The sound of the army's rumbling echoed inside Esdeath's tent, alerting Shirou that Esdeath had just departed for battle. The tableware clattered disharmoniously with clinking plates and cups, while some loose objects fell from the side of dressers filled with Esdeath's iconic white outfit. As the tent walls flapped in a blowing breeze, and the earthy scent of morning dew wafted in, a figure situated at the center of the room and sitting on a bed began to stir.

Shirou's eyes snapped open, tension exuding his form as he sat up into a ready position. New shackles of ice restrained his arms and legs in a manner that had Esdeath giving him ambiguous looks in the early morning. At the same time, she was practically beaming, motivating herself further in her endeavors.

After all- For someone who'd revealed that he could escape on a whim, the fact that Shirou had 'allowed' himself to be tangible and shackled again sent all kinds of mixed messages and expectations.

For love. F-For Snu snu.

The main driving force was too blatant, that for a second, it was as if the savagery of Esdeath's upbringing and nature were replaced with common pursuits of a woman her young age.

This was dangerous in its own right.

He had to act, this was the only time to act, making it crucial. With Esdeath away from camp, the largest obstacle that could effortlessly subdue him in his current condition was eliminated. All that was left was Liver whose inclination towards Shirou still boded a mystery. However, the white light that had been shown over Liver's head meant that Shirou could at least feel relieved that Liver was the one left to oversee him. There was leeway here.

The trick was just to find it.

Glancing around while over the bed, he shifted his limbs just enough to start reaching over towards Caliburn still propped near the base of the bedframe. One would think that someone as capable and farsighted as General Esdeath would know better than to leave an enemy's weapon within reach.

Then again, Shirou realized that Esdeath may not even see him as an enemy to begin with. In her eyes, it was far more likely that her enemies were those around him, a harrowing predicament. Nonetheless, Caliburn likely wasn't left behind just because Esdeath was being careless.

There could be another more plausible reason such as Liver's presence. Esdeath trusted him, and in the end, this was enough.

It was just too bad that Liver hasn't been acting as per usual.

The clanking sound Caliburn made, as it brushed against the bed frame when Shirou pulled it into his grip at an odd angle, was distinct. There was no way that Liver couldn't have heard it if he was stationed to monitor Shirou from just outside the tent's entrance.

Freezing and sucking in a deep breath, Shirou flicked his eyes over towards the tent's flaps for any sign of movement. In the end, there was nothing. Nothing at all.

More curious than cautious, Shirou raised Caliburn up, and cleaved down on the shackle of his left leg. An even louder bang sounded and was further echoed by the noise of fragmenting pieces.

Shirou glanced towards the front entrance.

Still nothing.

It was at this point that Shirou understood that he could no longer keep track of whatever was going on inside Liver's mind. Why wasn't he doing anything? Why was he just standing there? Or maybe, was he even there at all?

All questions were valid, but equally inexcusable. Such mistakes and dereliction of duties wasn't something someone of Liver's character and capabilities would ever opt to do. So, then what was happening if not that?

Frowning, Shirou eventually decided not to think too deeply on the matter when escape was still his priority. There were many people he knew that would be worried for him…and many more he knew that could be exceedingly reckless if there was no one to hold them back. Coming from him, it was as hypocritical as he could get, however, it didn't mean it wasn't true.

Hefting Caliburn back up again, Shirou soon made short work of the remaining shackles tying him down to the bed before he got up onto his feet and pulled some clothes over himself. The clothes that he had on hand were the tattered ones from the prior battle, but he really didn't have much alternatives. Sure, he could try and get himself some sort of Empire army attire, but the only ones available to him right now were Esdeath's. It wasn't as if he could just steal one either, as Esdeath's tent was certainly located away from the general assembly of soldiers.

Speaking of which… Esdeath's tent was located away from the general assembly of soldiers. How was he going to leave inconspicuously without a crowd to blend in through? There was no way that he wouldn't be seen if he was the only one out in the open at Esdeath's personal tent, and there was no way he could contend with an army in his present condition.

Great. Another predicament.

Snorting to himself, Shirou calmed his mind. This wasn't his first rodeo, nor was it the worst situation he'd ever been in. That was reserved for a specific hunt against a True Ancestor in his previous life. Tanking Berserker's stone axe-sword was a close second- one second thought, maybe it was the time he got a spear stabbed through his heart?

Suddenly he could tell why Rin had always called him suicidal or idiotic, but this wasn't the point.

Adopting the demeanor of a trained professional, Shirou began to inch his way out of the tent, using the most of what he had. Carefully, he pulled back the tent's flap, and pushed his head through to see if Liver was there, but once again, expectations played differently from reality.

There was no one. Liver seemingly wasn't even around.

Then there was the army camp Shirou was worried about. As it would turn out, a majority of them had left with Esdeath, leaving behind only a token garrison to form a perimeter around the camp.

Pulling his head back in, Shirou hummed in thought.

He could make it.

In his cursory glance, he'd spotted a few patrolling soldiers, but not much else. Without Esdeath, liver would have been the true obstacle, but the man wasn't anywhere to be seen.

Not one to kick a gift horse in the mouth, and more than willing to finally be in a position where luck was doing him favours, Shirou slipped out of the tent.

Zipping for he cover of the underbrush, he immediately lied flat, pressing his chest to the ground and using his elbows to inch forward.

One goal existed in his mind right now. Seeing that Esdeath hadn't summoned all her soldiers to attack the Revolutionaries, it was unlikely that Shirou would be able to get out of her unspotted. Moreover, he was willing to bet that a majority of Esdeath's camp were labeled black by Caliburn's light. Nothing good would come to him from being seen, especially with his notoriety in the enemy camp. In this case, he wouldn't be able to force his way out.

Assuming that Akame, Elaine, and the rest wished to recue him, but didn't know which camp to attack, Shirou's best option was to raise some sort of signal in his period of time.

With Caliburn secured to his waist, Shirou cut a few branches from nearby shrubs and stuffed them in the grooves of his clothes for some semblance of camouflage. Crawling, Shirou avoided open spaces and willed himself to be as motionless as possible when he heard patrols coming by.

Twigs snapped, the ends prickling to the touch, while the cold seeped in from the dirt touching bare skin, but Shirou hardly minded.

He could just about make out the perimeter of Esdeath's camp by basing it out to where the patrols continued circling every half-hour. He just needed to bide his time a bit more, and maybe, start some sort of commotion to alert the others? It would be risky though, as it would almost certainly get him caught. The nearest patrol was a good minute ahead of him, and should he start running, bullets would surely fly. However, with no idea which direction Elaine's camp was, and being out of magic energy, he was pulling at straws right now.

Then it happened.

The bushes rustled a good hundred meters off between a forest and a dry ravine. The sound was distinct as it echoed in the area, but not enough to rouse much attention. Rustling leaves in a forest were all too common, but voices weren't.

"As if there's anything to scout out here. I swear, we should still be celebrating. We just won that battle, and now we're told to scout the scattered Empire camps? I mean common? I know we're capable, but there does Sayo get off accepting everything on our behalf?"

"Would you say no right to her face?"

"Of course, I would. Who do you think I am?"

"Someone who caved."

"…Tatsumi, you bastard."

"Shh, I think there's an Empire army camp ahead. Keep it down-"

Shirou blinked incredulously, his stare coming in direct contact with Tatsumi and his friend Iyasu on the other side of the opposite ravine.

Shirou knew those two. He'd hardly interacted with them, but it wasn't as if he hadn't seen them before either. There was usually also that girl who was always stuffing pastries in her mouth, but she didn't seem to be present with her two friends at the moment.

As it stood, Tatsumi and Iyasu had frozen, Tatsumi pointing a stiff finger, and the other hand shaking Iyasu by the shoulders. To Shirou, this was a clear indication that he'd been seen.

Everything just happened so fast from there that Shirou just felt relief setting in. All his thoughts and concerns about what to do, just spontaneously vanished as if there'd never been a need for them to begin with. Who needs strategy, logic, wit, and capability, if sheer dumb luck and miracles trumped all?

W-Was this what it felt like to have good luck? W-Was this real?

A certain Lancer had no idea what he was missing, but even Shirou himself couldn't quite describe this feeling.

It was all too surreal, that there had to have been some sort of catch. Nothing ever goes this well for him.

Just when Shirou considered calling out for help, or even making a break for it, the snapping of twigs beside him alerted him immediately that he'd been discovered.

"Esteemed Emperor, please do not make this anymore difficult for me," Liver spoke up, lips thin, and eyes pressed shut. He placed a hand on one of Shirou's shoulders and silently implored.

It was unknown when or how, but Liver seemed to have just appeared by Shirou's side, granted Shirou only had his base senses to rely on without sufficient magic energy. Someone of Liver's capabilities could easily sneak up on him let alone prevent himself from getting noticed when Shirou was too distracted by the possibility of escape.

This boded the question, had Liver been around from the start?

No matter how Shirou thought of it, he didn't think so. Why else would Liver not have stopped him given how dutiful a man Liver was?

Then it was just all luck?

He knew it! Shirou knew that luck would never be on his side.

Tentatively, Shirou glanced in the direction where he'd seen Iyasu and Tatsumi, but the two were thankfully not so foolish as to remain in sight. They'd long since turned tail and ran off back into their camp.

Standing up while pulling away his make-shift camouflage, Shirou didn't make a fuss about returning back to camp. Strong as Esdeath may be, defeating an entire army on her own wouldn't be completed in just a day or two. There should be more than enough time for Najenda and the others to mount a rescue, assuming Tatsumi and Iyasu get word out. For now, it was simply best to comply.

Liver inwardly sighed, but nodded as Shirou seemed to have decided to make things easier on him.

As for those other two…Liver pretended as if he'd noticed nothing.

A thoughtful expression came over Liver's face, before he shook his head, and began leading the way. On the way, he ordered patrols that may recognize Shirou away from the vicinity.

"Let us return." Liver said too calmly to be normal, given his earlier behaviour. "I will act as escort."

No one knew what was on Liver's mind anymore.


"Sayo, c'mon let go of my ear!"

In the midst of Calla's army camp, a pitiful whine was accompanied by a grunt of pain, curtesy of a twisted ear at the mercy of a vice-like grip from a black-silken haired girl. The pretty flower tucked behind her ear and holding part of her bangs up, had long since wilted under her growing irritation.

"Sayo, just hear me out?"

"No. We are not doing this," was the cold and stubborn response. "Your brain must be going out of its mind after all the victory booze has finally gotten to your head."

"Iyasu, why aren't you speaking up!?"

Sayo rolled her eyes towards Iyasu and stared, daring him to intervene. A bead of sweat formed over Iyasu's brows before he clapped his hands, and sheepishly turned away.

You bastard, where'd all the bravado go!?

Tatsumi grimaced, one hand still trying to get Sayo to loosen her grip. "Sayo, I'm being serious! I told you that I wasn't imagining it. I swear I saw the young Lord in an Empire army camp!"

"Impossible." Sayo scoffed knowingly, adding more pressure as she pinched Tatsumi's ear. " Why are you boys so dumb? If not for me, would you both have even come to Calla?"

"Wasn't it your lead that got us caught by Wakoku first-"

"Iyasu. We don't talk of that."

A smile graced Sayo's lips, but it didn't quite reach her ears. Instead, her other hand that wasn't pinching Tatsumi's ear, moved towards Iyasu's.

Iyasu took several steps back, and shot Tatsumi an 'I tried,' look.

Snorting in disdain, Sayo placed her free hand on her waist and returned to berating Tatsumi.

"If you were paying any attention, Ms. Elaine and the others said that the town Lord already returned to Calla to recuperate. Now you're saying that he didn't, and instead got himself presumably captured, and ended with him trying to escape on his own? You're crazy if you think your daydreams give us the right to act on our own and bring such a ridiculous matter up to the town elders. Iyasu, talk some sense into him!"

Tatsumi looked at the only friend who could back him up here, and suddenly, he felt his confidence dwindling. What did he expect? Iyasu was whipped against Sayo, but c'mon man. Bros for life, right?

"Iyasu," Tatsumi called out.

Hesitating, but finding his ground, Iyasu, raised his chin and spoke to the side, not daring to stare directly at Sayo for choosing to contradict her. "Well, I, ugh- Sayo I think I kind of saw him too."

"Liars, both of you! You know what's at stake, right? I like it here, and we can even provide food for our village here. What if you both annoy Ms. Elaine and the others, and we get kicked out? No! Not happening!"

"I'm not a liar, Sayo. I know what I-"

"Tatsumi, enough."

Iyasu finally frowned, knowing how hard-headed both his friends could be. This was leading straight towards a big argument, and Iyasu had to somehow defuse it. He stepped forward, and resolutely, placed both hands on Sayo's shoulders almost consolingly.

"Sayo, listen, alright?" Iyasu cleared his throat. "You don't need to be so prissy just because you had to sit the last battle out until the end."

Sayo and Tatsumi froze. Sayo, incredulous and indignant, and Tatsumi, flashing a thumbs up in agreement.

"Prissy? Am not."

Sayo got suspiciously defensive, shirking Iyasu's grip off of her and glaring at him. However, Iyasu knew Sayo's anger buttons way too well. Unlike Tatsumi, Iyasu actively found ways to anger Sayo with his antics, and if anything was true in life, well; experience talks.

"Are too, I can see you gnashing your teeth."

Sayo gasped, lip twitching. "-From frustration."

"Exactly. You're frustrated, not thinking straight." Iyasu nodded his head a couple time in empathy. "The feeling in that battle was different. It was like we were fighting for something meaningful, right? Sucks for you that you could only participate in the end, and that's why you're frustrated, but that doesn't mean you have to let frustration guide you. All you're thinking about are the negatives, but what if this is a positive?"

"…Are you, Iyasu, actually preaching to me, Sayo?"

"No, no I-I'd never. Just hear me out." Iyasu gestured with a hand in bold print. "Picture it, us three saving the town lord. Calla would surely repay us with plenty of gratitude. We could even get our own town people to move over as a favour? Eh eh? What do you think?"

"That I'm not that stupid enough to believe the words of two idiots over Ms. Elaine's," Sayo said icily.

"B-But we're your friends."

"The same ones who thought they saw a Danger Beast and led the village men to surround a rabbit!"

"…" Iyasu had no response to that. It was a stain in his life record. "I still hold to what I said. You're just being prissy."

"Am not."

"Could have fooled me- hey you'll tug my ear off!" Tatsumi flinched when Sayo twisted her hand, suddenly feeling aggrieved.

"Good! Gang up on me; what good friends you are!" She said, fed up. All she was doing was trying to look out for them, but she's met this much resistance.

Tatsumi's features soften when he noticed the expression on Sayo's face. "Listen, I was just telling you what we saw, okay. Think about it though, wouldn't it actually be some cruel joke if that actually was the town lord in that Empire camp and we did nothing? I mean we should at least-"

"What did you just say?"

A harsh voice cut in tensely from the side.

Neither of the three friends had really been paying attention to it, but they'd been walking over the course of their argument, and they weren't necessarily being the quietest. However, the boisterous mood of the camp, and the raucous laughter all around made their conversation muted regardless. Only a select few would be able to pick out details, and it happened that one was nearby. Coupled with a certain Teigu user's keen ear, it was no surprise when Leone was attracted over.

"M-Ms. Leone," Iyasu stammered a short greeting, but failed to notice the gravity of Leone's expression. It was a mix of solemn and impatient.

"Repeat what you just said?" Leone ignored Iyasu and Sayo, to focus directly at Tatsumi instead.

Wetting his lips, Tatsumi became keenly aware that perhaps what he'd seen was real like he'd insisted. "I think- no I know that I saw the town Lord in an Empire camp. He was dressed in tatters and had branches and leaves on him as some kind of camouflage. I think he was trying to escape to be honest, but then some Empire guy appeared, and Iyasu and I decided to head back and report, but no one believes us."

"Because it's stupid," Sayo interjected. "We're not going to waste Ms. Elaine and the other's time just because of something you think you saw. What we should be doing is-"

A shadow dropped down from who know's where, shooting past Sayo and cutting her off, while simultaneously locking on to Tatsumi.

Red eyes blinked piercingly into Tatsumi's own. The grip around his arms was so tight, that gloved hands were digging into his skin, turning the area numb from increasing pressure.

"Where?"

"Oh shit, Akame," Leone immediately cringed on the side. She'd thought that Akame and Selka had gone to scout out Esdeath's movements with the others when it was discovered that Esdeath had launched an attack on the Revolutionaries.

Clearly, Akame didn't end up going.

Worse, Leone could infer that Akame had heard Tatsumi when Leone got Tatsumi to repeat himself.

The only reason Akame or even Selka were still in camp was because they had no direction, no target. Tatsumi's words would change everything and open the door for all kinds of reckless suicidal charges.

"Talk. WHERE!?" A growl escaped Akame's throat, the edge of her sword suddenly beneath Tatsumi's neck from exponentially growing impatience. "I. Am. Not. Joking. TALK!"

Tatsumi's complexion paled, Sayo and Iyasu sweating nervously, hands over their weapons. Even if it was Akame, if she moved against Tatsumi, there was no way Iyasu or Sayo would turn a blind eye.

"Alright, Akame, let him go! Your murderous intent is too strong." Leone abruptly separated Akame from Tatsumi who finally began breathing again as the pressure eased. "You weren't even letting him speak."

Swallowing, Tatsumi rubbed at the phantom feeling of steel on his neck, before he finally had the time to notice the sheer desperation in Akame's features. She looked haggard, dark circles under her eyes while her clothes appeared ruffled.

"Ahem, I, no we, would appreciate if you could tell us now," Leone spoke up in the terse silence.

"Iyasu and I saw the town lord in army camp due north of here after taking order from Ms. Elaine to keep watch of the scattered Empire army groups." Tatsumi divulged.

-BANG!

Leone grunted, hands clasped fiercely over both of Akame's ankles, causing the girl to faceplant mid-leap.

"Dammit, Akame, I knew you'd try to run! Stop struggling with me! A plan! We tell the others and come up with something that will work! That's likely Esdeath's camp. Elites of the elites!" Leone yelled, shifting her face away from a struggling boot kick. "At the very least, we'll strike at night, while their army members are asleep! If we have a chance, we have to succeed, alright! Now stop!"

Akame didn't mince time with words. Her stance was clear, as she continued to struggle. Even with Leone's enhanced strength, even she was starting to find restraining Akame tough. Leone was just thankful that it wasn't Selka, because that would have been impossible on her own.

"What are you three just standing there for, help me!" Leone grumbled out to Tatsumi, Iyasu, and Sayo.

With a target in mind, and the will to save Shirou at any cost, Leone knew this coming night was going to be a sleepless one for many people.


The glow of the moon shone overhead, producing shadows of tall trees across Esdeath's camp. The wind was blowing, and the sound of crickets and bugs humming in the night echoed throughout.

Owls hooting and flying low in the darkness, created an eerie sort of setting perfect for subterfuge, infiltration, or assassination.

It should be about time.

Standing at the front of camp, Liver remained composed under the cover of the moonlight. His position was blatantly out in the open, and his demeanor was that of a drawn sword. His back was ram-rod straight, his shoulders broad, and beard perfectly waxed to a dandy perfection.

Yes, everything until now had been something of a calculated move. No one aside from Liver could understand the reason and motivations presently driving him, but at the same time, no one else was in a position caught between loyalties of the past and present. Only Liver was unique in this depiction.

With loyalties and motivations seeking to tear his sense of purpose a part, revelation would come as a result of it all.

Here, everything begins now.

An explosion resounded at the heart of camp, shocked cries and gurgling screams echoing out while figures shifted in the growing fire caused by toppled tents burning over a primary firepit.

A distraction.

Liver's mind was quick to assess. It was all too simple and basic a conclusion, but it didn't mean he was wrong. In which case, if the main group was out distracting those that remained in camp, then sure enough-

Liver closed, then opened his eyes, feeling the cold touch of the breeze begin to pick up. Where before there was nothing in front of him, now there was a small group of two with murderous eyes.

"So, you've come, Night Raid," Liver spoke nonchalantly, unmindful of the raven-ette aiming her weapon towards him. Instead, Liver focused on the tall man accompanying Akame even as Akame boldly zipped past him towards the area where Esdeath's tent was located.

Liver made no move to stop her. It was more accurate to say that he'd let her through, leaving behind only the man Akame had brought with her while the rest made a commotion to draw attention away.

"Bulat," Liver called out with a trace of nostalgia.

"Liver," Bulat replied in kind before shaking his head. "You just let Akame get past you?"

"Yes." Liver grunted, raising a finger and revealing the ability to create a curtain of water from the moisture in the air. If he'd done something similar earlier, he would surely have been able to block Akame, yet he didn't.

Bulat grew sceptical, old loyalties and beliefs warring with preconceived notions. Brandishing the spear of his Teigu, Bulat slammed the butt of it over the ground before donning its living armour form.

"What are you planning, general?" Bulat's tone became somewhat muffled behind his helm, but it carried a weight and pressure that it ordinarily lacked.

Liver shook his head, and slowly pulled out his sword. "As soldiers, all we've ever done is fight. There was once a time where we received merit, are recognized for it, and our lauded as heroes for our sacrifice and accomplishment. For the longest time, I truly believed that that glory had died with the previous Emperor. Tell me, did you too not feel the same way? I sent to rot in prison, and you having seen the filth that festers this Empire, chose to rise up in revolt?"

"That is as it is, general," Bulat frowned, keeping himself ready to move at a moment's notice. He knew full-well how dangerous Liver could be, as there had once been a time where they'd fought through life and death together. "Shirou, the blood of the Emperor, you've seen him! I know you have! He's practically everything that you and I, and all of our comrades turning in the graves have longed and wished for in a ruler! Yet, we find ourselves on opposite sides. How can this make sense?!"

"Truly a tragedy, yet life is full of those." Water began to coat the flat of Liver's blade, revealing the reluctance in the water's reflection of Liver's eyes.

"You are hesitating. I can see it."

"You'd be correct, but not for the reasons you may think-"

"General, please! It's still not too late. The others may not agree, but I swear I'll vouch for you with my life. You know me! You know my character! Our reason to fight is here! The dreams of the past aren't forgotten! They live on!"

Liver sighed, shaking his head once more before letting out a chuckle. The two were former comrades as military men. How could he not understand the point Bulat was making with him? Still, it isn't enough to move him, but what if he didn't have to?

"You cannot convince me, Bulat, for I'm no longer the same man you once knew, but all of this," Liver suddenly gestured to the fires raging in Esdeath's camp, to the confrontation between them, and then to the direction of the Empire. "It can be fixed, amended. We may even find ourselves in similar sides yet."

Bulat had no idea what to think when Liver raised his arms in a gesture of good faith, and slowly tossed his sword in front of him.

"!?"

"I will give you a choice. If you wish to kill me, go ahead," Liver said resolutely, shocking Bulat to the point that he felt his buried emotions of the battlefield stir. "In death, I uphold my general's honour and simultaneously give credence to the dreams and visions of the past. However, if you choose not to kill me, know that you must agree to this old man's one request."

Bulat swallowed, mouth suddenly dry both from sentimentality, and the growing seriousness of Liver's features. If he let Liver live and chose not to follow through with whatever request Liver had of him, then he knew full well that Liver would resort to attacking. Worse, Liver wouldn't even care if he died since it was exactly what he wanted in such a scenario.

"Go on," Bulat murmured out, thoughts unreadable.

"You know my dream, as I know yours. However, you should also know of my character. In gratitude for the salvation general Esdeath has bestowed me in a new life, I cannot, and will not turn my back on her. At the same time…I can't find the will to obstruct the new Emperor either. His path, should not end here."

"Is that what all this is?" Bulat interjected. "Is that why you let Akame through for a successful rescue? Without you, and with Esdeath and the main force away, there's no stopping Akame and the others."

Indeed, but this was exactly what Liver wanted. All part of the plan. Shirou was meant for greater things.

A flicker of emotion crossed Liver's eyes, but it wasn't the whole truth. "In a way, the new Emperor is this country's hope. It's light. It's destined chosen one. Did you know? He spoke of it as if in passing or legend, but the Sword of the Emperor seemed to be passed down with its own purpose that only 'he who will save the land as its King' may draw the blade."

Silence permeated as Bulat took everything in, then came indignance regarding why Liver could see it but keep turning a blind eye. "Then all the more reason to-"

"I will not betray my general." Liver's tone was colder now, forcing Bulat to reconsider pressing the issue again.

Bulat could only listen in silence as Liver continued.

"I will not betray my general not only out of pride and character, but because it would make me no different from those who had turned their backs on us and our fellow soldiers in the Empire's corruption."

Bulat felt his heart lurching. The emotions, demeanor, and aura Liver was exuding was entirely identical to the general he respected and followed as a soldier in the past. It didn't help that Bulat couldn't bring himself to easily kill such a man.

This was Liver, not of Esdeath's Three Beasts, but Liver, General of the Empire First Army. Once this man decided on a course of action, there was no changing it for better or for worse.

"Why are we here? Why are we just talking? What is it that you want of me?" Bulat could endure the tensions and pressure of Liver's aura no longer.

"My allegiance is to my general, but my will and my dream has always been with the past glory of the Empire. I am at odds with who to follow. Surely you could understand this point, and then a sudden thought occurred in the midst of my general and the new Emperor's passion."

"P-Passion?"

This one word, single-handedly threw Bulat for a loop, sweat pooling at his back from the implication.

"Indeed. I thought of the same thing, and it was like the waters had parted, the clouds to clear to the thick fog! It was the answer beyond just laying down my life!" Liver found zeal steadily morphing his features into an overly gossipy and overeager old man talking about the apple of his eye. "If the general becomes the emperor's woman, then wouldn't everything be solved? My allegiance, my dream for the Empire, all of it perfectly aligned in mutual matrimony- all this while the general supports the new Emperor! The coalition of forces would be unstoppable; change for the better, inevitable!"

"M-Mutual?" Bulat was again finding himself stuttering and focusing on the minute interpersonal things.

"The general's so infatuated that she spent an afternoon asking the woman of the army's cohort about love advice." Liver didn't even register the incredulity in Bulat's tone, and explained gingerly. He then blinked owlishly, almost imploringly at Bulat. "Old friend, you and I, we can be inside men for the sake of the Empire. He'll likely be more receptive to a friend than an enemy. Therefore, when you take his Highness back, why don't you…"

An earnest twinkle shone at the tip of Liver's waxed beard.

"-help this old man play match-maker?"

The proposition was finally proposed.

Bulat stilled, mouth opening and closing before words that Liver couldn't understand came out as a reply.

"I don't want to die."

"Excuse me?" Liver blinked. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"That a man should know when to pick his battles...dammit, but I'll see what I can do. I take it we're free to take him?" Bulat unequipped his Teigu, his voice returning to normal while a pleased nod was Liver's only reply.

"By all means," Liver stepped aside. "For the Empire."

"F-For the Empire," Bulat stiffened when doing the old military salute of the past. He couldn't keep a straight face, but wished too strongly for a peaceful resolution that he was willing to accede to Liver's request now that an alternative existed.

For a third person's standpoint, it was indeed a boon if Shirou could rope in the Empire's strongest General, but the aftermath was- Bulat shuddered thinking of how the rest were going to react.

Chouri would be amused that this mission could go off without a hitch, and with added prospects, but Bulat knew where the true danger lied.

Love is War.


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Next update: Beyond the Gate

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