Today’s theory delves into the history of Erebonia as well as real world occult symbolism which I attempt to connect with the lore dumps in Cold Steel 4. All of this to take another potshot at the Holy Grail of Kiseki Crack: the identity of the Grandmaster.
Let’s start with the conclusion first: I think that the Grandmaster was originally one of the causality describing engines like Azoth introduced at the tail end of CS4. However, It’s important to note that, for all the known abilities of the Grandmaster to make sense, she needs to become something more than a mere ‘causality engine’.
To begin, let’s look at the real world meaning of Azoth. Derived from medieval alchemy, it is sometimes described as the universal solvent. It is associated with mercury and is seen by some occultists as the precursor to the Philosopher’s Stone. Its symbol is said to be the Caduceus—a staff with two serpents entwined around it—which is also the symbol that appears on the Grandmaster’s tabard.
The occultist Aleister Crowley made an interesting observation about Azoth, commenting that the word contains the first and last letters of ancient alphabets. Specifically, Aleph from the Phoenician, Zeta from the Latin, Omega from the Greek and Th (spoken Tau) from the Hebrew. By combining the serpent imagery of the Caduceus with the concept of first and last letters of alphabets, we get the following image from the wikipedia page for Azoth:
Not quite a snake that bites it’s own tail, but it’s very similar. We’ll return to real world symbolism connected to Azoth at a later point, and I promise that it will involve serpents once we delve into the Tarot symbolism.
AZOTH and its ties to Mirage
So what does CS4 tells us about Azoth, the third causality describing engine? We know it’s the true author of the Black Records, and we know that the events recorded by it have a prophetic nature. We can further guess that it reaches its conclusions by having some supernatural grasp on cause and effect.
At the start of the 3rd Act of CS4, Class VII delves into the Luna Sanctuary to learn the truth of Erebonia’s curse and, according to Rose, is connected to the “true origin” of the Black Records. This goes beyond just the recurring symbols of Sun, Moon and Star. There are hints throughout all the games that these celestial bodies are associated with the Higher Elements—namely Star to Time, Moon to Mirage, and Sun to Space. This forges a tentative link between the Mirage Element and the origin of the Black Records. Combined with its grasp on cause and effect, the known abilities of Demiurgos clearly come to mind.
Finally, there’s of course the most important tidbit of information, specifically that Azoth is associated with House Arnor, which leads to the next question: who or what were the Arnors before they became the ruling family of what would later become the Erebonian Empire?
There are two important points. We know that the ur-ancestor of the Arnors with the title of Adjudicator was made the first leader of Erebonia (or Erebos back then) due to the fact that he was unaffiliated with neither the Kinship of Blaze nor the Kinship of Earth. This makes sense because both Kinships lost control of their respective Sept-Terrions after they engaged in mutual destruction and fusion. This suggests that even before the giants started to throw punches, there was some kind of conflict going on, and after the Osgiliath event, tension was most likely running high. As such, the Holy Beasts of Blaze and Earth decided to install an outsider into the role of a rallying figure.
Latte suggests that pre-collapse Zemuria had seven different ‘tribes’ associated with the seven Sept-Terrion. He also posits that each tribe exemplified the characteristics of their respective element. In regard to the Arnors, I’d say it’s their immense foresight to see hundreds of moves ahead as Rean put it when he described Musse’s intelligence. In fact, the entire Cold Steel Arc could be considered a multilayered chessgame between three Arnors: Olivert, Musse, and Osborne who is Dreichels reincarnated. Furthermore, when Juna and New Class VII are discussing Musse with Roselia, the Witch-Elder says something to the effect that the girl displays similar potential to Adjudicator Arnor.
Combining this and the Arnor’s stewardship of the Black Records makes me think that they originally belonged to the ‘Tribe of Mirage’ just like the Crois family; and while it could be Mariabell’s shtick of focusing on intellectual characters as we’ve seen with Elie, Tio and KeA, the Crois daughter shows a marked interest in both Musse (during the CS4 Rosenberg Doll Side quest) and Cedric during the final scene of CS4 in the Celestial Globe.
While we are talking about Mariabell, she refers to the Grandmaster as the ‘Ars Magna’ during the Celestial Globe scene in CS4. This is the second time she’s used the terminology–the first being KeA in Ao. According to both the Crossbell Archive and how ‘Ars Magna’ is tied to real world alchemical tradition, the term expresses the concept of constructing something that transcends Aidios’ own creation, to put the power of divinity in human hands.
Successor or Subsystem
There are old theories about Demiurgos being the true identity of the Grandmaster. While I disagree with them, my theory runs in a similar direction. Currently, I see two possibilities on how Azoth and Demiurgos are connected.
One is that the first (or prototype) causality engine was in fact Demiurgos herself. She was for all intents and purposes a super-prototype that probably exceeded the creator’s expectations and in turn earned herself the rank of a Sept-Terrion. In contrast to the Aureole, we know it possessed empathy which allowed it to guide the Tribe of Mirage while also taking into account human irrationality, and it was this empathy that eventually led it to erase itself from existence.
In striking contrast, Azoth states in the very last Black Record (where it outed itself as the author) that there exist ‘unpredictable domains’ due to the illogical nature of human beings. I propose that Azoth is a successor to the Demiurgos. In contrast to most anime-logic, when later versions of technology is always more bombastic, the Kinship of Mirage traded the raw predictive power of the original for long-term stability by removing the empathetic factor. This conveniently leaves the 2nd engine to be the Grandmaster. As an aside, it’s important to note that it was the Grandmaster’s voice which guided the heroes to the ‘True Ending’ of CS4 which just so happens to occur at the exact moment when Azoth metaphorically threw up its arms and gave up, and what better entity to surpass the author of the Black Records than it’s more powerful but most likely also more unstable–at least initially–predecessor.
The second possibility is the causality engines are a subsystem of the Demiurgos, just like the relation between Phantasma and Aureole. However, in contrast to Phantasma, the operation of the Demiurgos-subsystem was entrusted to a group of ‘shadow rulers’ to which the Arnor ancestors belonged rather than the official rulers. Due to the loss of Demiurgos, the Crois ancestors might have tried to elevate the subsystems to the same level as the Mirage Sept-Terrion, but their attempts obviously failed. It instead resulted in what they regarded as inferior copies, Azoth and the Grandmaster among them.
One might be wondering why I’m writing myself into a corner by stating that the Grandmaster was some kind of development failure. The reason for this ties to a major flaw of this theory that the Grandmaster is indeed an entity with comparable power to a Sept-Terrion (if she is indeed Demiurgos) or even weaker in power (my theory). The solution lies with Divergent Laws.
The Unholy Fusion
We know for a fact that Kernviter was given to Loewe by the Grandmaster along with Angbar to McBurn. We also know that both blades operate under Divergent Laws and that even the Aureole’s absolute barrier collapsed under the onslaught of Kernviter. If the Grandmaster is indeed a weaker version or subsystem related to the original Demiurgos, how could she possibly control powers that are beyond the Sept-Terrions?
To solve this conundrum, let us talk about Campanella. I think there are almost as much theories about Enforcer Number 0 as there are about Ouroboros’ High Dame herself, so I will only point out stuff that emphasizes a certain conclusion which will catapult this theory into Crack overdose.
- There’s his infamous S-Craft in Ao no Kiseki, the fake Salt Pale, something that we know for sure is associated with the Outside.
- His red face marking bears a certain similarity to McBurn’s red face markings once Flame Boy goes Demon mode. CS4 was also nice enough to confirm that McBurn is a fusion of a Zemurian human and a denizen from the Outside.
- Both Campanella and Mcburn’s regular attacks involves them throwing elemental attacks at their enemies without any tactical orbment activation.
- At the end of Star Door 14, Campanella breaks the Fourth Wall by addressing the player directly as a mysterious stranger and telling him/her to stop peeping. What better entity to break the Fourth Wall than someone who comes from the Outside of the ‘established in-game world’.
Now that I have expressed my firm belief that Enforcer 0 is also a denizen of the Outside, let’s spell out the final conclusion: The Grandmaster is a fusion of a causality engine and a ‘Demon’ from the Outside. In other words, Campanella and the Grandmaster are from a certain perspective indeed the same person (and I’m aware that there are Grandmaster theories that state exactly that).
Campanella shows uncharacteristic politeness and manners when addressing Ouroboros’ leader while he/she tends to speak flippantly towards others; however, his mask is slips at the end of CS4. During the encounter in Tuatha Dé Danann, Juna verbally tears into the Fool and he admits that he is different from the other Enforcers; he doesn’t enjoy freedom of choice. In fact, he actually says something to the effect of being tied down by fate.
While this indeed hints at a special connection between Campi and the Grandmaster, it’s neither a decisive argument for the fusion theory nor does it explain why they appear as two separate persons. For the latter, I can only provide speculation.
One reason might be that the Grandmaster, the 2nd causality engine, wanted to optimize her predicting ability. Given that the Grandmaster (at least in Star Door 14) is shown to be compassionate, she seems to possess the same weakness as the original Demiurges–a human heart or at least the imitation of one. By fusing with Campi, she could stabilize her emotions and avoid self-erasure.
The second reason is linked to duality. Just like Class VII benefited from including two social outsiders (Fie and Gaius), the Grandmaster who uses her Secret Society to steer the fate of Zemuria benefits from the view-point of a true Outsider to the world. By having Campi act as the observer to events, she can harness a perspective for her predictions that is going to be as unbiased as they come. This duality might even be a way to prevent her human heart from coloring Campanella’s ‘pure’ outsider perspective.
To push my fusion theory further, I want to address Tarot symbolism by tying this to conclusion to Yotaka’s theory Ars Arcanum and the symbolism of a snake biting its tail. The gist of the theory is that the Enforcer numbers correspond to either the upright or downside meaning of their respective Arcana, which in turn informs us of their characters. For this Grandmaster theory though, only two cards need to be addressed. The Fool, and the very last of the Major Arcana, the World.
There is a lot of symbolism to unpack, so let’s start with the pictures. The cards shown in this article belong to the Rider-Waite Tarot, one of the most popular and influential tarot decks in the world, published in 1910.
The fool is depicted as a foppish young man carrying a rose in one hand which is an apt description of Campanella .Just look at his fabulous wardrobe during the Miranaire mini-game in Sky 3rd.
What’s more interesting though is that historic tarot interpretations preceding Waite-Rider refers to the Fool as the ‘Unnumbered Card’. While this is certainly indicative of Campanella’s somewhat unique role among the Enforcers it can also be taken as another hint that he/she isn’t from the Zemurian plane of reality. In fact, even when numbered, the Fool still sticks out like a sore thumb. While all other Major Arcana cards use Roman Numerals (something which Falcom sticks to), the Zero of the Fool is an Arabic Numeral. Historically this is because the Ancient Romans didn’t possess a symbol for zero and probably weren’t aware of the usefulness of the mathematical nothing.
The World Arcana, on the other hand, is depicted as a young woman surrounded by a green wreath who holds two scepters (a symbol of rulership) in her hands. And if the way the green wreath is arranged around the woman seem familiar, that may be because there exists tarot decks where the green wreath is substituted by an Ouroboros.
If we follow this logic, it would make the Grandmaster not only the leader of Ouroboros but also Enforcer Number XXI. In Ars Arcanum, there were some predictions made about the abilities and characteristics of such an Enforcer. Let’s cite a few key passages:
“This (the World Arcana) is the card of integration, fulfillment and completion. The Fool reenters the world he left for his journey with full understanding of his place in it and having accomplished all he set out to do. “(….)
“Almost all of the things it represents do not fit well with the requirement that an Enforcer possess some darkness within themselves.” (…)
“If we just look at the idea of integration, understanding and success then someone like Cassius (Bright) would actually fit quite well, especially as he’s mentioned in Sky 3rd and Ao as having attained a complete understanding of kotowari (part of the word which is translated as Divergent Laws, it can mean law, way, reason or in a philosophical sense ‘the way the world is’) which fits with The World (Arcana). So an Enforcer representing the upright card could be somewhat like Cassius in understanding the world, which is a terrifying thought but rather appropriate for the ‘final’ Enforcer. “
(citations end here)
I think the Grandmaster would fit pretty well with the upright meaning of the card and it could even mean that she is in a way the true Heroine of the entire interconnected Trails series. I have also mentioned how the letters of Azoth tie to the beginning and end just like the snake that bites its tail or the cyclical nature of a Heroes Journey that can be symbolized by following the succession of the Major Arcana.
Finally, a last bit of real life occult trivia: According to famous French occultist Éliphas Lévi, whose work influenced the above mentioned Waite-Rider tarot deck, he considered Azoth to be a manifestation of anima mundi, Latin for Soul of the World. As such it probably won’t come as a surprise that the man also associated Azoth with the World card found in tarot.
Thanks to Alza from spacebattle for proofreading and Yotaka from Falcom Romancia for pointing out the ‘Ars Magna’ connection between the Grandmaster, Mariabell and KeA and how it’s supposed to be understood according to the Japanese only Crossbell Archive.