(A/N) Got this out, finally. Nice. Made me happy. Made me smile.
As a disclaimer, I'll be tweaking some teeny weeny things in order to make Shirou fit better. Nothing huge (or even that noticeable, really) but there are continuity issues if you overlap the Fate universe with the Grand Order universe. Again, nothing major.
Allow me to shamelessly plug my Twitter and Instagram once more. ( BLINDo_o for twitter, blindo_o for Instagram). Follow me for updates on the fan comic for the first chapter of His Body is Made of Swords.
Jojo part 4 is nice. How relevant is that sentence? I don't know. I should probably say something else, but I won't.
"Shirou, are you listening to me?"
My girlfriend stared at me worriedly from across our morning breakfast table, and I only then remembered that we were having a conversation before I zoned out.
"Sorry," I apologized bashfully. My thoughts had wandered without my knowing.
I brought my attention back to the matter at hand.
On the table, laid between our respective plates of eggs and toast, sat a letter.
The contents of the said letter disturbed me greatly. Quite frankly, I didn't know how I should've felt about it.
"The invitation could be genuine," Rin surmised. "I haven't talked to anyone from the Faculty of Astromancy personally, but I've heard rumours about this kind of thing. It wouldn't surprise me if it's real."
Be that as it may, it wasn't the authenticity of the document that troubled me.
"Why me, though?" I asked her, not that she had any more answers than I did.
"It's obvious, isn't it?"
Or maybe so.
"Read it over once more," she demanded, visibly frustrated.
Having long since learned not to argue with her, I acquiesced. "It… doesn't say much, does it? We would like to interview Emiya Shirou for a position at the Chaldea Security Organization. Further details on the specifications of employment will be discussed in person. The rest is just some kind of contact information."
Her hand raked through her hair, and she sighed. "And you know who they are, don't you?"
Evidently, she wanted me to reach the same conclusions as her on my own.
I can't read your mind, Rin. Why are you always like this? Just because we've been together for a decade doesn't mean that will change. On that matter, please stop getting so upset whenever I can't guess what you're craving for dinner, because your cravings have been getting way too strange recently. It's not fair.
"Their group doesn't exist, technically," I answered, willing to let her pull me along for now. "It's a secret magical organization sponsored by world powers."
The only reason that either of us had heard of it was because I just so happened to be part of a United Nations security detail years ago, and one of their representatives showed up to ask for a sponsorship. I technically wasn't supposed to talk about what I heard on that job, but it made for interesting topics of conversation over dinner.
Besides, if there was one person I knew that I could trust implicitly, it would be Rin.
"And what do they do?"
"Their goal is to preserve the 'Human Order'."
Or so they said. I wasn't entirely sure what that meant, until Rin explained the magnitude of that statement to me.
"Sounds like something that would be right up your alley, right?"
"I'm a terrible magus," I argued.
"If they're asking for you personally, it's not because they want you to do any sort of research for them. Despite what you might think, you made quite the name for yourself over the years," she countered.
She isn't seeing the problem here, is she?
"Chaldea is on the Antarctic continent," I muttered, barely louder than a whisper.
And we circled right back to my original dilemma. For all the joy it brought me to take my job across the world in order to help as many people as I could, the reality of the matter was that I always came back here.
If I had to work for a secret organization on the south pole, I doubted that I'd be able to come back to visit all that often.
I didn't like it.
She gave me a look that I couldn't quite place. For however long it has been that we'd been together, I couldn't say that I had fully learned to read her intentions.
"I think it would be good for you."
I felt my lips purse despite myself. "What, are you kicking me out?"
I would never consider myself to be an insecure person, nor did I doubt my relationship with Rin. In the current circumstance, however, I simply had to ask; I couldn't think of any other reasonable explanation.
Rin didn't answer me. Instead, in a rare display of affection on her part, she circled the table and wrapped her arms around my shoulders.
Her smile turned sad. "I don't want to see you hurting."
My forehead grew heavy as I swallow thick nothingness. "I–"
Her hands covered my mouth before I could say another word. "You'll be able to make a difference there… I know it. But more than that, I know you'll be safer with them than you are right now."
Right now with them, she meant. The Enforcers.
I didn't doubt it, either, the Chaldea Security Organization didn't come across as a militant force, nor, to my knowledge, did it have a reason to directly engage its employees in perilous activities in the manner that the Carillon Observatory did. As I understood it when I was hired by the UN, they had an incredibly sophisticated astromantic machine that could allow them to save the human race remotely.
What that seemingly-omnipotent example of astromancy was supposed to actually be, I didn't know.
The hand on my mouth snaked its way around the side of my head, pushing my cheek against hers. "I'm going to need you around, Shirou. Now more than ever."
Alive, she must have meant, because I wouldn't exactly be here to make her morning coffee for much longer if I took a job halfway across the globe.
The way she stressed the importance of my life brought complicated feelings to the forefront of my mind, as it always did. It was another reminder that being me meant that I was always close to bringing sadness to those I'd want to see sad the least.
Just like that man. Someone that I promised I'd never become.
Who I promised Rin I'd never become.
She could sense my distress, I could tell. I hadn't spoken, so my silence had been taken as a sign of my surrender.
"Just go talk to them, and see what they're offering. No one is saying that you should accept right away– actually, make sure you don't. If you don't consult with me first, I'll hurt you."
I guess it does make me feel a little better about it if she says it like that.
She pecked me on the cheek and swiveled back to her seat. Pleased with her victory, she sipped her coffee with upturned lips.
"Your name and age, please."
"My name is Shirou Emiya. I'm twenty-seven years old."
The man in the white lab coat scribbled something onto his clipboard. I fiddled with the water-filled paper cup that was provided for me as I waited for the next question.
"It says here that you're a British resident. Could you give us an approximation of the distance of your home relative to the closest building under the jurisdiction of the Mage's Association?
I almost sighed, it sounded like an awfully roundabout way to ask me how far I lived from the Clocktower, but I could suppose that the questions being given to me were meant to be generalized so as to be applicable to agents being scouted in other institutions.
"My house is in the southeast areas of Westminster, London. It's pretty close to where all the Clocktower dormitories are.
I paused at the question and took a moment to think about how I should answer. The paper cup was placed gently on the table between us.
"I am not married," I settled with eventually. I was in a committed relationship with a woman I love dearly, but I couldn't decide how relevant that was to them.
The man in the lab coat didn't miss a beat.
"Current place of employment?" he asked, then added, "We'd like to know what kind of hours you're used to working as well, if you don't mind."
A sensible question, considering the nature of the organization. I doubted heavily that anyone here was signing on for nine to five shifts.
"I work under contract for a certain department within the university, though the nature of my job rarely has me home at a reasonable hour."
For the first time during this interview, the man in the lab coat frowned at me. He seemed to be getting a better idea of the sort of individual he was dealing with.
With a sigh, he moved on and wrote something else onto his clipboard. Since they reached out to me for this job, they probably knew where I worked anyway. Even if they didn't, my name was signed on so many NDAs that they couldn't expect me to give them much more than that.
"Do you or have you used nonmedical recreational substances, including but not limited to narcotics, alcohol, or tobacco?"
I shook my head. "I don't smoke, but I drink occasionally."
He moved on easily enough. The next question was, "Would you say you have good sleeping habits?"
I scratched the back of my head sheepishly. "My girlfriend says I need to get more rest, so I try to get to bed by eleven PM whenever I'm free of any commitments. Unfortunately, it is rare that I get a full eight hours of sleep…"
I felt the need to add, "Despite this, I don't usually feel any fatigue or stress in the mornings. I haven't gone to the doctor for a check-up recently, though I doubt they would find any issues."
"Thank you for your honesty, Mister Emiya. We're almost done. Are you aware of any parties or individuals who might wish to cause harm to either yourself or those close to you?"
I massaged the back of my neck. How long had it been since I got here?
"Due to the nature of my work, I would imagine many, though I try not to trouble myself with enemies."
The man slipped his pen under the clip of his clipboard and stood up.
"Your time is appreciated, Mister Emiya. That will be all for the initial screening. Please be patient while waiting for our recruitment officer to arrive."
I blinked, processed what he said, and had to hold back a groan.
"So what was… all this?" I asked, lacking for a better term.
"An initial screening," he repeated uselessly. "Our organization starts with a qualification assessment of our master candidates, and only discusses terms of employment if they pass. Please understand that this is crucial for security reasons."
He bowed at the waist, but I was focused on something other than his courtesies.
He froze in his bent position. "Forgive me. I may have put the cart before the horse."
I couldn't get anything else out of him. I was left alone in the room.
I took a deep breath and leaned back into my chair. Having nothing better to do, I stared emptily at the classroom walls as I waited for whoever was supposed to come next.
As I had learned a little while earlier, the address given to me in the letter brought me to an inconspicuous classroom in one of Astromancy's buildings. It was a little strange to be asked to sit for an interview in a classroom, but in retrospect, it didn't make sense for a secret organization to have its own recruitment center in a school.
"Shirou Emiya, correct?"
It didn't take longer than a few minutes for someone to join me once again. This man was no more conspicuous than the first, only he wore a pair of large-framed circular glasses that stopped me from being able to make out most of his facial features.
He pulled out a lanyard from his pocket, making sure that the attached identification card was facing my way. "I'm Bertram McCann, in charge of recruitment for the Chaldea Security Organization through the Clocktower. Please excuse the abruptness of our invite. We try to find more appropriate venues, usually."
I chuckled. "This is an unusual setting, I take it?"
He nodded fervently, needed to hold his glasses in place so they didn't jostle around his face too much. "Absolutely. We're embarrassed to admit that we found out about you quite late; somehow, your scouting report had gone missing, and it was only through chance that we found it again. I returned to the Clocktower as soon as possible in anticipation of the possibility of you responding to our letter positively."
I quirked a brow. "Returned? From where?"
"Chaldea, of course. Official operations will commence within the following weeks, so all staff was asked to report to headquarters."
If the Chaldea Organization felt the need to send him all the way back here, then…
"What is that that you want from me, exactly?"
"Ah!" he looked almost embarrassed. "Of course– no more delay. We are collecting individuals who are compatible with our Rayshift technology."
Of course, I hadn't the slightest clue what that meant, so he asked, "During your time with the UN, how much had you overheard about our CHALDEAS system?"
If they really did their research on me, then it wasn't a surprise in the least that they knew where I had worked previously. It would only make sense that I could have heard something I wasn't supposed to. "Not a lot. It's the model the Chaldea Security Organization used to market itself to sponsors, right?"
McCann sighed. "Usually we'd explain the details back at headquarters, but I don't suppose we have any extra time to spare. The gist of it is this: CHALDEAS is a device that allows us to observe the planet earth as it exists in both past and future. About a decade and a half ago, we developed a lens –SHEBA, we call it– that allows us to observe and quantify the data given to us by CHALDEAS. Do you understand me so far?"
I nodded, so he continued, "Good. Our problem, as we understand it, is that SHEBA cannot properly locate the existence of the human race one hundred years from now."
"What!" I nearly shot up to my feet. "Is there a glitch, somehow?"
There were very few things that could cause such a catastrophe in that timeframe, and even fewer were of mundane origin.
"SHEBA cannot 'glitch', as you say," denied McCann. "It's not a computer as the term is understood by most. If there are issues with CHALDEAS, then there are issues with the future of mankind. That said, I'll get to the point."
We shared a moment of silence. I tried to gather my wits as he sighed.
"We traced the problem to an irregularity in CHALDEAS' timeline, and we were given the go-ahead to try and rectify this issue. The Atlas institute gave us a computer that, without going into the hows and whys, will allow us to send the spirit of compatible individuals directly to the location in question to investigate. This is the procedure we have dubbed 'Rayshift'."
I was definitely impressed. "So you're saying that you're sending people back in time?"
"Not exactly." He corrected, "It's really is more of a location than a time– I chose my words carefully for that reason. The irregularity in human history exists in a plane distinct from our own."
I nodded once more. It would probably take a lot more explanation for me to fully grasp the science behind it, but that type of thing didn't really matter to me.
"Ah," I exclaimed out of habit. There was still a question that hadn't been answered yet, right? "So… what about all of this explains why Chaldea is looking for me?"
McCann took off his glasses and began to wipe the lenses with the hem of his shirt. "Besides your Rayshift compatibility? Two things."
He lifted a finger. "The first is the location of the irregularity: Fuyuki City, Japan, year two thousand and four."
I felt a lump in my throat. "That's…"
"The location of the fifth and final Heaven's Feel ritual, of which you were a participant," he finished for me, "which brings us to the second reason."
He lifted another finger. "There is a high chance of running into hostile heroic spirits during the Rayshift. Because of this, we have been authorized to summon heroic spirits of our own."
I couldn't help myself.
"That's not possible!" I all but yelled. "Without the third magic–"
"The old director created the FATE system, which operates on mechanics directly inspired by the Heaven's Feel ritual; it serves to the same effect. It's highly experimental, but we don't have many other options. As one of the only surviving veteran masters, you are the ideal candidate for the position."
I didn't know how to feel about… any of this. "What about Rin, then? If you're looking for Masters, she's technically the one who won the grail. There's no way that you didn't look into her the same you did me."
"I'm assuming that you refer to Rin Tohsaka, of the Clocktower's Department of Mineralogy? You're correct. Unfortunately, our tests indicate that she is not Rayshift-compatible."
I leaned back into my chair and took it all in.
This was risky. What they were trying to do was very risky.
My original belief that a job with the Chaldea Security Organization wouldn't be as dangerous as my place with the Enforcers turned out to be laughably misguided. I had thought that this would be some sort of security job to protect some high-spec machines.
Instead, they were asking me to all but throw myself into a world-ending Grail War with nothing but untested equipment to help me.
That I wouldn't be doing it alone wasn't a fantastic consolation.
Despite that… could I just walk away? The world was quite literally at stake here. Whether I helped or not might even be the deciding factor between failure and success.
Besides, it wasn't as though it was meant to be a suicide mission. It sounded like they planned it out for the most part, and if they could really summon servants, then I wasn't too worried about the possibility of running into seven more.
Rin wouldn't like this. Not at all.
The biting cold disappeared, and the blindfold wrapped around my eyes was being taken off. I needed a moment to adjust to the intense artificial lighting, but other than that I felt fine.
Beside me, Mister McCann was being relieved of his own blindfold by the uniformed staff that flanked us.
"Sorry about that, Mister Emiya. That must have been uncomfortable," he apologized, rubbing his eyes. "The location of this facility is top secret, you see. It can't be compromised under any circumstances, so only a select few can know where it is."
The flight itself was quite hospitable for a greater length of the time, but once we crossed the border into Antarctica, the staff told us that we needed to be masked until we entered the facility. It wasn't that big of an issue though. It was almost a standard practice among magi.
"It's no problem," I told him honestly.
My personal effects were handed to me in a tray– my cellphone and the like were removed from my person before the flight to prevent any sort of tracking.
An ostentatiously-dressed man met us at the facility entrance. He gave me a pointed look.
"McCann. I see your excursion was a success. Good work."
He glanced my way once more and smiled. "It's a pleasure to have you onboard, Mister Emiya. There are no words to express how valuable your help will be. Please," he waved us over, "follow me."
McCann didn't follow. This must have been where we parted ways.
I didn't know where we were heading, but the man lead us with purpose, our footsteps echoed in the empty hallways.
After a moment, he tilted his head so as to catch me by the corner of his eye. "Hm. I haven't introduced myself, correct? My name is Lev Lainur, the second hand of Chaldea. Since Director Animusphere will be quite busy in the days to come, please come to me if you have any questions. I trust that Bertram explained everything properly?"
I hoped so.
He smiled again. "Good!"
We stopped in front of an open room. Rows of identical suits were lined on hangers.
"Please get changed quickly," I was told. "The mission briefing will be given in forty minutes."
"So soon?" I would've thought that I would have a few days, at the least.
"Don't worry. We're only sending our top four cells lead by our A-Team for the first Rayshift. If everything goes as it should, you'll head out with the rest of the reinforcements at a later date. That will give us time to give you basic training."
I nodded. As much as I didn't like to sit on the sidelines, it made sense that they wouldn't send a new recruit to head their biggest mission. Even if they scouted me personally, it would be irresponsible to put me in a position where the larger scope of my abilities were wasted because I didn't know what the protocols were.
If there was one thing that a decade of contract work for the Carillion Observatory taught me, it was that protocols were important.
I would have my chance another time.
Left on my own for the sake of privacy, I traced the seam of one of the uniforms with the tips of my fingers. They were clearly mystic codes, which was impressive considering they managed to mass-produce them. The cost of something like this must have been out of this world.
I motioned to lift the one my size off the hanger, but the cellphone in my pocket weighed heavily all of a sudden.
I dialed a number and put it to my ear.
"It's about time."
I smiled. "Sorry, Rin. They took my stuff until I landed. I just got my phone back now."
"So? What's going to happen now? When's the Rayshift?"
She wasn't giving me the silent treatment anymore, which was good. When I came home and told her what I was going to do, she just about took my head off. The time away must have given her the distance she needed to cool off.
"The first one will be later today, but they won't be sending me. I'll be sidelined until they can give me additional training."
She sighed. Even through the phone, I noticed it was more of a relieved sigh than an exasperated one. I could tell because I've been on the receiving end of her exasperated sighs countless times over the years.
"That's good. Regardless, please remember that if you die, I'll come kill you myself."
I wanted to laugh, but it probably wasn't a joke. Not even death could save me from this woman if I screwed up enough to piss her off to that extent.
"I'll do my best," I promised. Even if I couldn't put my own life before another's, I knew that Rin would be sad if I died. If I did that to her, I don't know if I could forgive myself.
I checked the time on my phone's display and frowned. I might have killed a little too much time.
"I'll talk to you later, alright?"
"No, never mind. I'll tell you some other time. We'll talk when you're not in a hurry."
"Okay," I agreed. If it was important, she would have told me now regardless.
"I love you, Shirou."
I didn't answer for a moment. As much as we cared for each other, neither of us were openly affectionate individuals. As was the case for many Japanese couples, 'I love you's weren't thrown around a lot.
"I love you too, Rin."
That said, it was nice to hear it every now and then.
I hung up and hurriedly put on the uniform.
I walked through the door to the room where Lev Lainur told me to meet him, and I immediately felt the eyes of everyone in that room on my person. Numerous men and women dressed similarly to me craned their necks to see who it was that interrupted the ongoing meeting.
Chief amongst the glares was the piercing gaze of the white-haired woman at the center of the room. Despite her seemingly young age –perhaps younger than me, even– I could only guess that she was the previously-mentioned Director Animusphere.
"You're late," she snarled agitatedly. "Sit down, or get out."
With a quick apologetic bow that I doubted she cared for, I chose the first option.
I spotted Lev Lainur standing next to a purple-haired girl near the back of the room.
I couldn't read the look on his face.
"No more distractions!" insisted Animusphere. All eyes were on her once more. "I want everyone up to D Block to prepare for Rayshift! Reserves, stand by for further instructions!"
The uniformed men and women surrounding left their seats and joined the director near the center of the room. Only the technicians and those who I assumed were reserves such as myself stayed where they were.
A series of coffin-looking pods rose from the ground, and those leading the first expedition fastened themselves within.
Animusphere rose her voice once more. "Technicians! Prepare TRISMEGISTUS for–"
I felt the world around me slow down to a halt. Adrenaline and years of field experience made me act before I could think.
I tackled the director the moment I sensed the bomb beneath her feet being triggered. Whether I was quick enough, I didn't yet know.