Disclaimer: I do not own anything of the Nasuverse.
Prologue: The Last Master
Shirou sat frozen on the comfortable antique chair, not a single muscle in his body moving lest he provoke the whimsical wrath of the all-powerful being sitting lazily in front of him. He really wanted to close his eyes in the hopes that maybe if he didn't see the monster in an old man's beard, it would disappear.
"Why so tense my boy?" a whimsical voice asked, suddenly standing up, a long cane glinting with a strange light from his right hand. Shirou didn't want to look at it, or else he'd get a mind-splitting head-ache. However, the thing that scared him the most was that he knew if he looked at his inner bladeworks, the blasted thing would be there mocking him. "After all, you're basically my apprentice too…well, my apprentice's apprentice."
Shirou almost wanted to throw himself out the window right then and there. Rin would berate him later for it, but it would definitely be worth it. There was no way she would blame him for it too. Plus, if this got a little too dicey with her, he could always bribe her with food and one of her wilder bedroom requests.
Things had become rather interesting ever since he and Rin had come to study at the Clocktower. The transition had been rough for him especially, mostly because he had a lot less patience for the game of politics and intrigue that overshadowed every single interaction between magi.
Luckily, Rin excelled at that. She had managed to flourish at the Clocktower, despite the open hostility and racism. It was hard to argue with her results after all, and Shirou had been really reminded how brilliant his lover actually was multiple times ever since. Of course, that had backfired a bit in the end.
Sometimes, he really wondered what the hell she had done to gain the attention of Zelretch of all beings after the Holy Grail War had concluded. The Clocktower was already enough of a headache. Having to deal with Zelretch, the all-powerful Wizard Marshal with a mischievous streak that bordered on outright malicious and cruel.
Initially, Rin had been ecstatic when Zelretch had taken her on as an apprentice, but that had quickly turned into fury, embarrassment and thinly veiled tolerance once she got to experience what Zelretch deigned was "training". However, Rin wasn't the type to give up easily, and the benefits were quite noticeable, given her rapidly expanding repertoire and reputation.
"With all due respect…I'm not excited in the slightest," Shirou answered truthfully, pulling a face. He really…really...really wanted to trace a Black Key right now and run for it. Maybe he'd make it to the 15th floor if he was lucky.
"I have a little request for you my boy," Zelretch continued flippantly, idly closing the blinds which Shirou had been eyeing strangely for a while. He mentally shrugged, deciding to not think too hard about it.
"I take it you aren't taking 'no' for an answer..." Shirou said with a sigh, "I don't even know why you want a third-rate magus like me for whatever god-forsaken task you have in your twisted mind."
"Oh, nothing too bad. Just something a huge justice-nut like you is all about," the magician continued blithely, "Wouldn't you like that? A chance to save a world and all that?" He grinned widely at the predictable response he knew was coming.
Shirou twitched in annoyance, really wishing right now that he was built differently. The moment he heard the words "save" and "world" combined, he would have a tough time deciding against whatever crazy ploy Zelretch had cooked up. It had gotten a lot better after Rin beat some sense into him, but at his core Shirou was someone who wanted to save others.
"And…what exactly do I get out of this?" Shirou asked, his tone measured as he tried to hold back his inner need to galivant off to save people. Rin would be appalled if he didn't at least try to get something out of a bad deal. Plus, while he definitely wanted to save people, he wasn't masochistic enough to bend to Zelretch's will so easily.
"Oh? It seems Rin has been training you well if you're able to bargain a bit like a magus already," the old vampire teased, "Rest assured, I have a few things for you before you go. Plus, I'll send our favorite pigtailed girl along in a month when she finally returns from her mission." Shirou perked up a bit at that. He really missed Rin after all.
"And the catch?"
"Just a surprise here and there and…let's just say that you might need to brush up on your combat skills…a lot. And I mean a lot," he said seriously, twirling his cane around in his hands as he passively gathered mana from across the multiverse, "Are we in agreement?" Shirou sighed, mentally cursing the existence known as Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg.
"Fine. What am I…"
"No time for that my boy! I'm afraid we're on a tight schedule," the Wizard Marshal cheered as he suddenly blasted Shirou with a spell. Shirou immediately seized as foreign knowledge directly and forcibly entered his mind. It wasn't pleasant in the slightest…
And an endless hill of swords.
"What…the…hell…are you doing!" Shirou managed to roar out as the pain began to overwhelm him. His whole being was burning as Zelretch's spell took hold.
"Oh, nothing too big. Just imparting some knowledge from your multiple selves across the universes. An oversimplification, but I highly doubt you'd understand the technical jargon that comes with the intricacies of the Kaleidoscope. Long story short, I'm pulling bits and pieces of yourself from across the multiverse and imbuing you with their essence, especially the interesting EMIYA paths."
"WHAT! Archer! I don't want anything to…"
"Much too late for that," Zelretch waved off, "I'm curious if this will change your constitution though…hmm maybe it'll make you like her. That would be fun. Hold on now, I'm pulling the rest through." Shirou silently screamed as the pain finally reached its climax with every nerve ending in his body lighting up. Despite all of his experience with pain, this easily reached the highest levels he had ever felt in his life.
Each new memory felt like a sword, stabbing him over and over again, not in his body, but in his very soul. His inner bladeworks were straining as they were forcibly expanded and made to accommodate a staggering amount of weapons. With each new weapon, their histories, users, skills, composition, rankings, and abilities tore through his mind. Those that were beyond his comprehension were jammed in forcibly without any regard. Skills that weren't his were imprinted on his body mercilessly. Events that had sculptured his life were swishing around in his mind.
Then it all came to an end.
Shirou lay on the ground, dazed and barely conscious as his vision was beginning to darken. He could hardly breathe as his mind and soul struggled to process the sudden influx of information and foreign yet familiar memories.
"Hmm…not sure if this is enough though," Zelretch pondered, a sudden idea coming to him. With a shit-eating grin he created a portal and pulled a strange looking orb out of it. It pulsated with foreign and otherworldly power, gently lighting up the room in violet light as the soft whisper of howling floated through. Shrugging, he cracked open the sphere and dropped it next to Shirou's body, watching intently as the light rose up and scanned the room. It visibly recoiled from Zelretch and promptly disappeared into the barely-conscious Shirou as the only living host in the immediate vicinity.
For just a second, a violet glow outlined Shirou's fallen figure before disappearing mysteriously. For a few minutes, Zelretch observed the unconscious young man to see if there was going to be any rejection, and to his satisfaction, Shirou didn't spontaneously explode.
"Perfect!" the old vampire said with a satisfied clap, almost giddy. He couldn't wait to see the boy's reaction, "Well then! Off you go Shirou Emiya. I'm expecting some great entertainment."
The last thing Shirou saw was a swirling mass of infinite color before being greeted by darkness, cursing Zelretch the entire time.
Shirou's eyes snapped open, knowing immediately where he was and wasn't. It all felt the same and yet so completely alien. Staring up at the starry sky above, Shiro lay flat on the ground, half-immersed in water as blades of golden rice swayed to whimsical air currents. Sitting up, he stared out at the rolling fields of gold, confirming his suspicions. It was quickly overshadowed by amazement though…
For in the field lay countless blades, scattered and embedded into the ground, glinting underneath the blue moonlight. Shirou was at a loss for words. This was his inner bladeworks and yet not. Just what the hell had Zelretch done to him?
Standing, he found himself transfixed by the sudden beauty of his inner world. It was unbelievable as it was disturbing. Once a desolate wasteland filled with nothing but swords and sand, it had been transformed into an unending glade of blades. The gentle breeze that flew through the world caused rolling waves of golden rice blades to sway gently among the endless pieces of steel.
However, that begged the question as to how Zelretch had managed to manipulate his Reality Marble, an extension of his own reality and soul. The implications were very, very frightening. However, he couldn't deny that it felt more…full than ever before. And it was absolutely breathtaking.
There was also a new standout feature. In, what he assumed was the middle of his world, a house stood. It was small, possessing no greater than three or four rooms at best. It was a simple, yet comforting sort of home, designed with in a traditional Japanese style, but what really drew his attention was the fixture sitting outside the house.
A fully operating forge that lightly smoked underneath the moon…
Shirou didn't understand and the whole thing make him even more worried what Zelretch had done to him. He took a step forth to investigate, only for his vision to blacken once again as the world spun.
Shirou groaned for what felt like the umpteenth time today, feeling a strange wetness on his cheek. His entire body hurt, and he really didn't want to move around. However, the sound of someone calling for him caused him to creek his eyes open.
The first thing that greeted him was a strange creature. It sat on his chest in a rather satisfactory sort of way, tilting its head in curiosity. It had snow-white fur with long ears and a large bushy tail. It kind of reminded him of a dog if he were to be honest, but its small squirrely appearance made him think otherwise.
"Senpai? Are you awake?" a soft, timid voice asked, and Shirou would have mistook it for Sakura if the voice wasn't so different. Realizing he was laid out on the cold, metallic floor, he quickly sat up to find the concerned face of a girl peering down at him.
She was definitely not a normal-looking girl. That much was certain, Shirou decided as he studied her face hidden behind a pair of black-rimmed glasses and light pink hair. By his estimates, she looked no older than sixteen, maybe seventeen. Her expression was rather reserved with a tinge of concern on her timid face.
"Ah, my apologies," Shirou said, taking a good long look around. There was nothing he recognized, and the very futuristic vibe he got from the sliver hallway only cemented his knowledge that Zelretch really had sent him into a parallel universe. "Where are we? Who are you?"
"Oh…um well, I'm not…" she murmured, looking away from Shirou, "Never mind that. Anyway, we're actually in front of the main room of Chaldea, the Central Command Room."
"Fou!" the little white squirrel-dog-thing chirped, climbing onto the girl and resting on her shoulder.
"I…see," he answered slowly, standing up and dusting off his pants. Doing a full look around, he frowned at the unfamiliarity of it all. Everything looked like a stereotypical structure built in the far future. "What year is it?"
"Huh?" the girl asked, startled, "2015?"
Shiro blinked. He could hardly believe it. The difference in time was only a few years at best from when he left his own world, but the advances in technology were unbelievable. There was more technology in this one hallway, than all of his years of childhood combined, by far.
"Um…are you alright, Senpai? Do you normally like to sleep outside on hard floors like this?" the girl asked, concerned.
"Sleeping…" Shirou muttered, mentally grimacing as the reality of being transported to another reality started to seep in. "No not normally, at least not without a futon…" There was a lot he needed to learn. Why had Zelretch sent him to this universe specifically? What had he done to him? How was he going to get home?
"I see…" she said a little awkwardly as the animal on her shoulder began to yip again, "Oh and this is Fou. It seems he's taken a liking to you, Senpai. That is quite odd actually…He's not one to interact with people."
"He's an odd creature himself," Shirou commented as Fou jumped off of his caretaker and began walking around. He remained silent as he observed the animal, his nose detecting a powerful scent hanging around the creature, more accurately a phantasmal beast. Though, that begged the question, what kind and why.
"Ah there you are, Mash," a new friendly voice suddenly interjected as a man of German descent walked over from down the hall, "Please do not walk around without alerting the staff. It really could cause some problems."
"Sorry Dr. Lainur."
"Oh, but who is this?" he said, turning towards Shirou whose expression suddenly turned tight.
"Emiya, Shirou," Shirou introduced himself as he stared into the man's smiling face.
"You must be one of the Masters then. Wonderful!" Lev Lainur continued cheerfully, "It's great that we finally have all 48 Masters capable of Spiritron Dives in one place. Without a doubt, our mission will be a success. I see you're acquainted with Mash though. Have you met before?"
"No," Mash answered simply, "I found Senpai sleeping on the floor here."
"Sleeping? Oh, I see," the man chuckled, "Likely a side effect of your first simulation. It's not uncommon for first-timers to be subjected to sleep-walking-like side-effects. It's likely how Mash found you."
Shirou remained silent, training his stare on Lev's face, his expression blank.
"Anyways Mr. Emiya," Lev continued, "I'm looking forward to your work. Tell me, how experienced are you? How long was the training?"
"Senpai is a civilian Dr. Lainur," Mash interjected since Shirou didn't seem to be keen on answering.
"I see. So, a civilian then. Well that's absolutely okay. Heritage here doesn't matter. Only your ability as a Master is really important," Lev continued, not catching the look of surprise on Shirou's face, "Well then, welcome to Chaldea. The Director is about to give her orientation for newbies soon, so I suggest we head over."
The rest of the conversation carried between Mash and Lev was lost to Shirou, because the whole time, he could only recoil in disgust at the scent that whirled around the man known as Lev Lainur, the scent of decay, disease and death.
Shirou's first impressions of the Director of Chaldea, Olga Marie Animusphere, was that she was definitely the quintessential magus. There was a ruthlessness in her that he both detested and respected. She was very young though, and through that, he could see some of her shortcomings, mainly her complete reliance on the man known as Lev Lainur. Her absolute inability to compromise was also troubling.
Still, the session had been interesting, even if he only understood half of what it was about. It was actually rather amazing when he thought of it all in context.
Chaldea was an organization dedicated to the survival of mankind. Utilizing a direct connection to Gaia, it projected Earth onto a miniature planet, nicknamed Chaldeas. There were a bunch of other complicated systems that the Director had touched on like LAPLACE, SHIVA, FATE and TRISMEGISTUS, but Shirou didn't really bother to learn about it.
All he needed to know was that Chaldea was focused on the preservation of mankind through the observation of history, past, present and future. Masters, like him, were expected to transport themselves through critical points in time to ensure the continuation of history, and with the assistance of Servants, theoretically, they could correct any abnormalities. The summoning of Servants, apparently, hadn't been completely sorted yet.
It was all amazing to Shirou. To know that the winner of the Grail War, Marie's ancestor, had made use of the Grail's wish like this…
However, his wonder was quickly doused as Dr. Lev Lainur took the stage to explain to the Masters their first mission. As someone seated in the front row, Shirou could smell the evil leaking off of the man easily, and it was getting more and more potent with each passing sentence. Something was going to happen…
"Trace on…" Shirou muttered in his seat, briefly stunned at how fast his magic circuits responded to his aria, another undocumented change of Zelretch he'd have to explore later. Using his newfound sense of control, Shirou analyzed the room through his feet, looking for anything out of place. It would take a while, given the size of the room and the complexity of the machinery around him, but Shirou was anything if not patient.
Seconds quickly stretched into minutes as Shirou diligently looked through the entire room. A lot of what was coming to his mind was amazing to behold, technology beyond his wildest dreams, circuitry smaller than the size of a needle, materials stronger than steel and thinner than paper…
"You. The Master who was late… What are you doing?" the irritated voice of Marie Animusphere half asked, half yelled as Shirou was busy Structurally Analyzing the room. Much to her annoyance, the strange new Master, who had walked in late, with brilliant red-orange hair didn't answer her. "Get in your Coffin! What are you doing!? Don't tell me you fell asleep you imbecile! What the hell are you doing still sitting there? We're all waiting on you!"
Then, Shirou found exactly what he feared, snapping his eyes wide open in urgency as he looked upon the furious face of Olga Marie up on the stage. He only had a second to move.
"Hmph. I can't believe someone like you…"
Then the world exploded in fire…
Shirou Emiya was born in pain, fire and suffering. Thus, when he awoke from his moment of unconsciousness after diving to save the Director from certain death, he was not scared of the roaring fire and destruction that surrounded him. With a groan, he felt bits of the ceiling laying on his back and legs, and only through the minimal action of Avalon, as usual, he survived. He could feel it working overtime to heal the fractures, cuts and burns all over his body.
Looking beneath him, he sighed in relief and sadness at the unconscious form of Marie Animusphere. He had managed to save her from the bomb placed directly underneath her feet at the exact last moment. However, she hadn't come away unscathed. Looking down, he could only regretfully stare, wishing he was better. While the explosion hadn't robbed her of her life, the bottom half of both of the Director's legs were gone, completely annihilated from the knees downward and sealed by the fiery explosion.
"Wh..what's…" she groggily murmured, coming to after the blast wave had knocked her out.
"Director, I need you to look at me," Shirou said seriously, shaking her awake. Her eyes focused quickly, recognizing him.
"You! I…" Marie screamed wanting to get up and kick the boy in front of her, only to freeze as the command to move her feet didn't elicit a response. Color draining from her face, she looked down at her body and then screamed. Holding her face in disbelief, she shook it rapidly, not wanting to believe it. Her legs…her legs…
"I'm sorry. I couldn't save you fast enough," Shirou said with a grimace as he stood, bending down to pick up the shocked girl who went deathly silent, tremors beginning to snake through her body, "We need to get out of here. Someone's sabotaged the place."
"Director!" Shirou yelled, feeling extremely guilty about it, "I need you to calm down. Focus. Lead me. I don't know what's going on at all!" Then, another pile of rubble shuffled in the back of the room as a figure rose from the fire and rock. She was bleeding from her head, rather profusely, but the fact that she managed to survive was a miracle.
"Warning! Warning!" the PA system suddenly announced, "Power levels critical. Switching to backup generator…Error. Manual override needed. Containment wall closing in 40 seconds. Any remaining personnel in the Central Command must evacuate immediately."
"Mash!" Shirou recognized, running over to the dazed girl with Marie in his arms, "Oh my god! Are you alright?"
"Senpai?" Mash muttered, wobbling on her feet, blood beginning to drain down her face, "You…you survived...Thank goodness. Wait…is that, the Director…"
"I barely managed to save her," Shirou confirmed, grimacing as he looked around the rest of the room, wondering how many people had died. Gritting his teeth in anger, he vowed to pay back Lev Lainur for this. To be unable to save so many people right in front of him made his blood boil, and in many ways, it became personal at that point for Shirou.
"The Masters…" Marie whispered weakly as she pointed at the Coffins, "They need to be saved…Cryo...Put them into cryo. Goddammit. Where's Lev…"
"Run, Senpai," Mash said, collapsing onto her knees as her condition finally caught up to her, "You can't save me…Save yourself and the Director. I'm not worth it."
"What the hell are you saying!" Shirou roared, his entire being taking offense at Mash's statement, "I'll definitely save you. I'm not leaving you here." He bent down to pick up the fallen girl, only to be forced to jump back as apiece of flaming debris crashed down between them.
"System switching to final prep phase for Rayshift. Coordinates locked and set. AD 2004, January 30th, Fuyuki, Japan," the PA droned on. Shirou's jaw opened in surprise. "Laplace's protection and prediction program established. Singularity set and established. Unsummoning protocol confirmed. Please adjust for any final parameter changes."
"It…can't work," Marie said, staring at the coffins, "The Masters..."
Then, the small globe, Chaldeas changed. From its normally serene color of blue, it transformed into an angry red. Marie's already pale face seemed to drain of all its color.
"Warning! Warning! Warning! Chaldeas' state has changed. All observation staff are advised to note time and state. Data is being processed for Shiva's near-future prediction algorithm. Code Red. Code Red. Unable to detect the existence of mankind 100 years in the current timeline of Earth. Unable to detect any human life. No guarantee for the continued survival of mankind."
"It can't be…No…all of my life's work," Marie cried as her constitution continued to worsen, "Lev! Lev! Please! Where are you! Save me! Please…Why…why…why! Why haven't you come to fix it all and save me! Lev!" She wailed uncontrollably in Shirou's arms, flailing around ungracefully to the point where Shirou almost dropped her on the ground. Trauma was setting in rapidly and finally, Marie couldn't take it anymore and passed out.
"Main area sealed. Prepare for Rayshift in 180 seconds."
"It seems we're stuck here," Shirou said gravely as he stared into the self-contained hell that burned around him, having finally managed to make it over the piece of ceiling. Mash nodded with a sad and grateful smile, happy that someone had sincerely tried to save her.
"Coffin vital signs taken…Warning! All current Masters unsuited for Rayshift. Baseline vitals indicate immediate medical attention required. Rayshift requirements not met. Scanning area for suitable Master…"
"Found…Master Shirou Emiya designated as new Master. Unsummoning beginning. Spiritron conversion in process. Secondary life form found, unsuitable for Master status. Third life form detected as Servant…"
Shirou's eyes widened in surprise.
"Ano…Senpai?" Mash questioned as she shuffled closer to Shirou as they all started to shine with mana, "Would you mind…if I held onto you?"
"Rayshift beginning in 3…2…1…"
Grand Order's story-line and background information is actually rather interesting. There's a lot of potential there that I hope to capture, though there is the difficulty in translating a phone game/psuedo vn into a worthy tale. Still, I think it should be fun to mess around with multiple servants and the problem child that is Shirou Emiya.
Some people might point out that Rin wasn't supposed to be mentored by Zelretch in the UBW route, but creative license and whatnot.
Hope you enjoyed, and thank you for reading!
-Woona the Cat