Ritsuka’s awareness crept in on him, slowly and steadily. His ears picked up the sound of other people and his closed eyes told him he was sleeping in a room where the lights were turned on. He also knew that he wasn’t sleeping in a bed he was used to. Unfortunately none of this information narrowed down the potential places he could be enough to give him enough peace of mind to go back into deep sleep. So instead, he slowly opened his eyes to find out where he was.
It was a white room with bland furnishings, and mechanical equipment. Lazily carrying his eyes to his left, Ritsuka saw a line going up and down on a monitor in time with… a heart beat. A hospital? Ritsuka looked down and saw professionally wrapped gauze around his upper arm where he’d gotten that gash, and lightly flexed his hands where he felt fresh bandages. Nothing else seemed wrong with him, however. These slight movements helped expand Ritsuka’s awareness, however, and he made out the voice of the person who was talking without regards to the slumber of others as she played with Fou near the foot of the bed.
“All right, you’re a good boy,” said the woman in a cheery and lighthearted tone. She was dressed as though she was intending to go to a Renaissance Festival despite her outfit being mismatched with a miniskirt. She kept her interest on Fou, asking it, “Want something to eat? Nuts? Or maybe fish? Hm, not sure if you are a cat or a squirrel. But that’s okay, you are pretty cute!”
“I think, he’s more like a bunny,” mumbled Ritsuka in an awakener’s slur.
“Fou… Kyu, kyu…”
“Good morning, Master,” said the voice Ritsuka took a second to place as being Archer. He’d been leaning against the wall on the far corner the whole time, so Ritsuka hadn’t been able to notice him. After saying that, the man stepped over to a tea set and began to interact with it.
“Oh, morning, Archer?”
In the time Ritsuka’s attention was diverted from the woman she had approached and sat down at a stool next to the, yup, it was a reclining hospital bed alright.
“Ah, the hero has awakened. There, there, that’s how a main character should be,” Archer’s hands stopped for a second hearing that comment from the woman’s mouth. “Good morning Ritsuka. You’re conscious now?
“I.. Where am I? Who… are you?”
“Hm, you’re not thinking straight yet? Yes, this is the first time we’ve spoken directly like this so it’s natural to be so shocked to wake to the sight of such a beauty.. Don’t worry, I understand. I’m used to it at this point. I’m Da Vinci, a Chaldea collaborator. Or perhaps the third summoned Heroic Spirit. Anyway, we’ll talk later. Somebody’s waiting for you, let’s go to the command room.”
Chaldea? Ritsuka was at the installation, then. A medical room, where he was treated for his injuries. Archer was here, too, so Fuyuki was not a bad dream.
“Someone’s waiting for me? Is it the doctor?”
“Roman,” inquired the woman with brown hair that easily slid down to her shoulders. “Roman’s waiting too, but he’s not important. Jeez, there’s someone else, she’s the important one. Guess you’re not used to being the main character yet.”
There was a little clink from Archer’s handling of a sugar spoon against the teacup he was preparing. He said aloud as he picked the western style tea cup up from the tray, “I agree that it’s time you moved your body around, Master.”
“See? This little one says so, too,” said the cheery woman, Da Vinci, as Ritsuka slung his legs free of the covers. Thankfully it was only Ritsuka’s shoes and coat that had been removed so he didn’t have to go searching for pants. As Ritsuka got his feet under him, Archer handed him the cup of tea, which Ritsuka gratefully took and sipped. It was a dark western tea with a touch of cream and sugar to cover the bitterness a regular high schooler wouldn’t have the palette to enjoy. It was quite good and helped clear the remaining cobwebs from Ritsuka’s mind. Which was timed perfectly with Archer’s warning.
[Be careful of this woman, Master. She’s obviously very intelligent.]
Careful of her? And she’s displayed her intelligence… during her interactions with Ritsuka.
[You’re saying she wants something from me…?]
[Yes. No one casually tosses such powerful words like “Main Character” around unless there is a reason for them to do so.]
[…I also think it’s strange, to call me such a thing.]
“Come on, time to go, Ritsuka. From here on, you’ll be the center of this story. The choices you make will probably save us all. Just like the multitudes of brave souls who weren’t remembered by history as they saved humanity. You’ve been given a role to fight, not as a hero, but as a human walking a path that was preordained by the stars.”
Yeah. She was definitely trying to butter Ritsuka up, he decided. But there was no hint of cunning in those words, just… a pure desire to make Ritsuka feel important somehow. Which was the complete opposite of how he felt, which made the words feel a bit painful to hear. Ritsuka finished the delicious tea, after which Archer took the empty cup and replaced it on the tea service, and then all four occupants of the room -including Fou- left while being guided by Da Vinci.
Having been led through the hall a short while, Ritsuka was taken through a door he didn’t recognize. On the other side was what looked like some sci-fi set for the bridge of a spaceship. It quickly dawned on Ritsuka that it was the control room for Chaldea, despite the fact that it looked completely different from when it was on fire. There was still a lot of carbonized bloodstains however…
“Good morning, Senpai. I am glad to see that you’re okay.”
Ritsuka turned quickly at Mash’s voice to see her wearing her glasses, uniform, and hoodie. The swimsuit and combat armor mixed outfit was nowhere to be seen.
“Good morning. Thank you, Mash,” replied Ritsuka kindly as thanks for being greeted.
“No, I should be the one thanking you. We were able to get through the Singularity because of you, after all.”
That hollow feeling opened in Ritsuka again, that feeling of being praised as something he knew he wasn’t. This time, being praised as a savior.
“Ahem,” coughed Dr. Roman to get Ritsuka’s and Mash’s attention directed to himself. “I’m all for your reunion, but could you bring your attention here, please. First of all, congratulations on surviving and completing your mission, Gudao. Well done. While the situation was forced on you gradually, you bravely faced the challenges and overcame them. That earned my respect and appreciation. Thanks to you, Mash and Chaldea were saved. It’s a shame about the Director, but we’ve no time to hold a service. All we can do is grieve.”
It felt like a prepared speech to Ritsuka, but he wasn’t going to just let saying Olga Marie was dead go. Lev called her fate a living death. There was room for error there.
“If I survived, then maybe the Director did as well,” stated Ritsuka with little confidence to back it up.
Romani looked away, as though he was compartmentalizing some of his feelings before saying, “Listen. We must defend humanity in the Director’s place. That’s how we pay her tribute. I got the report about the crystal from Mash, and what Lev said. From Chaldea’s state, what Lev said was true. We can’t contact the outside world. The staff who left Chaldea during the disaster haven’t returned. I fear humanity has already been destroyed. Chaldea seems to be the only place outside of the normal timeline. Perhaps it’s staying on the timeline right before collapse. Think of it like a colony floating in space. The outside world is dead, until we do something about this situation.”
Ritsuka just stared at Dr Romani, numb and in disbelief. Romani swiftly moved onto the next topic while guiding Ritsuka over to the blasted out window overlooking the main chamber.
“First, I want you to see this. We tried scanning Earth with the resurrected Sheba. It’s Earth of the past, not the future. The Fuyuki Singularity was destroyed, thanks to you. But we hypothesize that the future was unchanged due to another cause. The result being-”
Romani pushed a few buttons on a console, and the surface of the great globe Chaldeas changed to reflect a blue globe of Earth, with parts lit up with twisting swirls covering regions of it like a weather map on the news.
“This distorted world map,” continued Romani. “A newly-discovered dimensional disturbance against which Fuyuki pales in comparison. They say changing the past changes the future, but you can’t overthrow the future by slightly altering the past. History has the power to heal itself. You might be able to save a person or two… But the end of that era- Will still end up with its definitive results unchanged. But these singularities are different. These are humanity’s turning points.
“What if this war didn’t end?
“What if this naval voyage wasn’t successful?
“What if this discovery was wrong?
“What if this nation couldn’t become independent?
“The ultimate decision points to determine the current state of humanity. Destroying them is like causing the foundation of human history to crumble. That’s what these singularities are. The future had already been decided when those singularities formed. As Lev said, humanity doesn’t make it to 2019. -But we’re different. Chaldea has yet to reach that destroyed future. Do you understand? Only we can fix this mistake. Now we have a chance to return the singularities to normal.”
Romani pressed another button and the illumination of Chaldeas’ surface dwindled, which caused Ritsuka to look away and back around him. There were nearly a dozen people in the control room aside from the people he knew. Romani, Mash, and Archer. Da Vinci had apparently gone somewhere else after guiding Ritsuka where they had been called to. All of them were looking at Ritsuka in expectation.
“So here’s the deal. Rayshift to these singularities and get history back on track. It’s the only way to save humanity. However, we are still powerless. All other Master candidates are frozen. Mash and your Archer are the only Servants we have. I realize you’re being forced into this situation. Even so, I’ll still say it. Master Candidate #48, Fujimaru Ritsuka. If you wish to save humanity… If you wish to have a future beyond 2018. Then you alone must go and face these singularities in human history. Are you prepared to do this? Can you shoulder the burden of Chaldea and humanity’s future?”
Ritsuka looked around him again. The expectations of the people who were looking at him were painful, let alone Mash’s puppy dog eyes. But… there was only one thing Ritsuka really felt from the speech that Romani had laid on him. Numb.
“I thought I was just an intern,” said Ritsuka at length.
Those seven English words seemed to splash cold water over the expectations of every person in the room. One of the women looked down, seemingly unable to keep looking at Ritsuka who’d said something like that. But was Ritsuka wrong? What was his position in this place again?
Romani got his bearings and said, slightly flustered, “Of course you’ve been promoted. Mainly because you and Mash are the only remaining Candidates here. Haha~h. Umm, I know it’s not the best situation, but rest assured, we adults are going to be doing everything possible to help ease the burden you’ll be facing. So if there’s anything we can do to help you, don’t hesitate to ask.”
Dr. Romani’s reassurances didn’t do anything for Ritsuka’s state of mind. But there was something that he wanted more than anything else at that moment…
“Can you help me call my parents?”
The woman who’d turned away covered her face with both hands. One of the men leaned on his knuckles with his eyes screwed tight, as though he was fighting against leaking some tears. The only person in the room who wasn’t stunned and saddened in equal measures… was Archer, who just had a face of sympathy and understanding. Somehow… Archer’s face of shared understanding of pain helped finally cut through Ritsuka’s numbness. And the thoughts that reached through, Ritsuka put them all into words…
“I guess it’s impossible after all. There’s nothing left out there but fire and ruin. A whole world that’s like the hellscape I saw in Fuyuki. I honestly… can’t imagine it. I don’t have the ability to understand something that big. But I can understand that everywhere I’ve ever been, everyone I’ve ever known… is gone. Stolen away by the man Lev called his ‘King.’ And that if I don’t do anything, I’ll disappear too in less than two years. So… even if I don’t understand, even if I can’t comprehend what happened or why… I’m going to fight back. Because I’m not going to let everything I’ve ever known and loved be stolen away from me without a fight. Even if it’s futile, even if I have no chance… I’m still going to try. Because my home is worth fighting for. Everyone. Please. Let me fight. I’m asking for something selfish here, but please support me in doing so.”
And with that, Ritsuka lowered his head in a deep bow, asking for everyone in the room to help him fulfill his selfish goals. Not for the restoration of humanity, but for the sake of taking back what had been stolen away.
There was a hushed gasp from the people in the room and some mutterings of “Of course,” and “That’s our line,” and the like.
Romani seemed to be fighting against a burden of guilt from Ritsuka’s words before he pushed it aside and said, “Thank you. With those words, our fate has been decided. We will now carry out the Preservation of Humanity as laid out by Olga Marie Animusphere, former director of Chaldea. Our objective is the protection and recovery of human history. Our search target will be each era’s relic and Grail. This is our only means of survival. No, the only way to take back the future. …No matter what sort of end awaits us.”
Romani turned to the room of people and said as though to incite a bit of courage through propaganda, “To reflect our determination, we shall abandon the original mission name, First Order. This is now Chaldea’s last yet original mission. The Grand Order! In the name of the magical world’s highest order. We will take back the future!”
There was a small and polite smattering of applause. Romani remained in his position as though he was coming to terms with the gap between reality and his ideal, then told everyone to come forward for introductions.
“First is Sylvia Cartwright, she’ll be handling data analysis and observation.”
“Nice to meet you, Ritsuka,” said the woman carefreely with a smile that seemed half forced to lighten the mood. She was taller than the average Japanese woman, and had blonde hair in a bob cut with blue eyes. She was slim and was showing off her style with a pencil dress style Chaldea uniform. Was she an American?
“This is Osahar Moussa, who’s going to be in charge of the Rayshift control systems.”
“My primary field of study is theoretical Leyline physics. I previously worked as a ritual experimenter and archivist.”
The man with dark skin was about the same height as Ritsuka but had shoulders that were half again as wide as Ritsuka’s. He seemed like a man who could house a lot of muscle but for the fact that he obviously didn’t care for exercise. His shaved head was glistening with a sheen of sweat that made his dome seem to shine. His deep voice suggested further at the barrel chest the man could have had if he’d worked for it.
“Next we have Celeste Ranson, Spacial Telemetry and Tracking.”
“Somehow… I just want to say, I’m really sorry about all of this, Ritsuka…”
Oh, she was the person who covered her face. Ritsuka was also sorry that he made her so uncomfortable earlier, as it wasn’t his intention. She had a very straight nose that not only looked good in profile, but coupled with her tight ponytailed dark hair made her seem like a person who was used to exhibiting incredible focus. Basically the type of person you’d ask to borrow the notes of in a difficult class. She had long limbs and a long neck that made her seem pretty flexible. She also wore pants and a waistcoat for her uniform. Did Chaldea have surprisingly flexible uniform regulations?
“And here’s Dmitry Meier, who’ll be in charge of data tracking with our temporal sensors.”
“I won’t let you down-… I won’t let you down.”
The guy who leaned on his knuckles earlier. He was thin with surprisingly pronounced cheekbones and flat cheeks which gave him a fierce dignity that he didn’t seem to try and protect. He gave Ritsuka the feeling of a man who was ruled both by logic and emotions at the same time. His defining features seemed to be his thin eyeglasses on his sharp eyes, and short cut black hair.
The rest of the people in the room were introduced one by one, and Ritsuka tried hard to remember everyone’s name, but he was at something of a disadvantage considering how many strange and foreign names he was being given. Ritsuka considered making some flash cards for learning everyone as soon as he could get his hands on the materials. When Ritsuka had finished making a round, Romani said, “Well, now that that’s out of the way; Mash, could you give Gudao a tour of the facilities? We can’t have him not knowing where anything is forever, now can we?”
“Is that alright, Doctor? There’s still a lot of work to be done, isn’t there?”
“Don’t worry, Mash, we’ll keep chipping away at it. And I’m sure there’ll be more than enough remaining after you’ve taken your time with Gudao.”
After giving their combined awkward thanks with an equally awkward dismissal, Ritsuka and Mash left the command room through the door Ritsuka had entered through.
* * * * *
As the door closed behind the teenagers and their Servant escort, Dmitry slumped into his chair and said, “Are we seriously asking those children to take on such an undertaking? Have we no shame?”
“Well I for one can’t fight a magic battle to save my life, and I’m pretty sure everyone else here is the same,” stated Sylvia emphatically. “So if we’re gonna be running into any more Servants as scary as the ones in Singularity F, I’m pretty sure I’d just be dead weight.”
“That’s assuming any of us could Rayshift,” said Osahar, his deep voice going baritone with seriousness. “Which we can’t. If we’re going to do anything to fight against Lev, we have to depend on the ones who can Rayshift. Which amounts to two children and one Servant.”
“As if that makes it any better,” asked Celeste who was sitting at her console with the top half of her face cradled in her hands. Her voice sounded like she was capable of crying at any moment if her emotions went any darker. “We’re the ones who are going to be sitting here, safe and sound, while those two fight something that succeeded in destroying the world.”
“Except we’re not safe,” said Osahar dourly. “Lev demonstrated that. That stunt of his wasn’t only about the Director. It was to let us know he could invade Chaldea any time he wanted. Ritsuka and Mash aren’t the only ones who are going to be in danger… we all have a gun to our heads.”
“We can think about all that stuff later, “said Romani to break in on the mood. “Right now we have a lot of repairs left to make if we’re even going to consider sending those two on their next mission. And if they’re going to be fighting, we’ll be fighting right beside them in our own way. Come on now, everyone. Back to work!”
* * * * *
[That’s hell you just volunteered for, you know.]
That was the thought that Archer sent to Ritsuka as Mash was leading them through the halls to the cafeteria.
[So what’s the real reason you went ahead and did it.]
[Mostly for the reason I said. I… don’t want to lose without ever having fought. And besides…]
Ritsuka’s eyes wandered over to Mash’s form, walking a half step ahead of him.
[If I didn’t volunteer… Mash would have tried to do everything on her own. Even if we succeeded in saving the world, I would never have been able to live with myself.]
Archer was silent for a long time, his eyes looking far away at something only he could see, before his reply reached Ritsuka’s mind.
[It seems we share a few twisted personality traits, Master.]
Ritsuka couldn’t tell if it was a compliment or a condolence. But either way, Ritsuka let a wry smile play itself over his mouth and looked at the two red Command Seals that were on his hand. Whatever Ritsuka’s feelings were, or whatever he experienced in the future… there was no way he could turn back from the path he’d chosen to tread.
-Flame Contaminated City: Fuyuki-
-Order Completed: Foundation Restored-
The chamber had a layer of dust that had entered through the air vents for what could only have been years. There were no marks in the dust to signify the room having been disturbed in recent memory and the only contents were a few boxes filled with defunct files covered in a tarp. It was obvious the room had either served its purpose or failed in achieving it. It was abandoned, forgotten, and left behind.
But that room was restarting its purpose on its own.
The ground had designs of geometric and mystic origin over all of the circular floor, slowly glowing in greater and greater strength. Finally, as though there was a trigger, the ground lit up and a pillar of light exploded at the center. As the light died down, there in the center was the figure of a woman who was remarkably tall during her own ancient era, with lavender hair flowing down her back to reach even her feet. With her blindfolded eyes and other senses she searched her surroundings. After a light sneeze from the dust her appearance had displaced, she refocused and, having found her target, softly whispered one word.
She stepped forward without hesitation, where she dematerialized into golden particles before her body struck the wall.