changed, it became whole once more.
The result might be different if Doni had been an ordinary human, but he was like Shirou- a Campione. And as a Campione, there was plenty of Divinity for him to use.
Shirou reached out.
A place beyond life and death. The void outside of existence. It was the Boundary of Life and Immortality.
In this void, two beings existed.
One was an ally of humanity. Although responsible for unleashing countless evils upon the world, she was the one who granted them the strength to fight back and deny the gods: Pandora. The one who created the cycle of usurption, she was the mother of all Campione and the guardian of humanity against the gods. At least, that was her name now.
Powerful… but not all-powerful. Especially not in the face of the other presence in the void.
A furious roar echoed in the void. "Pandora! You dared! You truly dared!"
A presence that filled the endless void, a power that gripped all of existence in the palm of his hands, including gods and humanity alike, roared.
Facing that, even the King of the End would be, and had been, forced to lower his head. However, Pandora did not. Instead, she simply smiled.
"It's too late now. Soon, your reign will be over."
It was a trick. A flaw in his omnipotence that came about through chance. Because of a tear in Fate and because of Pandora's determination, that tyrant's vicegrip on their world would soon come to an end.
The roaring voice echoed once more and an absolute power crushed down upon Pandora. Even with her powers, it was impossible to resist. But she no longer needed to.
A calm laughter echoed in the void, childish and yet solemn. "A king, a hero, a lord. One who saves, and one who was saved." Pandora smiled, facing the one who was everywhere and nowhere at once, the true 'Usurper' in this world. "Behold, the true Evil awakens before the gaze of the Tyrant King… isn't that right, 'All Heaven'?"
The domineering presence reached out to grab Pandora, but by the time his grasp reached her, she had vanished, crumbling into the void itself.
All that remained was a furious roar and the bubbling chaos disguising itself as order.
A/N: Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!
I wanted to get a more substantial chapter out to make up for lost time but I just really couldn't pull through after getting burned out with my graduate coursework. Still, I didn't want to leave without a present on Christmas, so here's this.
I know it ends on another cliffhanger, but I'll get the next part out before the year's end to make up for it. ...Hopefully something more substantial can happen. I need to go through the scene list again to make sure...
Anyway, hope it was enjoyable! If not, well I started another story that you could probably read in the meanwhile to hopefully tide you over if you're reading this after A Different Path. It's basically In Flight but with an overpowered True Magician Shirou from the 'Good End'. Completely not serious with mostly hi-jinks and fun times. Basically the flip of this? It might be a good a change of pace if you're bored and want to wait for more chapters to stock up first.
Either way, thanks for reading and sticking around unreliable ol' me.
Until the next, and best of wishes to you all.