It spoke of how vile people were that when such a harsh command was given, that it brightened the faces of those oppressed. Air and Luna saw hope, and even with her injuries, Fal craned her neck up.
The subsequent sight of Selka hiccupping in the middle of a dust storm formed from the debris of her entry through the roof wasn't exactly anyone's image of a would-be hero out to save the day. She was no longer wearing her cloak, revealing a tight-fitted tank-top with the navel exposed which was likely one of Leone's as Selka's traditional Hunter wear would have made her stand out.
The grey hotpants hugged tightly around Selka's curves was also most likely Leone's. By the looks of things, Leone had been getting Selka ready to rest the alcohol off before Selka had abruptly arrived.
Silence fell between all occupants in the room before Bach, the three older men, and the bodyguards let out sighs of relief. For a moment, Shirou's neutral features, noble air, and solemn tone gave them the impression that some beast was going to appear and 'break their legs' at his command. What they got instead was just a rather lithe and physically fit girl with ample proportions which would fetch a high price in the Slave Market.
How was this one girl possibly going to deal with everyone here?
Granted, Selka didn't appear all that intimidating with her cheeks flushed red, eyes unfocused, and knees wobbly, blinking hard to clear her vision.
She was far from sober; she was tipsy, and yet her Danger Beast level senses had still picked up Shirou calling out to her, and here she was.
Suddenly, Shirou began to feel like he'd made a mistake when he saw Selka nearly stumble. Regardless, there was no taking things back anymore after Selka had decided to follow the order through.
"Is this your idea of a joke?" Bach asked Shirou with an unamused chuckle. The others beside Bach also began to collect themselves…that was until Selka found her nearest quarry in the man that was bringing a knife to Air's face.
The people of Heiwa could punch down trees with their bare fists, and their Hunters even regularly hunted Danger Beasts. Muddled as Selka was, the kick that seemed to have been thrown with the accuracy and speed of a drunkard appeared deceptively harmless until it made contact with the man's shin.
A sickening cracking noise echoed, followed by a wail of agony and a leg held only in place by skin riddled with fragments of broken bones.
Selka hiccupped again in the ensuing silence. In front of her, the man wielding the knife had crumpled onto the ground while cradling his broken leg. She paused in this moment, glancing around at the rest of the people nearby.
Of everyone present, they were all normal people untrained and unskilled, filling up their coffers on the misfortune of others. How could they compare to her level of strength even while drunk?
The man restraining Air hastily let go and backed away when Selka walked over. This reaction was identical to everyone else in the room.
Bach's features were pallid, his throat bobbing as he swallowed nervously, a handkerchief pulled out from his suit which he used to wipe off the sweat matting his forehead. "E-Esteemed sir, with men of our standing and accomplishments, shouldn't we be civil here?"
Shirou did not reply and instead motioned for Air and Luna to get Fal and take shelter behind him. Under the screaming of Selka's latest victims, no one had the mood to intervene when Air and Luna dragged a sobbing Fal white from anguish from her bent legs over to his back.
Panic was evident on Bach's features, pupils dilating, fingers trembling as he took note of how close Selka was to him. "Listen to me? C-Can't we be civil about this?" Bach's eyes kept darting back and forth before realization set in.
There was only one way out of the room, and Shirou was standing in front of it from where he'd entered. Worse yet, there's be no getting past him as he Traced a handful of sharp knives that he left floating around him.
Bach was terrified. Of all the people to run into in the cesspool that was the Empire's Capital, he'd encountered a righteous noble. He'd heard of them of course, but most had been driven out or assassinated by the New Prime Minster's machinations. They were as rare as a cold front in the summer months.
"I'm the middle man! I'm not involved, alright, c'mon?!" Bach was getting desperate as Selka neared, yet he didn't dare get too close to Shirou lest the knives in the air skewer him. There was only one chance left, a single hope. "Girls, girls you tell him!" He urged. He prayed that the time he'd spent being nice and buying their clothes and wants hadn't been for nothing, but he underestimated their level of naivety and feelings of betrayal.
All three looked away.
"You ungrateful whores!" Bach yelled, veins popping over his neck, wretched features growing pronounced in his rage, causing Fal, Luna, and Air to whimper. "You all shou-AAH!"
The tirade was cut short.
Bach wailed when he suddenly found his vision tipping and felt the surge of debilitating pain shoot up into his head. There hiccupping in front of Bach was Selka who'd kicked in both of Bach's legs.
Tears pooled in Bach's eyes. He wanted to curse, to speak out his injustice and suffering, but the pain was too much, and he could do nothing but bite down on the inside of his cheeks.
Having finished her task, Selka plopped herself on the ground, cracking it due to an inability to properly control her strength. Unperturbed, she sprawled herself while hiccupping, hoping dearly that the world would stop spinning.
Shirou had to hand it to Selka, his features softening. It was actually a bit unreasonable to get her help on this matter in her present state, but he had to keep a low profile, putting him in a bind. The fact that Selka followed through regardless stirred a feeling of affability inside him.
He nodded at Selka in appreciation, but she was too loopy to notice.
Letting out a wry smile, he ignored Bach's attempt to plead with him.
Brutally efficient as Selka was, none of these people were actually dead. It would be up to Shirou if he wanted to heal them, but not before getting to the bottom of this case.
Shirou's attention focused on Air and Luna who were doing their best to console Fal to no result.
"Mr. Chef," Air called out at his approach, brushing away the tears in her eyes born from her and Luna's inability to know what they could do for Fal.
Now that the situation had calmed down a bit, Fal had finally taken the time to look at her legs bent at the knees in the wrong angle and quickly fell into shock, unresponsive to either Air or Luna's concern.
Assessing the situation, Shirou ripped a portion of his outer shirt off and wound it around a spittle-shaped section of wood splintered off from the roof. It would be a tad unsanitary, but all the same, the trade off was worth it if it could help Fal endure the pain.
"Bite down," he instructed Fal kindly, watching the way Fal's eyes focused on the wrapped cloth he presented in front of her mouth. "This is going to hurt. I need to set the knees back in place before I can start healing them."
Eyes glistening with tears that trickled down her cheeks, Fal leaned forward and bit down on the cloth while nodding.
Shirou's subsequent motions were quick and ordered, years of experience treating injuries in Calla allowing him to remain efficient at the fastest speed. Of course, the popping sound of Fal's legs going back in place accompanied by her pitiful bleating like whimpers were also short-lived for her benefit. It was then that the healing begun, the bruises on her skin fading, her bones mending at a visible rate.
Agonizing pain disappeared within minutes to the point where Fal lost the ability to react, doing nothing else but staring at her healed legs. Air and Luna in comparison were hugging Fal on either side of her. This was when the floodgates opened.
Fal had always been acting tough for the sake of her friends. She was a tomboy; the type to pretend to be unphased despite being utterly terrified. Now that it was safe, she began weeping, uselessly wiping away at her tears with the back of her hands.
Shirou gave the three the privacy to sort themselves out from their ordeal, shifting his sight back on Bach and the others incapacitated in the room. They'd all seen him heal Fal's legs, and understood on a deeper level that he could help them too. The issue now was, should he?
He pondered on the issue, turning away from Bach's pleading look.
Meanwhile, a low whistle echoed as Leone jumped down from the roof, her hands cradled over the back of her head, elbows pointed forward. With Selka suddenly breaking the floor of their room, it was only a given that Leone would notice.
Seeing all the carnage and groaning bodies, Leone remained unphased, doing her best to piece together what might have happened. In the end, she focused on Shirou, Fal, Air, and Luna before coming to her own conclusions about why Selka was called to handle the matter with Shirou around.
"Well, so much for subtlety," Leone's eyes rolled towards Selka before she snorted. "But I get what you were trying to do. They won't suspect Selka did all this at all given her stature."
No professional Assassin would ever act in a public space, but the same couldn't be said for 'rowdy' guests. The occasional accident in bars or inns was a fairly common sort of crime that was largely overlooked by indolent guards in the Empire, especially when it involved drunkards.
Selka hiccupped, further cementing Leone's assumption as it was practically the truth of this matter.
Still, Leone's acute senses took in Bach, three older gentlemen, and the rest of the people in this shady room beneath the Young Enthusiast's Inn before deciding to take matters into her own hands. Najenda had assigned her a mission to do anything necessary to ensure this mission's success. Causing a scene wasn't one of them.
"I'll make things look like an accident, a drunk brawl. Meanwhile, you should get Selka out of here," Leone suggested, already picking Selka up and depositing her into Shirou's embrace. "She doesn't seem to be able to control her strength properly while drunk. The excess damage in this place speaks for itself. We don't want anyone to see what's she capable of, lest they relate her to this incident."
Shirou adjusted Selka so that she was placed on his back, her legs held up at his waist from the grip he had on her thighs. Meanwhile, Selka's arms were draped over his shoulders, her head lulling back and forth.
"If you're sure about this, then I'll leave it to you," he acceded the matter over to Leone who nodded resolutely.
"I'll do my own investigation and end things 'cleanly' if necessary." There was a dark undertone in Leone's voice, hard and merciless for any and all scum abusive of their power. "As for the girls there, Sheele and I wouldn't mind sharing our booked room with them for the night. Would that be alright with you? Maybe we can even take them along back with us back home after our matters in the Capital?"
"That's agreeable," Shirou replied, not wasting a second to answer.
"Good, then you best be going. Sheele can only distract the Inn's guards for so long with her clumsiness, but this isn't her forte. Worse, she's tipsier than Selka."
Leone shooed Shirou and Selka away to deal with this matter by herself, and Leone knew just who to start her questioning on.
Bach's expression fell from the deceptively warm look on Leone's face because her eyes were icy cold.
"Shirou?" Selka said woozily. Strands of her hair matting her brows as a breeze blew across her face. She'd just managed to get herself semi-conscious enough to be aware of her surroundings. Moreover, the figure carrying her was unmistakable, causing her to call out.
"Yes?" Shirou replied.
Selka let out a breath, her temples aching.
"Where am I? Why is everything so fuzzy?" She babbled in all seriousness, a war ragging within her between 'yes, I like this situation' and 'no, my dignity.'
She'd never felt this weak or out of focus before; not since the night Hageshi laid siege on Heiwa. This must be the reason her father had always warned her not to drink strong alcohol unless supervised in a safe place.
"I'm being a burden?" She asked softly, her arms wrapped around Shirou's shoulders slackening.
"Not at all. I may have asked you to do something unreasonable, so it's my obligation to help," Shirou reasoned evenly. The sound of his steps echoing on the ground while sneaking out of sight from passersby filtering into Selka's ears.
"What's happening?" Selka inquired, survival instincts kicking in and treating this situation as if she were injured in the middle of a hunt.
"I'm taking you back to a room for you to rest while trying to avoid attention."
Shirou adjusted his grip on Selka, the feel of his hands on her thighs causing pleasant tingling sensations to spring up at the back of her neck, and making her fully aware that she was being piggybacked.
Her bare feet dangled on either side of Shirou, thread anklets with Danger Beast feathers woven in tickling her toes. She wrapped her legs around Shirou's waist to help secure herself.
"Sorry," she apologized for her weakness and inexperience with drinking.
Shirou did nothing else but smile at her in order for her not to worry.
The mood became somewhat strange, pleasant, yet somber all at once.
Head lulling over Shirou's shoulder, Selka fought back some of her drowsiness in order to speak.
"You know that time when we first met and you agreed to shelter my people? Do you remember the conversation we had that night?" Selka asked absently, her lips pursed.
Selka looked at Shirou hard, butterflies turning in her stomach.
"If I was being honest, I once thought you were a bastard with ulterior motives ready to throw us out or seek favours for asylum back then. I always believed that even if good did exist in this world, it wouldn't be from people in the Empire or Wakoku," Selka admitted without pause. Perhaps it was the seriousness of the topic, but Selka managed to sober herself if only a little.
Shirou kept silent and let Selka continue babbling all tipsy. Alcohol had a tendency to loosen the tongue.
"If not for you, I would have been consumed by my rage and vigour, an animal no different from a beast lashing at all who drew near. Yet here I am now, a future ahead of me for myself and my people that I can see," Selka continued unperturbed. She thought of Leone, Akame, and Calla and its people. "I have new comrades and rivals." She thought of her desires. "New aspirations." She placed her forehead against Shirou's back, using his clothes to muffle her voice barely above a whisper. "A future mate who I don't know how to attract, and fail miserably each and every time due to vain pride and self image."
All Shirou could hear was garbled muttering at this point.
"I wish you all the best in your endeavors," he said cordially regardless if he understood or not, prompting a glare with little heat from Selka.
She was pouting, but even that caused her to wince.
Finally, Selka allowed her rationality to flee away from her, and let the alcohol take its effect. Fighting back the headache was already unbearable. It was best to just let nature take its course.
She entered a semi-aware state.
"Selka?" Shirou called after she suddenly went radio silent.
No answer, but Shirou could feel her shifting about. What exactly she was doing in her drunken stupor didn't actually hit him until it did like an out-of-control truck.
Was she nibbling on his ear?
The feeling of her lips, the heat of her breath, and the moist sensation of saliva said it all. He shifted his neck to one side, and her head languidly flopped onto his shoulder where her cheek nuzzled his side. The thing was, he didn't think that she was doing it with full awareness. He'd heard of awful drunks, but this was different. Honestly, he felt that if it were any other man, she may get taken advantage of when drunk.
Heedless to say, this was just Shirou's wishful thinking. Would Selka ever act so foolishly and unguarded against any other man? Of course not. Knowing her present state, she would have found an isolated location to rest, or go down kicking and thrashing. To not only allow herself to be carried in such a delirious state, but to let it devolve into the point of helplessness was a sign of her intentions.
In Heiwa's culture, what woman would ever fear intimacy from the partner they wished to pursue? In fact, it was a sign of progress to get one of the men who generally prioritized hunting as a Hunter to feed the clan to focus solely on the woman. It was an achievement.
In her addled state, instinct played a lager role than anything.
'Notice me.' Was Selka's subconscious reaction in her muddled mind. Her reservations and doubts that normally barred her from expressing herself openly were chucked out a window and trampled by a horde of Danger Beasts.
Liberation in the form of alcohol…Banzai.
She stubbornly continued nuzzling her cheek against Shirou's own, gaze limpid, heart racing. The suppleness of breasts pressing against a man's back was a secret sensation the women in her clan told her could attract any man's attention. Lightheaded, and only using Heiwa's loose definition of modesty, she had no problems in following the wisdom of her betters to press right up to Shirou. The tinge of redness on his cheeks was only further incentive to feel pleased.
She grinned beamingly, and let out a snort, but the impression wasn't as great with the potent scent of alcohol lingering on her.
"Then I'll let you rest here," Shirou said in a higher pitched tone than usual.
Huh? Selka blearily took in her surroundings and realized that Shirou had taken her back to his room in the Young Enthusiast's Inn. Selka's room with Leone and Sheele was currently occupied with too many people, and they didn't need a drunk mixed in. This was within Shirou's considerations, as for him, he was going to wrap up a few blankets and sleep on the floor.
Selka had other plans.
Just when Shirou was about to place Selka on the bed, she pulled off a bold maneuver. She wrapped her legs around his waist, hugged her arms around his chest, and pulled him down with her such that she ended up snuggled with him on the bed.
No answer. Instead, she nuzzled herself deeper into the groove of his neck affordable to her only due to her shorter stature and his taller one.
"Selka, you need to let go," Shirou tried again, tapping on Selka's arm, but only encouraging her to hug him tighter like a body pillow.
He stared at her face, like really stared.
She was already sleeping, blown out like a weak wax candle with a flush on her cheeks and a contented tilt in her lips. Suddenly, Shirou knew he wasn't getting out of this hold without using force, not that he could bring himself to.
Sighing, he pulled the blanket over them so that neither would catch cold over the night considering Selka's scant attire. She'd always felt more comfortable with less limiting clothes, and this part of Heiwa's culture was ingrained in life or death. One wrong snag from a loose garment while out on the hunt could be the difference between getting mauled or surviving another day.
Still, this level of close intimacy was a bit dangerous...his hormones couldn't agree more. He was no Saint in a certain regard.
Somehow, he felt it was a good thing that Akame wasn't around right now. Intuition warned him of danger otherwise.
He shivered while Selka smiled contently in her sleep.
Selka had her very first experience of what a hangover felt like the following morning. Having woken up to heaven with Shirou cuddled up beside her, she experienced hell when her stomach threatened to throw up all over him, forcing her to make a mad dash to the washroom.
Left alone, Shirou could only leave Selka alone at her own insistence, likely because she didn't want to ruin her impression of herself in front of Shirou.
In any case, this led to Shirou meeting up with Leone and Sheele at the Inn's breakfast table. Leone waved him over, and Sheele still looked red-faced from the drink Leone had ordered last night. Nearby, and on another table were Fal, Air, and Luna who were still rattled from the previous day's ordeal and were considerably less enthusiastic as a result. It didn't mean that their appetites went away though, as the eggs and sausages Leone had got them were quickly getting eaten.
"We'll take them back with us to Calla when our task is completed," Leone said upon noticing where Shirou was staring. "They…They deserve better, and they remind me of something in the past and I ugh kind of wanted to look out for em. Is it fine? Oh, but I already promised them we'd look after them?"
Leone had the decency to look embarrassed to have made a decision on someone else's behalf, yet Shirou gained more favourable impression points from her when he didn't hesitate to agree. Leone's initial impression of Shirou being a Monster had shifted to being a kind-of-cute-but-reasonable Monster. She resisted the urge to pat Shirou's head out of habit in her times as a surrogate elder sister in the slums for those she used to watch over.
"And how about the others?" Shirou asked while taking a seat across from Sheele.
Here Leone's features hardened. There wasn't quite as much emotion in her eyes in this moment. "Don't worry about them. It's been handled."
Leone wasn't saying anything, but she was disgusted and enraged at what she'd discovered with a little 'incentive' for Bach to spill the beans. She shuddered, unwilling to recall what she'd heard about the dog lover, pedophile, and psychopath respectively.
It was better for no one to know, and may their victims find peace now that their perpetrators were buried six-feet under.
"So, back to business," Leone grinned and directly shifted the topic as if she was just talking about the weather. "I hear you got some action last night. Akame won't be pleased?"/ "What's the plan for the day?"
Leone wanted to ask one thing, but her words asked another despite her curiosity and a little bit of jealously eating away at her. In the end, she didn't end up being able to ask as Sheele didn't take the hint and took Leone's spoken question seriously.
"I've done as Ms. Najenda had asked and gathered information on former Prime Minister Chouri," Sheele clumsily pushed up her square-framed glasses, and presented a few files for both Leone and Shirou to see. Despite her gatherings, Sheele was still confused and looked at Leone. "Why did my assignment shift from finding 'targets' to gathering intelligence on former Prime Minster Chouri?"
Leone balked at how direct and sudden Sheele's question was. As the only member of Night Raid that hadn't visited Calla before due to outside assignments, Sheele likely had no clue about Najenda's plans to defect Night Raid from the Revolutionaries.
"Should I turn a report over to the army informant too?" Sheele placed a finger under her chin in thought while pouting.
"No, don't!" Leone hastily shook Sheele's shoulders, causing her to frown.
"What's happening at Night Raid?" Sheele pursed her lips. "There was no one in the base when I checked in earlier so I just continued my assignment until Ms. Najenda finally contacted me."
Leone's eyes kept darting back and forth, careful to keep her voice down.
"About that, yeah Sheele…mind if we talk for a bit?" Wasting no time, Leone wrapped an arm around Sheele's shoulders and led her out of the room, but not before giving Shirou an apologetic look.
Sheele had just sobered in the morning, and Leone hadn't had the chance to brief Sheele on everything while handling the previous night's matters. "This won't take us long, and you should already know what we need to do from Elaine."
Shirou couldn't deny Leone's final point as she guided Sheele out sight.
Elaine had been quite thorough in her planning and the reasoning of each action. The present goal was to reach the Empire's Palace, well; not exactly. The real goal was recognition of the existence of another heir to the Empire, and given Honest's status as the Prime Minister, there was no easy way to go about this. Anything they did or said could be labeled as false by Honest and the corrupted Nobles in power.
To get legitimacy and support from the Empire's neutral factions such that Honest wouldn't be able to suppress the news, what was needed was another political powerhouse. The former Prime Minister Chouri was the best decision.
Chouri was a man who truly cared for the wellbeing of the Empire and its citizens, but had been ousted by Honest early on, and forced to live in seclusion from the political scene ever since. However, his political sway hadn't waned, but grew as the neutral factions learned to detest Honest's actions and policies. Given Shirou's pedigree, Chouri had all the reason and the righteousness to use his political connection in Shirou's aid.
Chouri should also have no trouble granting Shirou access to the Empire's palace, and therefore, a meeting with Chouri was imperative.
By the time Leone walked back in with a rather contemplative Sheele who was looking at Shirou far more closely than before, breakfast was over and Selka was still cleansing herself in the washroom.
"Let's leave a note for Selka to watch after Luna, Fal, and Air while we head over to Chouri's estate," Leone suggested out of concern for the three girls. Sheele would have volunteered to do so in Selka's behalf, but Sheele was the one with information on Chouri.
Shirou thought of the issue for a moment, before nodding. He had no intention on making things harder for Selka as it was her first time dealing with a hangover's effects.
The only real problem the group faced after sorting everything out in the Young Enthusiast's Inn came only an hour or so after they'd left.
The Prime Minister Chouri wasn't in his estate. Loyal staff employed to maintain the residence had not seen hide nor hair of the esteemed former Prime Minister, leaving Shirou, Leone, and Sheele to stew outside the manor's gate.
"Strange," Sheele tilted her head to the side. "An informant said that the former Prime Minister should have been making a trip back to the Capital by now. Maybe they got stuck on the way?"
Shirou had to agree. It was a likely explanation, and he understood the premise behind it due to the primitive nature of this world's transport system. They could have run into anything unexpected while out on the road, but Leone wasn't as optimistic.
"Stuck on his first time making his way back to the Capital with his status as the only man who could shake Honest's political power?" Leone's tone hardened, her nose twitching. "I smell foul play."
The mood grew somber, until a single point was brought up to Sheele.
"By chance, did the informant tell you of the path the former Prime Minster was taking?"
Sheele blinked absently before nodding her head.
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