Chapter 9

The City of Vale

"Guys! Guys!" Nora bounced around excitedly on the way up to the aircraft. "This is amazing!"

The orange haired girl skipped around each of her teammates beaming a bright smile. "Like, I've been to Vale City before with Ren and that was pretty cool! However," she sucked in a great amount of air, "going with my own team? Ahh-!" Her eyes squinted shut. "Having the four of us hang out is gonna be so awesome!"

Ren simply smiled. His pale pink eyes dutifully tracked Nora, always making sure to nudge her in the right direction before she could ever bump into something or someone. "As they say," he began, "good company makes the journey better."

Nora's energy was infectious as I was unable to hide my own little excitement. That girl had been unable to contain herself the moment we were declared the victors.

"Hey leader?" Nora popped up beside me. "Have you ever been to Vale before?"

"Hmm," I returned a non-committal hum, "no, not really. This will be the first time for me stepping into the city."

She gasped, hands on both cheeks with her mouth wide open. "No way! Are you serious Shirou?"

My eyebrow rose at her statement.

"Then you're in for a serious treat!" She grabbed my arm enthusiastically. "Vale is like one of the biggest and bestest cities in the world! There's so much to see and do, we could literally take a whole month off just exploring around! And the food!" She cried out passionately. "They've got all kinds of stuff from all over the world!"

"Indeed," followed up Ren as he pried his partner away from me. I nodded my head in thanks. "Given the multicultural nature of the city, it is rather simple to get a taste of all four kingdoms."

"I must say it has been… quite some time since I've ventured out into Vale," spoke up Pyrrha as she navigated carefully around the various students and staff.

I glanced at my partner that walked beside me. "How long ago since you last visited?"

"Let's see…" She placed a finger on her chin. "I think it was over a year ago."

"How was it?"

"It was… interesting, to say the least," she answered diplomatically with a smile.

That was probably at the height of her career and popularity. She was a four-time champion, so if it was over a year ago that meant she had just accomplished a three-peat. A legendary feat that few, if any, would ever be able to achieve, especially at her age. Companies and sponsors likely clamored over themselves to have her endorse their products. So, it was highly probable that Pyrrha had been flown out to Vale from a sponsor.

"Look, there's our ride!" pointed out Nora.

Just up ahead, our transport into the city, a bullhead, sat idle. Since the campus was considered well outside the city limits, the only practical way for people to commute was to take air transportation.

As we stepped closer, the door to the cockpit was open with a leg that swung out lazily. "Stab trim cutout switches, normal. Wheel well fire warning, checked. Radio, radar, and transponder, set and on standby. Rudder and aileron trims, free and zero."

With Nora's thunderous approach, his head swiveled to the direction of the bounding footsteps.

"Ah," he grinned warmly, hopping out. He looked to be a middle-aged man with dark brown hair that was combed back. His clean-shaven face greeted us, "You must be Team…" He squinted at his tablet. "S-N-P-R correct?" A curious eyebrow slowly rose at having to say all four letters. He double-backed to his tablet, checking to see if he had missed our team's name. "No abbreviation or anything?"

"They never assigned us one, so we're going as is for now." I offered an explanation.

"Heh," he huffed out in amusement, "not to worry." He offered out his hand. "The name's Emmerich Jaeger, I'll be your pilot this morning. A pleasure to meet you."

"Shirou Emiya, leader of Team SNPR," I shook. "Likewise."

The pilot tossed his tablet back inside. "We should be ready to depart as soon as you're all strapped in. Should be a short flight, the weather is nice and clear too. Hopefully that means a smooth flight into the city," he explained conversationally, eyeing everyone on the team. "Just went through the final preflight checklist and-" his voice abruptly stopped. Plain brown eyes blinked then grew wide in astonishment. "W-Wow!" The awestruck man blurted. "Apologies, but… are you the Pyrrha Nikos?"

My eyes snuck a glance to Pyrrha.

If I had blinked or not looked in time, I would've missed it. Her shoulders stiffened almost imperceptibly. The corners of her lips tugged down a fraction of an inch before they were instantly pulled up into a smile. Her eyes brightened, as Pyrrha instantly switched over to her celebrity façade. The image that was so well crafted that it deceived almost everyone, even Ren and Nora included.

Yet, from my view, it felt so… forced.

"Yes, I am!" answered Pyrrha, sounding upbeat.

"If you don't mind miss," he fished out his scroll from one of his pockets. "Could I trouble you for a picture and autograph for my son? He's a big fan of yours and well hehe," he scratched the back of his head. "I sort of am too! If my son ever found out that I met the Invincible Girl herself and didn't try asking for her autograph, he'd never forgive me!" he laughed to himself.

"Of course, I don't mind at all!" My partner laid down her bags as she straightened her clothes and adjusted her tiara.

"Fantastic!" Emmerich turned to me. "Hey, would you mind taking the picture for me?"

"Sure…" I accepted his scroll and brought it up. They posed in front of the aircraft with the man giving a big smile and thumbs up. Pyrrha accompanied it with a picture perfect smile. I had to pause for a second, as her smile became eerily reminiscent of Sakura's, before I gathered myself. "Three, two, one."

The snap of the picture tore me out of the illusion.


"Thank you so much!" He shook her hand enthusiastically before pulling out a notepad and pen from his flight suit. "Do you mind addressing this to my son? His name is Erich Jaeger. Something simple will be more than enough."

"Of course," she said serenely as she wrote something down. "To Erich Jaeger… Be Strong, Be Kind! Signed… Pyrrha Nikos!"

"Wow, thank you once again!" He inspected the photo and autograph together. "I can't wait to tell my son about this!" The man chuckled bashfully. "Sorry, sorry, a grown man like myself getting all worked up about this must be a poor sight to see."

"No, no," Pyrrha put her hand sup placatingly, "it's okay, the pleasure was all mine!"

"Oh, you are simply too kind Miss Nikos!" He pocketed his items away before clapping his hands. "Alright then, let's get you four underway, shall we? It'll be a quick flight, but I'll try and take us on a scenic route. Hopefully the boys up in the tower won't mind if we did some sight-seeing."

"You needn't trouble yourself on our account," concerned Pyrrha.

"Nah," he waved her off. "Think of it as a thank you and apology for bothering you and your team. Besides," he climbed up into his seat, "the weather is so lovely today, it would be a waste not to see it! Now hop on in you four!"

The door to the cockpit closed shut.

Ren and Nora dutifully entered the cabin with the latter pulling the former. I took a step forward, but stopped to turn around just as Pyrrha picked up her belongings. Her back faced me as she gave Beacon Academy one last look before dipping her head. When the engines began to kick up, her ponytail wavered in the wind. Her shoulders rose and dropped; a heavy sigh.

Stepping back out, I called out to her, "Everything okay Pyrrha?"

"Yes, of course," she replied, beaming with that fake smile. Her eyes never met my gaze. "I was just… taking in the sight, you know?"

Pyrrha's bangs covered her eyes as she stepped into the cabin of the aircraft.

As I followed her inside and settled into my seat, I gave Beacon Academy a good look as well. There it stood, a modern castle with great spires and entrancing hallways. The school tasked with nurturing future generations of huntsmen and huntresses, stood as a beacon of hope in a world of darkness. People from all over the world enrolled here for a myriad of reasons. For a great many, this was the first step in their journey to becoming a gallant hero. For some, a place to forge lasting friendships and maybe something more. And for a scant few, a place to begin their life anew.

I couldn't help but wonder to myself.

What was Beacon to Pyrrha?

Ozpin sat high in his tower.

On a clear day, his vantage point allowed him to observe nearly the entire kingdom. With such a view, he often found his eyes wandering away from his paperwork that seemed unending on his desk. And when his eyes wandered too often, Glynda would always be there to reprimand him.

"So, they've left." However, it was not the case today as his longtime friend gazed out worryingly.

He couldn't help but smile.

Underneath that cold, harsh exterior that Glynda was so fond of exuding, laid a genuinely softhearted woman. While Glynda only asked nothing but the highest standard from her students, she in turn gave them her utmost effort. After all, the lessons Glynda imparted could mean the difference between life or death out in the field.

"You know… I've watched countless first year teams go out onto their first assignment, but it still never gets any easier," she softly commented.

He returned a non-committal hum.

"Still…" continued Glynda. "I do wonder why Mister Emiya chose this assignment out of all the others. While it certainly isn't the most dangerous, it is rather," she paused trying to find the right word, "complex."

Ozpin chuckled as he picked up his mug. "A complex work-study for a complex individual. I have complete confidence that Mister Emiya and his team will return with stellar results."

She inclined her head in agreeance. "That boy has proven himself to be a cut above the rest. He's kept up with our workload and has so far excelled in every class putting himself just below Miss Schnee and Miss Nikos."

The headmaster chose to simply sip his coffee, electing to keep his silence as he caught Glynda's eyes. They sharpened considerably before softening as she tapped away at her tablet. "Oz."


Her lips pressed thinly together. "We're starting to run out of places to look," she stated.

He schooled his features inward at the news.

"At the rate we're going, I'm hesitant to think that we might not be able to hold our end of the deal. We're already starting to have some unwanted attention turning our way." Her voice paused allowing her words to settle. "James messaged me not too long ago wondering what reason we have to be poking around his kingdom's birth records. He's beginning to ask questions."

Ozpin refrained from sighing heavily.

James Ironwood had an almost incessant need to poke his nose in all matters as both a headmaster and as a general. This matter in particular required discreteness above all else. Something that his fellow headmaster was not the best at since when he moved, so too did the might of the Atlas military. "Tell him it's a private matter and that he needn't worry." Ozpin gazed down at the dark drink before taking a sip. "Be sure to remind him that he too has more important matters that require his attention."

"Very well," nodded the woman. She was already typing out a message before she came to a stop. "Oz," Glynda drew in a deep breath, "I'm beginning to think that maybe-"

"Keep looking," he cut in before she could finish that dangerous line. "We will keep searching until there is no other place to look."

"And when there is nowhere else left for us to look?" Her eyes pinned him into his seat.

He stayed silent for a moment, simply seeking comfort in his favorite beverage only to find it tasting more bitter than usual. The drink did nothing to assuage the reality of once more being the bearer of terrible news. Of all the trials and tribulations, of all the adversities he overcame, nothing proved more difficult than delivering a message of sorrow.

After all, the last time he had to deliver such news was-

Ozpin immediately ceased that line of thought.

"Then like always…" He could already feel it, another weight slowly being added on his shoulders. "I will bear that burden," he resolved solemnly as he casted his gaze to Vale.

As Beacon Academy shrunk, the City of Vale grew larger.

Flying afforded us a view of the land in its entirety. Surrounding the city proper were great walls that protected the capital and its people. The iron curtain stretched from coast to coast, one point to another, making a clear divide between civilization and nature. An astounding feat of human engineering, the likes of which would be a marvel in any world.

"Incredible isn't it?" remarked Ren as he noticed my gaze. "The walls are considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. An undertaking that took almost a century to complete."

"I've never seen anything quite like it," I replied.

Few things could compare to the sheer scale of this project. The Great Walls of China came to mind, but even that seemed small in comparison to how this superstructure towered over the landscape.

The further we flew in; the further the realization began to settle in as to how vast the city was. The body of water that sat below the cliffs of Beacon Academy was the beginning of an enormous river system. From my view, I could see another river merging near the center of the city that continued out into the sea. The two would merge together near the heart of the city.

In-between the forked rivers, lies what appeared to be the residential district; suburbs, apartments, and high-rises all packed tightly together. The southern edge was a mixture of agricultural and industrial lands along with the poorer neighborhoods. And north of the merged river was downtown, where skyscrapers and luxurious houses dotted the peninsula.

Connecting it all together was an intricate network of roadways, bridges, and railways that acted as the veins and arteries that kept the city alive.

As we flew deeper into the city, a peculiar structure stuck out.

The open grounds highlighted its significance as it stuck out compared to the concrete jungle surrounding it. An old castle that looked eerily familiar to the one that we just departed from loomed as we passed it by. Stone and painted glass decorated its surface rather than the familiar steel and concrete that I was used to. A similar grand causeway, just like Beacon's, carved a path up to the central gate.

Ren nudged my shoulder. "Resemble anything Shirou?"

"Yeah," I hummed, "kind of looks like Beacon."

"Mhm," he confirmed with a nod. "Beacon was modeled after the original castle in the city. That right there," pointed Ren, "what you're looking at is the former seat of power of this land. Where the great Kings of Vale used to live and rule from. For hundreds of years, this was the place where policies and edicts were made and carried out. From the first king to the very last who abdicated the throne. All that history… happened here," he finished.

"The last king… That was Oswyn, right?" said Nora.

"Yeah," Ren smiled approvingly that she paid attention to their classes. "He's also the one that established the Huntsmen Academies and began the wall project after the Great War. They say he also assisted in constructing one of the other Seven Wonders."

"What's the other one?" I asked.

"As a sign of peace and to foster prosperity and cooperation between the two former warring kingdoms. He helped along the designs to raise Atlas off the ground. Sadly, he never lived to see it, but eventually they got the kingdom to float up into the air."

My eyebrow slowly rose, but didn't question it.

There had been far stranger things back home such as the mysterious mobile base of the Wandering Sea. From what I gleaned off from my travels with Kiritsugu, it was more like a moving mountain range that hid in the seas and rarely, if ever, came up on dry land. So, the thought of a floating landmass wasn't too farfetched, at least for me.

"Alright you four," the intercoms crackled above. "I hope you enjoyed some sight-seeing of Vale! We're on the final approach before landing at the airport. Get yourselves buckled in; we'll be touching down shortly."

At that, we returned to our seats as the aircraft began its descent.

Pyrrha stirred slightly in her seat once the aircraft landed.

The engines outside died down to a low whine as the doors depressurized and slid open. She watched her team step out before being the last to leave. The pilot had already hopped out of his cockpit as he waved them all a farewell.

"Good luck you four on your assignment." He smiled warmly. "And thank you once again Miss Nikos! Really appreciate what you did for me!"

With practiced ease, she returned his smile with one of her own and a wave of her hand. "No, no, the pleasure was all mine!"

Turning back to her team, Nora and Ren were already making their way into the terminal. Shirou on the other hand waited patiently for her. His eyes met hers for a scant moment. On instinct, she flashed him a smile in an attempt to dispel any worries.

She immediately knew from the way he simply blinked that it failed to deceive him. He sighed softly before motioning for her to keep up with him.

Walking through the terminal, Pyrrha allowed herself to comfortably settle next to Shirou. As they waded deeper into the building, it was then she began to feel the stares. One head turned, then another, those stares quickly became whispers, whispers turned into chatter, and chatter gave away to shouts.

The bangs of her red hair shadowed over her eyes.

"Hey, that's the Invincible Girl!" A brunet, off to the side, gasped to her friend.

"Oh my gosh, it is!" Her blonde friend jumped excitedly, already pulling out her scroll and snapping pictures.

"It's the four-time champion!" Pyrrha caught sight of a man shoving his friend, finger pointed directly at her. "Man… she's even hotter in person," he sighed out dreamily. "The videos on the net don't do her beauty any justice!"

The other man's eyes stared, drinking in the sight to its fullest. "Oh man… oh man! Hey, do you think I could get an autograph?" he asked. "Or like… maybe even her number?"

"Pfft." His friend dismissed him. "As if she'd give a nobody like you the time of day."

Upon hearing the chatter, Pyrrha automatically slipped into her public persona. A face full of smiles while tossing out waves here and there. She tossed them breadcrumbs, in a vain hope to appease their need for attention, yet rather than appease them, it only seemed to embolden the crowd. They quickly grew in numbers as cameras snapped pictures and were quickly uploaded to the net in excitement. More and more the situation turned for the worse.

Her hands squeezed onto the handles of her bags.

She didn't want this to happen, not now of all times. Her team right next to her. Her partner right beside her.

The fame she accrued from her time in the arena was one of the major points of contention as to why she left Mistral. At first it was benign, harmless. People would call her out, offer words of motivation and cheer, when she was out with friends or running errands. However, as he continued to win, it became harder and strained. Friends became more distant, as more either got scared off by the monster that was fame or began to ask favors due to the result of her popularity.

Endure, she chanted in her head as her heart pounded.

Just hold on and-

Suddenly, alarms rang as a siren blared out overhead. The crowd quickly dispersed as people ran towards the exit confused as to what was happening. In the midst of the commotion, Pyrrha felt herself being pulled as Shirou led her through the crowd. Turning to the rest of the team, Shirou ordered Ren and Nora to keep up.

Pyrrha's mind raced, confused at what was going on. Why was the alarm ringing, was there a fire, or worse, an attack?

Either by luck or chance, she spotted the cause of the chaos. Just as her team passed by the fire alarm pull stations, faint blue motes of light finished dispersing leaving only a small hole in its place.

Pyrrha's eyes widened as she recognized what just happened.

Her eyes darted back to Shirou. He weaved his way through the panicked crowd expertly before ushering them into a discrete hallway. She and her team watched as people rushed by, pushing and shoving to get away from the alarms.

She kept her gaze on him, not even bothering to take note at just how hard she was squeezing his hand. Shirou didn't seem to mind either as he turned to her once the coast was clear. Wild thoughts raced through Pyrrha's head as she tried to guess at the reason for Shirou's action.

"Man!" Nora exhaled out loudly. "Was there like a fire or something? One moment people were staring and stuff, and the next moment it became a madhouse!"

Ren poked his head out, looking left to right. "I'm not sure either," he said evenly. "Something must've caused the fire alarm to go off or maybe someone pulled it as a prank."

"What kind of prank involves pulling the fire alarm at one of the largest airports in the kingdom?" questioned Nora.

"It's just a guess," Ren simply shrugged.

Pyrrha continued staring at the culprit even as he wore a mask of innocence. Conjuring up her courage, she cleared her throat.

"Shirou was that-"

"Pretty scary?" I finished Pyrrha's sentence. "Yeah, the alarm going off suddenly was rather unexpected."

She stared back, wide-eyed; mouth slightly agape.

I shot her a grin before releasing her hand.

"Well, that was certainly interesting," I remarked. "I figured entering the city would be memorable, but not like this."

"Yeah!" giggled Nora. "That's certainly one way to enter the city!"

"Alright," my hand brushed through my hair. "Looks like the crowd has finally thinned out a bit. Let's get going before the crowd comes back. Hopefully whoever is waiting for us didn't run off."

"Lead the way leader!" saluted the orange-haired girl.

I took the lead once again as we stepped back out into the throng of people. This time, diligently keeping to the side to avoid any unwarranted attention that might be brought onto Pyrrha.

As we slinked around, a group of men strode with purpose toward us.

There were four of them in total, two humans and two faunus. All of them wore form fitting suits and dark trench coats that had an emblem of two snakes intertwining a rod stitched on the left breast.

Ministry of Welfare, Public Safety Bureau, Criminal Investigation Department.

They all appeared rather nondescript, fitting considering their occupation. Only the one who led the three stood out due to his orange slicked back hair. Not only that, but a particular strand seemed to stubbornly stick out. Even as the person ran his hand through his hair to smooth it out, it promptly popped back out.

"Mister Emiya?" he questioned, his voice being soft and mellow.

"Yes?" I answered neutrally.

"It's a pleasure to meet you and your team." He extended his hand out to which I accepted. "I am Senior Inspector Woo Jin-chul," introduced the rather tall man; he was at least a head taller than me. "And this is my team." His head moved left to right, acknowledging the other three with him. "We are here to pick up your team. If you would follow us please," his hand motioned to the side politely.

"Please, lead the way," I said.

The man quickly led everyone to the car park where our rides awaited. Two blacked out vehicles parked not too far from the entrance. A special spot reserved for officials as could be told from the sign.

"Oh my gosh!" Nora, ever the energetic one, hopped eagerly. "This is just like all those secret agents and spy movies that we used to watch Ren!"

"Hmm… now that you mentioned it," he grinned, playing along with her.

Jin-chul made a non-committal hum. "I assure you; we are far less than what the movies and shows portray us as. We are merely humble servants to the public."

The way he talked only emboldened Nora further. "See! He even talks like one of them! Do you think we'll get to dress up like them too? Oh my gosh, I can already see it now! Special Agent Nora Valkyrie reporting for duty!" She flourished with a salute.

Ren hid his embarrassment behind a cough. "Ahem, Nora, they don't use the term agents. What you meant to say is inspector."

"Inspector. Agent," she weighed the names on each hand. "Same thing!"

I barely held back a grimace as we entered the vehicle. The uniforms that the inspectors seemed to favor were too reminiscent of what Kiritsugu wore. The thought of donning their uniforms churned my stomach a bit as I realized just how ironic this situation was. A son who tossed aside his father's dreams and ideals only to then take on his appearance was indeed a cruel fate.

Perhaps – this truly was karma.

Where our flight into the city was loud and lively, the drive to our destination was far more subdued and quieter.

Woo Jin-chul sat in the passenger seat while his partner drove.

The Senior Inspector took us on the most direct route. On our way there, we passed several places of note that we spotted from the sky, but it wasn't enough to fully appreciate the sights. They were cursory glances at best and Nora began a game with Ren to spot certain cars that passed us by to past the time.

The normally rambunctious and plucky member had quieted herself down to barely a whisper. However, due to the quietness of the ride, her whispers were more than loud enough to hear.

"We're almost there," announced Jin-chul over his shoulder.

Skyscrapers loomed overhead as we turned into an exit ramp. Traffic slowed to a crawl as we were in the heart of the city. People filled the sidewalks as they went about their business. Food trucks and concession stands could be seen at some corners as we passed by. Nora could be heard in the back bugging Ren about getting some food.

At the final intersections, the high-rise building that came into view looked completely different from its neighbors. The building was styled after a temple of sorts. A set of board stairs with a row of marble columns lined either side, paving the front entrance.

The ride slowed near the bottom of the steps. Looking out through the window, the stone steps were flanked by two large statues.

"What beautiful architecture," marveled Ren. His eyes surveying the building's façade and accompanying tower.

"Wow…" Nora shared the same sentiments. "Talk about first impressions!"

"Impressive, isn't it?" commented Jin-chul.

Glancing at the rear-view mirror, I caught the small grin that tugged at the corners of the man's lip.

"Very much so!" affirmed Pyrrha.

"It's a commanding sight to see for all officers and inspectors. A reminder of our duty to the kingdom's people to mete out justice to those who spread injustice," he intoned. "We're coming up to your stop." The vehicle drove into an underground parking lot before coming to a halt.

Jin-chul was the first to exit.

As we got out, the doors to the building opened up to reveal more people dressed in similar clothes. One person stood out immediately, a woman with short light blond hair which was tied up in a ponytail like Pyrrha's. She had a pointed nose and slanted grey eyes that gave nothing away. It was hard to discern anything from her just like with Jin-chul.

"This is Senior Inspector Cha Hae-in," introduced Jin-chul. "She will lead you to the debriefing room."

"A pleasure to meet you Team SNPR." Her voice softly replied before nodding to her fellow senior inspector. "Follow me please."

She led us into the building from which we took an elevator that brought us up to the main floor of the building. When the doors slid open, the heart of Vale's special law enforcement division greeted us. Columns placed in a ring filled our view, only to be dominated by a domed roof with murals. A cursory glance clued me into how deep this history of the building had.

The soles of our shoes clacked against the polished marble flooring.

There wasn't much time to take a look as Hae-in ushered us through the atrium before leading us towards another elevator.

Going up several more floors, we found ourselves looking down a long hallway. Taking the lead, the inspector walked up to a set of double doors and swiped her badge against a pad.

Filing into the room, Hae-in bowed politely from the entrance, "The Director will meet with you shortly."

The doors clicked softly as she left us to our own devices.

"Man!" Nora sighed out loudly, throwing her luggage to the floor before plopping down onto a seat. "This place is intense! I thought Beacon was pretty big, but this is something else!"

"It's the history of this place," said Ren. "The justice department dates back well before the founding of huntsmen academies. They have been enforcing the law and keeping the peace since the inception of the city. They were the enforcers of the king's law." He settled into his seat next to Nora's with a contemplative look. "The only place that can rival this is the one up in Atlas."

"You know, I wonder what we're gonna do while we're here," pondered Nora, mind wandering off to the next subject. "Solve mysteries? Go bust some secret underground criminal ring? Oh! Maybe we'll even get a crack at that Romani guy we heard about on the news!"

"Roman, not Romani," corrected Ren.

"Yeah that guy!" Nora snapped her fingers. "Wouldn't that be cool? It'd be like when we were kids playing cops and robbers! But for real, for real this time!"

I chuckled and shook my head. "Probably none of that," answering realistically. "We'll most likely be stuck with performing basic tasks for the department. Maybe even shadow someone to gain familiarity with their practices."

"Aww," Nora's lower lip jutted out, "so does that mean we won't get to do any of the cool stuff?"

"I'm not sure," I rubbed my chin, taking a seat. "I know for sure they won't send us out immediately on our own or anything like that. They would want to properly familiarize us with the kingdom's laws and regulations first before anything else. Learn the ropes on how things function inside the departments and various sections, run small errands, and provide support wherever they need us to be."

Nora sprawled her arms out. "That sounds like so much work! And not the fun kind either!"

"The work-study dossier did mention that the level of difficulty is high," brought up as Pyrrha took a seat next to me. "Work like this is highly scrutinized since knowledge of law is needed. Not to mention they would be giving us a lot of power as just students."

"Plus, they want us to be prepared more than anything else," I added. "After all, preparation is the key to success."

"A fine quote young man." A new voice came into the room. "I think I might use that myself."

We all turned to the person entering the room. Flanked beside him were familiar faces of Woo Jin-chul and Cha Hae-in. To my widening eyes, his reddish aura was visible as it roiled off of him like hot steam. I blinked away to squash down my astonishment. The man was tall, taller than the other two, and Jin-chul was about a head or so taller than me already. The wrinkles on his face gave away his age coupled with the various scars scattered about.

There was a gash on his forehead, a nasty cut on his left cheek, a gruesome jagged mark that went vertically on his right cheek, and lastly what appeared to be a gunshot wound near his hairline.

Nevertheless – even with all the blemishes he carried himself affably.

A smile with closed eyes.

The black and white suit that he wore did nothing to hide the rippling muscles that laid underneath. He was imposing with every step he took that seemed to shake the floor. To take his age at face value and ignoring the rest would be a death sentence.

"A pleasure to meet you and your team Mister Emiya."

I stood up.

The old man strode up to our team. "I am Director Go Gun-hee," he said in a baritone voice, extending his large hand. I noticed that his large scarred hand dwarfed mine as he firmly gripped my hand. In a way, Go Gun-hee sort of reminded me of Professor Port, only if our professor were more streamlined around the waist. Then again Professor Port was more of a strongman than anything else. "That's a mighty fine grip you have there."

"As do you," I returned the reception. "It's nice to meet you as well Director Gun-hee."

His Aura and my magical one collided with another. A brief clash, those eyes that were closed, opened for a split second as his grin widened. A heartbeat later and it was gone, his hand released as his chest rumbled. "Interesting, very interesting."

He then went up to the others to greet them in the same fashion.

Nora took the challenge from his firm grip and returned the favor with extra gusto.

"Ho-ho!" Gun-hee threw his head back. "Very impressive young lady!"

The orange haired girl bared her teeth. "Ya gotta tell me your workout old man!"

"A lady after my own heart! Ha-!" He barked out another laugh. "Another time, I'll be sure to get back with you before you leave!"

When Ren and Gun-hee shook hands, there was silence. Ren stared impassively as Gun-hee cracked his eyes open once again. "Hmm," a neutral hum, "that grip… are you by chance a fellow practitioner?"

A small grin grew on Ren's face.

The man chuckled softly. "Care for a spar in the future?"

"If you would have me," Ren inclined his head.

"I would." The Director replied, nodding in return.

His answer left Ren almost giddy when he returned to his seat.

The Director came up to the last member, he observed Pyrrha briefly. "Hmm…" She presented a cordial smile. "A pleasure to have you aboard Miss Nikos," his hand outstretched. "I hope Vale and Beacon have been kind to you so far."

"It has," replied measuredly Pyrrha as their hands shook. "And thank you for having us."

"Now that introductions are out of the way," he stepped back down to the center. "Let's get you through orientation and into our special unit. Hae-in," called Gun-hee, "the lights please."

The blonde inspector dimmed the lights as a screen appeared in front of us.

Standing behind the podium Go Gun-hee began, "I would like to formally welcome you four, Team SNPR," he paused with a raised eyebrow at the lack of acronym, "to the Criminal Investigation Department." Up on the screen, the emblem of a rod with two snakes intertwined emerged. "We are part of the Ministry of Welfare's Public Safety Bureau that cooperates with the regular Law Enforcement Division of the Vale City. Our section specializes in cases that are highly sensitive and require considerable effort and particular skill sets."

"Like Roman Torchwick?" Nora asked as she raised her hand.

Gun-hee mulled over his response before answering. "Torchwick is an old case and a peculiar one at that too." His hand stroked his well-trimmed beard. "He resurfaced after disappearing for almost half a decade. Normally, with his reappearance and recent activity, he would be near the top of our list to pursue. However, with our current on-going investigations of other… more sensitive matters in the city, I'm afraid we will have to leave it to the regular law enforcement division for now. Our department has been stretched quite thin," he lamented, before clapping his hand. "Ah well – a subject for another time if we clear you for it; Jin-chul," he requested raising his hand behind him.

The man instantly materialized at his side and produced a folder. He then handed them out to us a document that read at the top: Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.

"There will be a great many things for you to learn and comprehend in a short amount of time." The screen changed to present several points. "While you are under our care, you will be familiarizing yourselves with upholding and enforcing criminal laws of the Kingdom of Vale. As well as developing crucial skills to provide effective leadership and criminal justice services on all levels of government whether it be; federal, kingdom, municipal, or to other international agencies and partners."

"Oh boy," Nora murmured as she scratched her head. "This is so not like how it is on TV…"

"It rarely ever is," Ren laid a comforting hand on her shoulder.

The Director only hummed before continuing. "Adding on to that, you will also be learning to protect civil rights, combatting criminal organizations and enterprises, along with various violent crime and white-collar crime." He turned a page in his folder. "And lastly, to protect certain unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

"So much, so much," fretted Nora. "So much to learn, so much to think ahh-!"

Even Pyrrha and Ren who never seem daunted by coursework appeared concerned. The redhead flipping through her guide commented absently, "This is… a significant amount to learn."

"Intimidating, isn't it?" A statement, not a question. "Our relationship with the huntsmen academy typically has Ozpin sending students with a bit more years under their belt," off-handedly remarked Gun-hee. "So, it is rather… peculiar in that she sent us four young, green students." He stared poignantly at us. "You're either exceptionally advanced or foolhardy."

A provocation, but with a glance back to my team, they did not rise to the bait.

I regarded him coolly.

It came off as harsh, but that was the reality in this line of work. Go Gun-hee would be a fool if he blindly accepted people that could potentially damage their department. Attempting to imagine someone like Cardin and his team in this situation, they would probably be kicked out within the first day. Outside of Pyrrha; Team SNPR had little to no accomplishments to its name. His skepticism made sense.

Staring directly into his eyes, I replied. "We will do our best."

To the directors, those words held little weight behind it. He returned the stare with a steely eyed gaze, pausing a moment to judge my resolve.

He grinned approvingly a second later. "That's what I like to hear." With a clap of his hands the lights came back on with the screen behind him fading away. "Onwards and upwards, after registering into the C.I.D.'s systems, you four will be integrated into the department. Senior Inspector Hae-in will be your supervisor for the duration of your work-study."

I gestured for my team to stand.

"Thank you for having us, we are under your care." We bowed as one.

Director Go Gun-hee returned the bow. "I'll be watching you four closely. I look forward to your results." He dismissed himself from the room with Woo Jin-chul tailing behind.

"Team SNPR," stepped in Hae-in. "Follow me please for registration."

Registration went smoothly as it possibly could.

In my hands was a freshly printed and laminated ID. "New Inspector Trainee…" I read softly as I clipped on the badge and got up.

A mirror nearby reflected back a haunting figure. Dressed in a dark two-piece suit with a matching jacket, black tie, black shoes, and pants. The ghost of Kiritsugu hovered over nearby, nodding in approval as I put on the final ensemble, a black overcoat.

"Truly, life has a wicked sense of humor…" I ran my hand through my hair. I shrugged off the coat before grabbing the rest of my belongings and exiting the room.

I was the last to leave as the rest of my team waited, casually interacting with each other.

Ren, having just emerged from his changing room, acknowledged my presence with a nod as I strode up beside him. Pyrrha and Nora stood across stopping their conversation to turn to us.

"Shirou," greeted Pyrrha. Her green eyes gave a quick once over. The corner of her lips tugged up a bit to show she appreciated the dark suit and tie uniform. "You look quite… dashing."

My hand tugged at the tie. "Thanks," I returned with a small huff, shifting slightly on my feet. Stuffing down the discomfort was a lot more difficult than I thought. Giving her a once over as well, I replied. "And you look beautiful yourself."

Pyrrha turned her head to cover her blush.

Off to Pyrrha's side, Nora gawked. "Ohhh yeah," drool drizzled out the side of her mouth. That girl was as brazened as a bull with how she shamelessly stared at Ren. "Mama sees what Mama likes," she growled lowly.

Ren straightened his posture, shifted his weight on his feet, and posed. Nora delightfully clapped in great appreciation to the show he put on. She even threw in a couple of whistles.

The door behind us opened.

Our supervisor stepped in and nodded approvingly. "Good, you all look like proper Inspectors already. Now," she placed her hands together, "let's head to your accommodations."

Gathering our belongings, we shuffled out as a group to the elevator down the hall.

"Beacon Academy provides its students a daily stipend for groceries and other commodities." Hae-in began to explain as we rode up. "If you are unable to provide for yourselves. You have the ability to access the dining hall on the main floor."

"Food any good?" Nora poked her head up.

Hae-in's shoulders shrugged. "I think it's alright, some don't really care and prefer going out to their preferred places."

"Ahh," nodded Nora before pressing on. "So, you got any places you can recommend?"

"Well," the woman placed a finger on her chin, "there's a nice café and diner that's not too far from here. Just down the street as a matter of fact. The place is open almost twenty-four-seven and is run by a retired Inspector and his wife. Good prices, good food, and good people," she praised highly. "His wife specializes in hot drinks and baked goods while he does a splattering of things."

Nora hummed in contemplation. "Can ya name a few?"

"I would say…" she paused momentarily. "He's decent at a lot of things, but his real specialty lies in Mistralian food." At that Pyrrha instantly perked up at the mention of her home kingdom. "Personally, I think he's the best in the city for comfort food. Although you'll have some detractors in the office if you ask around enough."

"I'll put his food to the test!" Nora's eyes glinted dangerously.

Cha Hae-in rapidly blinked. A lone eyebrow rose in bewilderment, unsure if she heard Nora correctly. "…Excuse me?"

"Sorry," Ren stepped in. "She's a bit of a foodie," he stated as if it answered everything.

"I- I see…" Apparently it did as the blonde gave one last glance at the orange haired girl before the elevator dinged. "The room is not too far from here." She stepped out first as we followed her down the hall to a door. "Your scrolls should be uploaded with the necessary clearance and permissions." Her scroll tapped below the door's handle unlocking it with a click.

The entrance swung open with a push to reveal a modest apartment. With the lights off, it was hard to make out anything from the doorway. Her hand motioned for us to step in while she flicked on the lights.

"You have about an hour before we reconvene to iron out your schedule and give you a tour of the various branches in the department. Do you remember the way back?" asked Hae-in.

"Yes ma'am," I answered.

"Good, until later."

"This is so awesome!" gushed Nora.

With great enthusiasm, she kicked off her shoes at the entryway and began exploring the place with childlike eagerness.

"Look guys, look!" She jabbed her finger to her right. "We got a kitchen!" Nora seemingly teleported to the kitchen and bounced in the excitement. Opening the cabinets, she inspected each pot and pan with almost childish glee. "They gave us like… everything!" Nora returned to us, wearing a stock pot for a helmet, wok for a shield, and a frying pan as a bludgeoning weapon. "Hey, these are nice brands too!"

Ren pinched the bridge of his nose. "Nora… what did I tell you about playing with kitchen equipment?"

"Uh… to not do so because it's unhygienic?"

"And what are you doing right now?"

"Playing with kitchen equipment?"

Pink eyes stared blankly at mirthful turquoise.

The energetic girl's tongue stuck out as she lightly conked her frying pan into her helmet. "Hehe-! I'll put it back, don't you worry!" We all winced as Nora stuffed them back where she found them. "All good!"

Ren ran a hand down his face. "Lord, I hope she didn't break anything." His voice came out muffled behind his hand. "Be a real shame if we ended up having to pay for damages."

"I'd rather not have that on our record," I winced.

"Oh sweet! You guys, these couches are ultra-comfy!" To prove her point, she gave a hop, skip, and a jump. "Oh god! Leather couches are the best!" she moaned while rolling around. "Come on you guys, get in here already!"

The three of us shared a small smile at her enthusiasm.

At a more sedate pace, we slid off our shoes before venturing in further. Ren bent down and neatly arranged Nora's shoes together, making sure to put hers next to his. "Same old Nora," he muttered fondly. "Just like when we were kids…"

My feet automatically led me to the kitchen.

Was it strange that I felt some type of longing well deep inside? When was the last time I cooked something let alone be in a kitchen? How long had it been since I made a meal to sit down and enjoy? A home cooked meal sounded awfully wonderful right about now. Although that then brought up another question? What would I even make in the first place?

Perhaps something simple like grilled salmon, rice, and miso soup? That was something easy to fall back into. Or maybe something a little more elaborate? No, I shook my head, cooking anything elaborate right now would be too time consuming and unnecessary.

Simple was best in the end.

With a soft sigh, I begrudgingly moved out of the kitchen after applying considerable amounts of self-control. There were other more important things that needed to be addressed. Food was a high priority on my list, but the team came first.

Pyrrha had laid her bags down as she made herself comfortable on a single seater.

Ren lifted Nora's legs to allow himself a seat before plopping them back down. The girl giggled with a glee as she hugged one of the pillows. As she rolled her side, a soft exhale escaped from the girl's mouth as she stared up to the ceiling.

"You know, it hasn't really hit me that we're on our first work-study as a team," confessed Nora. "Like… yeah, I was cheering and all that, but it hasn't really… hit-hit until now. Gosh," she closed her eyes, "it all feels like it went by so fast. I mean, just yesterday we were beating up everyone and now here we are in downtown Vale City."

"A little fast," agreed Ren. "But I don't think it's a bad thing. It just shows how much progress we've made as a team."

"No, no, it isn't!" Nora threw her gaze at me worrying if she offended me or anything. "Like it's great that all the sweat and labor you had us go through paid off in the end. You made sure we were well prepared and trained for whatever any of the teams would throw at us. It's just…" the girl chewed on the inside of her cheek. "Don't you think we could've at least celebrated? You know, do something to recognize our first accomplishment as a team?"

Ren opened his mouth as if he was about to hide his partner about being disciplined, but he hesitated. Softly humming in thought, I mulled over where Nora was coming from. Days and nights filled with nothing but studying, coursework, and practice meant that while we were working tirelessly, it left little downtime to really enjoy school life.

I leaned against the seat that Pyrrha sat on. "No, you're right," I admitted softly. I recognized in part that not everyone had that singular drive like Kiritsugu. He was driven by his need to accomplish his goal at all costs. And due to my formative years under him, I developed that same mentality. "It's inconsiderate of me now that I think about it. We should definitely do something to celebrate our achievement."

To think I emulated my old man in more ways than one left a bitter taste in my mouth.

"Maybe we can go out!" thought Nora.

"We don't have to do anything fancy," supplied Pyrrha. "Or maybe… something private… just for us?" She offered the idea.

"I think that would be nice," said Ren. "We do have a kitchen…" his voice trailed off as he eyed the place behind me. "It's been awhile since I've had a homecooked meal." He echoed the same sentiments I had earlier when we entered.

"Mmm," Nora moaned blissfully with eyes closed, "that sounds real nice right about now. I can't remember the last time I got to sit down around a table with friends and… family." Her voice went uncharacteristically small at the end. "Sharing a homecooked meal with everyone would be a nice way to celebrate."

"A homecooked meal with friends and family?" whispered Ren, his hand taken in by Nora as she gave him a reaffirming squeeze.

The intimacy that Ren and Nora shared was telling. The more time I spent around them, the more I learned piece by piece that while we liked to assume that we knew each other well, everyone was keeping something close to their hearts. The little glances and teases Nora and Ren made to each other made it obvious they shared something close. All carrying some sort of burden or pain that only the closest to us would ever find out about.

My eyes closed followed by a resolute nod. "Alright then, today's menu for the team will be a home cooked meal to celebrate our accomplishments." I was looking forward to being back in the kitchen. "I'll whip up something for us tonight."

"What will you be making?" Pyrrha peered up from her seat. "I do recall you being interested in the student lounge with its kitchen back in our dorms."

"Hm?" You remembered that offhand comment?" I muttered in disbelief.

"Of course," she smiled, "why wouldn't I remember? You seemed so excited when we passed by it. I would never forget something like that if it interested you."

Pyrrha's sincerity chipped away at my heart. My mind flashed back to a face who said something similar, a slight longing filled the pit of my stomach. "Well… I'd like to keep it a surprise," I finally answered pushing my emotions back down. "Would give everyone something to look forward to at the end of the day."

"Then consider me excited," happily clapped Pyrrha.

"Sounds good to me," grinned Ren.

"Ooh-!" A tuff of orange hair perked up. "Homecooked meal! Homecooked meal!" chanted Nora. "I can't wait for tonight!" As if on cue, her stomach growled loudly for everyone in the room to hear. We all turned to her as she sheepishly rubbed the back of her head. "Haha-! Well whaddya know?"

"Looks like the monster can't wait either," teased Ren as he poked her stomach.

"Tee-hee~! Stop it!" She slapped his hand away. "You know I'm ticklish Renny!"

I pulled out my scroll to check the time.

"Well we don't have that much time before we have to head back. How about we check out what they have at the dining hall?" I suggested.

Nora instantly jumped up from the couch and was already putting her shoes back on. "What are you guys waiting for?! Come on! Let's see how good the food is compared to Beacon!"

"Oh Nora," Ren shook his head as he made his way to her.

I could only grin while Pyrrha giggled softly in the background.

"Come on, come on you slowpokes! Quit your lollygagging and let's go!" Nora made sure to keep cadence with a clap. "We only got thirty minutes folks!"

"What a gluttonous girl," I rolled my eyes.

"Welcome back," softly greeted Hae-in. "I hope that you've found everything to be satisfactory."

"We have," I answered for the team, "thank you."

We shuffled into the room and took our seats. Laid out in front of us was another folder that we began to peek through. The blonde supervisor took that as her cue to begin her lecture as she pushed off from the desk.

"In there," she pointed at our folders, "will be your schedule for the next two weeks or so. You will be on rotation with all six branches within the department. While there, you'll be observed and assessed with your performance by the department lead who will oversee both your proficiency as well as your conduct. After your two weeks are up, we'll move you into active duty by performing small tasks outside to gain work experience."

As it were, our schedule started out with the Forensics Laboratory, before moving onto the Critical Incident Response Group, Operational Technology, Information Management, Criminal Justice Information Services, and lastly ended at the Training Academy.

Nora went through the contents of the folder; eyebrows furrowing the more she read. "There's just so much…"

Ren rubbed at his chin, scrutinizing the schedule. "This is quote… a large amount of information we must learn in a very short period of time," he noted softly.

Pyrrha took the time to reorganize her papers before speaking up. "We'll be jumping from one department to another all the while under intense scrutiny," she chuckled softly. "I'm all for challenges, but…"

The task was undeniably daunting.

There were no two-ways about it. I threw my team into the deep end. As previously mentioned by Go Gun-hee in our introduction, this work-study was meant for students who already had some experience working with the regular law enforcement division. A deep understanding of how law enforcement worked was an essential skill for a well-rounded huntsmen or huntress.

"We'll be okay," I reassured my team as best as I could. "We'll tackle the problems one at a time as a team."

"You sound rather confident Mister Emiya," stated Hae-in. "Or is this perhaps… arrogance?" Tilting her head to the side in amusement.

"No," I shook my head, "simply faith in their abilities to overcome adversity."

While irritating, her probing was warranted, as they were still determining whether training us would be a waste of their time. Even with a talented group, there was a limit to how much they could cope in a new environment. Often experience and adaptability truly shined where theory and talent could not, and that was where I placed my belief in.

"Faith can only get you so far," she replied evenly.

"You'll be surprised at how far it can actually get you and then some."

She frowned slightly before the corners of her lips turned upwards. "Ha," a humorous huff, "oddly enough… someone spoke those same words to me before." Her head shook softly. "Very well, we shall see how your faith in your teammates pan out. Now then," Hae-in gathered up the papers on her desk and headed to the door. "Let's get you four underway with the tour, shall we?"

We collected our folders and walked out in tow of our supervisor turned tour guide. A long day was ahead of us.

Nora practically kicked open the door the moment it unlocked.

"Oh my GOSH! That was probably like the longest day of my life!" She haphazardly kicked off her shoes in the foyer and dumped herself onto the couch before groaning loudly. "There was just so much that it felt kind of overwhelming! Who knew that there was so much effort that went into investigations and stuff?"

As before, Ren neatly fixed Nora's shoes before taking his off.

"A great many investigations are often done behind the scenes," informed Ren. "I've read from a journalistic study that the ratio is something like eighty-to-twenty in terms of indoor and outdoor work. A majority of manpower goes into gathering data and information, analyzing and processing it into a cohesive picture, and detailing the steps to close the case."

I crossed my arms as I leaned against the kitchen counter, Ren certainly did his homework. "He's right Nora. A lot of it is just researching and building your case. The action that you often see on TV is but for a small moment."

"So, there is action at least," reasoned Nora.

"Maybe?" I shrugged. "It depends on the type of case."

"Ugh," the girl flipped herself over and the moment she did, her stomach growled out.

Pyrrha giggled. "Someone's a little hungry," she noted with a tease.

"Shirou~!" called out Nora. "I'm starvin'!"

I chuckled as I pushed off from the counter. "Well, we're going to have to do some grocery shopping first."

"Grocery shopping?" gasped Nora. "That sounds like fun! Right Ren?"

"Ha," he cracked a smile. "Grocery shopping sounds nice. We can buy some other things too to last us the rest of the week," added Ren.

"Yay!" Nora was the first to hop off the couch, zipping past the rest of the team with her coat in hand. "Let's go guys! Oh~!" she gushed excitedly as she quickly put her shoes on. "I don't know why, but this is so exciting! I've never been grocery shopping with a group before! Come one you slowpokes! Mama bear is startin' to get a little hangry!"

Ren and I both shook our heads as we made our way back to the door. Nora had already unlocked the door and bounced up and down in excitement. However, there was one distinct person that was missing from the group.

"Pyrrha?" I looked back. She stood in the hallway's entrance with a smile that hid something.

"Oh, you three go on ahead. I'll um," her eyes shifted away and back, "I'll be staying in this time. It's been a long day and I'm starting to already feel tired as is. So, I would like to relax a bit before dinner. Is… is that okay?"

"You sure Pyrrha?" Nora poked her head back in.

"I'm sure," nodded Pyrrha.

"Would you like us to get you anything while we're there?"

The redhead shook her head. "No, please, I'll be fine with whatever you bring back. So just shop for yourselves."

"Alright Pyrrha," Nora's shoulders deflated a little, now missing a member of the team. "Well rest easy, we're gonna have a nice, big homecooked meal! Ugh~! I'm so excited, I just can't hide it!" sung the girl as she went out into the hallway.

"Nora, keep your voice down!" admonished Ren as he too left.

I lingered in the doorway, still looking at her.

She must have picked up on my worry as she then closed the distance. "It's okay, I'm… I don't mind getting some peace and quiet. So," she gulped, "go and have some fun shopping with Ren and Nora. Got that Shirou?"

I couldn't hide the frown, knowing exactly why Pyrrha was refusing to leave. She didn't want to put the spotlight on the team again by just stepping outside. How awful must it be that someone couldn't even do something as simple as grocery shopping because they would be mobbed by their fans and the media?

My features softened when our eyes met.

"Alright Pyrrha, try to relax okay? I'll make sure Nora doesn't end up buying the whole store while we're there," I joked.

Pyrrha laughed a bit. A bit of the weight slid off her shoulders, she placed her hands on her hips and responded with a scolding tone. "A-Alright, get going already!"

"Right," I waved to her, "see you soon."

"Yeah… see you soon Shirou."

The moment the door shut, Pyrrha walked back over to the living room and fell back onto the coach.

Now that she was all alone, she tilted her head back and stared at the ceiling. She really was telling them the truth that she felt tired after today. Being at the airport was the first time she had stepped out in public in months and it nearly ended in disaster.

Naively, she assumed that being out of the public's eye would allow people to forget about her or at least diminish how crazy people could get. However, it had the complete opposite effect as it seemed like people took it a step further to try and engage with her. While she didn't mind interacting with fans, a part of her disliked how suffocating people could be. Like moths drawn to a flame, they crowded around her, asking, sometimes even demanding, intimate questions, and vied for her attention.

Even worse, her team ended up being caught in the crossfire.

One of her greatest fears manifested itself right before her eyes.

Her hand tiredly rubbed at her forehead. A headache brewed at the borders of her mind. "Pyrrha," she muttered to herself, "how could you be so dumb…"

In the age where social media was so prevalent. Ren, Nora, and most importantly Shirou would be caught hanging out with her. People would begin to question who they were and what it meant for them to be around her. Questions would be posed from the inane all the way up to wild accusations. That was why she wanted to avoid venturing out in public.

"Perhaps… I should've gone with them," she wondered out loud. "Being alone with my thoughts isn't exactly doing me very well." The back of her head thumped against the soft cushions of the couch. "Maybe some television will help?"

With the television on, perhaps it would distract herself from brooding too much.

The moment the monitor came to life, a sports broadcast channel from Mistral displayed itself. Pyrrha made a face the moment she recognized what was being displayed and immediately changed the channel. She let loose a sigh of relief, it was way too early for her still to look back at her past.

From there, she began to cycle through the channels hoping for something to catch her attention. Staring at the television allowed her mind to zero out and took some mild enjoyment from it. Eventually her meandering ended up on the evening news segment.

"From the news desk at Vale News Network. Good evening, I am Lisa Lavender."

The lavender haired woman who wore her usual simple black business suit greeted the camera. As always, she held a serious demeanor with regards to being broadcasted to innumerable televisions.

"This evening, social media across all platforms have been set ablaze due to a development at Vale's own International Airport."

Pyrrha's heart felt like it skipped a beat. Her finger was already on the button to change the channel, but for some reason she couldn't find it in herself to make the change. Something inside was holding her back.

"Pictures and videos were posted online, catching sight of the elusive four-time Mistral Regional Tournament Champion. After months of vanishing off the face of all social media platforms, Pyrrha 'The Invincible Girl' Nikos has finally resurfaced unannounced to the public."

There, plastered on the screen, was her and her team walking through the terminal. She sat there on the couch, eyes transfixed, glued to the news. Pyrrha watched herself smile and wave to the gathering crowd.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there on your screen is the champion herself wearing the distinctive uniform of our own kingdom's academy Beacon. The other three, presumably her team, walked beside her as what many assume to be their first mission. Surely, with her leading the helm, this team will reach heights unknown."

"It's not… I'm not the leader," she muttered as her emotions threatened to overflow.

They always got it wrong. They always assumed things mistakenly. She wasn't the leader of the team at all, but to the eyes of the public, that didn't matter. They only assumed that because of her past champion status that only the most skilled would lead.

Watching the clip of the team walking through the airport, Pyrrha then noticed how loud the crowd really was. How had she not noticed? Despite the fact that it only lasted for maybe minutes at most before Shirou did his thing. She realized that people still clamored for her with great vigor.

"Look at the crowd cheering for our resident champion! It's not everyday that regular folks get to see a living legend walk amongst them! Although, many have also begun to speculate as to who her teammates are."

They showed snapshots of their faces captured from the cameras of people's scrolls. On the left was Ren looking a little bewildered at the intensity of the crowd. Nora stayed as close as possible to Ren as she looked uncharacteristically taken aback. And lastly, there was Shirou himself, leading from the front with a stoic expression.

His eyes, she noted, were like flint. Ablaze with both purpose and indignation at the gathered crowd.

Pyrrha knew that look anywhere.

"Unfortunately, a fire alarm in the terminal went off causing panic in the crowd. The team led by Miss Nikos failed to be seen again afterwards. The police and fire marshals that quickly arrived on scene found that something had pierced the fire alarm in the terminal causing it to activate. Nonetheless, we at Vale News Network are happy to hear that there was no actual fire at the Vale International Airport."

A small smile was present as she watched the crowd disperse from their point of view. Having known Shirou for a bit now, Pyrrha knew that while he may deny and deflect his intervention. This was a hallmark of how he dealt with situations. Efficiently and discretely, all while causing the maximum amount of chaos to mask the true purpose of his actions.

The scene returned back to the news anchor behind her desk.

"With this return to public, some have gone and question Miss Nikos' former pa-"

Pyrrha's thumb smashed on the power button immediately with no hesitation. Her face scrunched up as a painful memory briefly resurfaced before being ruthless squashed down.

Her body sunk into the cushions, wishing that it would swallow her up.

"Pyrrha, you should know better…" she chastised herself.

As Pyrrha began to brood in silence once again. Muffled voices could be heard from the apartment's entrance. A soft click resounded out as the door swung open.

"Pyrrha we're baaack~!" announced Nora.

In typical Nora fashion, she entered the apartment jostling the grocery bags in her arms.

"Nora, be careful!" cautioned Ren as he quickly pursued her in. "And take off your shoes!"

"Pyrrha! Look at all the food we bought! We are feasting tonight!" exclaimed Nora as she sat the bags down on the kitchen counter. "Shirou said we're having beef tonight since it's a special celebration!"

"We're home," I greeted Pyrrha as I slid off my shoes.

It wasn't home, but it felt good to say after a long day.

"Dinner shouldn't take too long to cook. I hope we didn't take too long going grocery shopping. The whole time Nora wanted to buy almost everything in sight," I chuckled, retelling the memory. "I don't think we should ever take her shopping when she's hungry. Bad for our wallets you know?"

Pyrrha hid her bemusement behind a hand. "Here, allow me to help."

Knowing better than to refuse her assistance, I handed her one of the brown paper bags.

"Wow," she took a peek into the bag. "You three certainly bought a lot!"

"Of course!" I grinned enthusiastically. "We're going to be having sukiyaki tonight! And that requires a fair amount of ingredients to cook."

"Sukiyaki?" Pyrrha tested the word. "What's that?"

"It's an Eastern Mistralian dish!" answered Ren. "Think of it like a… hot pot of sorts. It consists of thinly sliced beef, some broth, mushrooms, cabbage, scallion, and noodles. Mmm," he hummed hungrily, "I haven't had a good hot pot in years. I'll be looking forward to seeing how yours tastes Shirou!"

"Same here, same here!" animatedly cheered Nora. "Hurry up and pack so you can get to cookin' and we can get to eatin'!"

"Yes, yes," I said with patience. "Let's all unpack and I'll get to cooking right away."

Pyrrha leaned forward on the counter, watching her leader work.

She openly expressed her eagerness to watch as this was the first time she ever saw him cook. Shirou was not the type of person to boast that often, so for him to be excited about cooking definitely raised her expectations to see what he could come up with. In addition, it also put him in an apron, something that she couldn't deny was quite the sight to see.

He first began setting out all the ingredients out onto the counter and organized them neatly. The tofu, scallions, cabbages, mushrooms, noodles, shrimp, and thinly sliced beef were all in their own little groups unprepped. When he was satisfied that everything was laid out before him was when he went to work.

Shirou brought out a large pot that he filled with water and sat it on the stove to begin boiling. Before he moved on, he slipped in several large pieces of dried kelp into the pot.

After which he began to slice the scallions diagonally. The cabbages came next in which he extracted the core and cut the leaf parts into large chunks. The tiny mushrooms had their base removed to separate the stems. The shrimp were quickly deveined and washed, still left in their shells. He presented a small smile once the prep work was finished and returned his attention back to the boiling pot.

Grabbing a small plate, he took out the kelp from the pot and began adding in a mixture of liquids. Some dark and some light, and sprinkled in a large pinch of salt. He then placed in the core of the cabbages and the shrimp before closing the lid.

When some time passed, he uncovered the pot, and tried a small sample of the both. "Alright," he muttered to himself. With the rest of the ingredients, he carefully added them in and returned the lid.

He kept his eyes on the clock on the wall, watching carefully. When the big hand struck past five, he nodded and turned off the burner.

"It's ready!" announced Shirou.

"It smells so good!" Nora huffed, trying to inhale as much of it as she could.

They all gathered around the table, a portable stove brought out, and set to a low flame to keep the pot warm. Pyrrha watched intently as Shirou pulled the lid away, allowing the steam to slowly reveal the contents. She found herself salivating at the sight alone. Every single bit of the dish appeared delectable and immaculate. The hot pot's aroma could not be denied as everyone's stomach growled except for Shirou's.

He merely smirked at the sound as he untied the apron. "It wasn't much!"

"W-Whoa! This… this looks and smells so amazing Shirou!" gushed Nora.

"Indeed," a smile of satisfaction present on Ren's face. "The sight alone entices one's appetite greatly already. Then the aroma that hits you…" He turned to Shirou directly. "A master of culinary arts, aren't you?"

Shirou didn't respond, he held his telling smirk.

Pyrrha was at a loss of words. She really didn't know what to say. And as always, her partner picked up on her expression and smiled.

"Take your seats," he motioned before handing everyone their own serving in a bowl.

As she sat down, Pyrrha began to pick up her bowl and eat.

"Wait!" Ren stopped her just before her lips could touch the broth. His finger pointed at Shirou who still maintained his smile.

"A-Ah, sorry," Pyrrha failed to realize they were going to follow an old Mistralian custom.

As one, they placed their hands together and bowed, "Thank you for the food!"

"Yes! Finally!" Nora dug into her bowl with extra gusto. The moment the dish entered her mouth, her eyes widened, "Uwaahhh~!" she squealed in her seat. "So warm! So delicious! So good!"

Ren nodded along as he ate, "Yes, indeed! This is simply superb Shirou!" he complimented graciously. "The broth isn't too strong, it's savory that keeps making you come back for more and more! And the thinly sliced beef is succulent and juicy. Mmm," Ren took a little bite of everything, "the cabbage with the noodles are an excellent pairing as well!"

"And the shrimp too!" mentioned Nora with her mouth full.

Pyrrha took her time, tasting every bit of the broth as well as the vegetables and meats. The noodles made for great filling allowing it to sit heavy in her stomach. "It's…" What could she say? How could she even possibly describe what she was experiencing? "…absolutely wonderful Shirou."

"Pyrrha… are you okay?" he asked in concern. "You're-"

"A-Ah, sorry, sorry," she apologized profusely while wiping the tears. The emotions were simply overwhelming her. The meal that Shirou cooked and served blew out all the lavish meals she ever had in her life. No amount of fancy meals or high couture cuisine could match the warm fuzzy feeling she felt from eating a homecooked meal with friends.

As she ate, Pyrrha couldn't plug the emotions or wipe the smile off her face.

This was what she sought. This was what she had been seeking all this time. A small slice of happiness that she could share in private with good friends. This experience was precious to her, more so than any other even the ones when she won the regional tournament.

"Thank you… Shirou," Pyrrha smiled from the bottom of her heart.

He returned it with one of his own.

For the first time in a long time. Pyrrha briefly forgot all her troubles, all her worries, and fully enjoyed the company that could only be brought by close friends.

"Thank you…"

Author's Note:

Hi, I'm alive and safe, and I hope you are as well!

Name a more iconic duo: projected dates and me missing them. I'll wait.

It's been a hot minute, but at least it didn't end up with another year long or more wait. God forbid every time I mention something about time, something goes wrong. At this point it should be a law or something. You would think I'd have more time and chapters out due to staying home, but nope. Instead I grinded my little heart out in Fate/Grand Order, played a bunch of games that's been backlogged, and binged anime.

But I digress.

I've always wanted more from stories that wrote about her plight. In the show, they always talked about Pyrrha's woes with fame, but never effectively showed it. And it always bothered me that they never really resolved her issues. They sort of just got brushed to the side or "resolved" poorly. Either way, I wrote this chapter with that in mind and helps me sets things up for the future.

I'm usually hesitant about bringing in new characters, or rather characters from different series, to fill in and bridge a gap to key plot points. The introduction of Korean characters had me debate significantly with my editor, but he felt that it wasn't overbearing or too much so hopefully you all can share his sentiments.

I recognize that I'm going… a bit off the beaten path, but do know that it's a needed one so that I could have a reason for Shirou to do his own little adventuring and eventually encounter Roman Torchwick. I didn't want to go the traditional route by following the series as I wanted to expand some things in the world. With this, I can have a somewhat more reasonable way as to why he would bother with Roman and expand on the aforementioned character. To which I'll say that I'm giddy about finally getting to write him.

With all that written, I am grateful to you, the reader, for checking up on my story and reading it! I appreciate the fact knowing that you take your time out of your day to check on this story! As always, if you are able to, please leave a review of your thoughts on the chapter or story! I value any critiques or comments that you may have. I will do my best to keep on improving as always to deliver quality product! If you'd like, feel free to send me a private message. I'll do my best to respond in a timely manner.

Remember to also check out my profile periodically as I'll try and post updates about progress on the next chapter.

Thank you for reading another update to this story!

F/GO Summer 3 ServantFest 2020 is here and I'm grinding my life away. Good luck on your rolls if you're rolling!

Word count before A/N: 12,727

Proofread/Edited by: Stiama