Honestly, this was stupid; not because of irrational confidence, but sheer practicality. Sneaking in to get an audience with someone as important as Shirou was no easy feat. This was especially so after he'd made an appearance in camp to help uplift everyone's spirits.
Leone and the others had not wasted the opportunity to instill their members with the notion of giving Shirou a reprieve to recuperate by using the excuse of Shirou's long absence due to internal injuries to 'justify' it.
All the while, Chelsea was calling bullshit, and gnashing her teeth in vexation.
This had occurred earlier in the afternoon, and it wasn't lost on Chelsea that she was being watched during Shirou's entire showing. If she so much as tried to approach, Chelsea held every notion that there would have been someone that would coincidently bar her path by stumbling or using some type of accident. In the end her best bet was still to somehow evade their notice and make her way towards her target.
Chelsea took several breaths to reassure herself of her actions, but always ended up short at the last moment. Sure, she'd had her fair share of espionage and infiltration missions, but when she considered that her particular skill set was shared by the people she intended to bypass, well the picture would always turn out bleak.
She bit down on her lips; hands clammy with cold sweat that she dried out by matting them over her blouse.
This was going to go well.
A hard look appeared in her eyes, the mischievousness of her demeanor shifting into something more professional. Fiddling for something in her pockets, she slipped a lollipop into her mouth and gradually conditioned herself.
Her Imperial Arm, or Teigu was called Gaea Foundation, and it resembled something of a make-up kit. Then again, it's ability to allow her to assume the appearance at will was nothing short of a godsend for any assassin. It was also the primary trump card she had faith in using to sneak into Shirou's tent. After all, who would suspect a cat, small animal, or even a 'colleague,' wandering around at this time of night?
The problem however was information.
No matter how Chelsea envisioned the mission going, she had to assume that it wasn't only going to be Leone, Akame, and that annoying Mine girl she was going to have to slip past. To make assumptions before the start of a mission was setting herself up for failure. What she did instead was imagine the worst scenario possible, and gradually work with it as a basis…which meant she might be up against the entire Night Raid Branch Akame and the rest were part of, and the locals from Calla.
No sweat, right?
Except that Najenda, the leader of the Night Raid branch Chelsea was trying to bypass likely knew information regarding Chelsea's Teigu. She may not know that Chelsea was the owner of said Teigu, but so long as Najenda was aware of Gaea Foundation's existence, even harmless animals may be apprehended and barred from entering Shirou's tent.
No matter what, Chelsea consoled herself that she'd be fine as long as Najenda wasn't the one personally guarding.
Chelsea had always heard that Najenda was a woman of integrity, so she certainly wouldn't have freely distributed information about Gaea Foundation to the members of her unit.
So, luck that she'd run into anyone else than Najenda?
Was this really going to be the basis of her confidence?
It was no wonder that Chelsea still felt a little uneasy.
Sadly, there was no other choice with how pressing the situation was with Esdeath.
Balling her hands into fists, Chelsea glanced up into the sky and watched as a 'mysterious' black robed figure made an appearance. No one would have expected an attack at this time, and were unprepared when the figure hurled a 'bomb' towards Shirou's tent.
'Nothing more than fanfare and blanks to sound noisy and gather attention,' Chelsea took in a breath and composed herself.
Alright, that was the signal from Susanoo. Followed by the clamoring sounds of people giving chase, Chelsea didn't concern herself with her partner for much longer. She was confident in Susanoo's sturdiness, as he wasn't exactly…human.
Anyways, it was 'go' time.
Placing her headphones over her ears, the sudden muffling of sound served to calm her nerves as she activated her Teigu. Under her careful control and the finesse of her fingers, her appearance quickly changed into that of a panther cub lost from the distant forest.
Honestly, it felt weird to walk on four legs and on paws, but this wasn't her first tango in this form.
Slinking forward through the clamor Susanoo was causing, Chelsea clicked her tongue when she arrived closer to her destination. It would have been easier if the people acting as sentries around Shirou's tent would give chase Susanoo as well, but they hadn't even budged.
Chelsea took note of the nearest people she'd have to sneak past.
There situated on a lookout above the tent was Mine armed with Pumpkin. It was obvious that she was on the alert with the stunt Susanoo was pulling, and was aiming her scope at him, but Chelsea wasn't naïve.
Even if Mine was keeping track of Susanoo's movements, it would be ignorant to doubt a sniper's perception. In the stillness of the night illuminated by the moon with no trees to act as cover, there was no way Mine wasn't going to notice a cub wandering nearby.
In any case, Chelsea didn't think Mine would shoot, so she took the risk and took a meandering path forward lest she be too direct and be considered suspicious.
Chelsea did not miss the narrowing of Mine's eyes when Chelsea stepped within view in her cat form. She didn't miss the flicker of a coo that escaped Mine's mouth either. Then again, Chelsea did make her cat form appear adorable.
Still, for as quick as the expression had appeared on Mine's face, it was smothered in the next second when she turned her attention back towards Susanoo. It was likely that Mine wasn't firing due to the risk of hitting a friendly in their own camp. That, or she found Susanoo's capture or takedown inevitable.
Chelsea was just relieved that for as snobbish as Mine had been, she seemed to have a soft side as well, and paid little attention to a 'cute' kitten making its way by.
The same couldn't be said for the next foe seated on top of a box maintaining her blade's edge with a whetstone.
Red eyes stared blankly at Chelsea which caused her to freeze in her steps. It wasn't that Chelsea was found out, but she'd stiffened for other reasons. There was no malice, contempt, or murderous intent in the red eyes, but what replaced that was a penetrating contemplation and a tongue wetting red lips.
"Akame, I know we didn't go hunting for meat in a while, but that's a panther cub." An arm slung over Akame's shoulder, revealing Leone snorting at her friend. "There's not much meat on it anyway. Better to wait for it to grow its fangs first."
Chelsea paled with the realization that Akame had been considering roasting and eating her.
I-If she knew this was going to happen, then she should have gone for a simple tabby cat instead. Surely, she wouldn't be considered for the menu then?
Aptly terrified at the prospect of being dinner, Chelsea quickened her pace despite Leone narrowing her eyes on her.
"Is something wrong, Leone?" Akame perked up.
Chelsea only quickened her pace, unwilling to remain close.
"Even for a wandering panther cub, don't you think its odd that it would be here of all places?" Leone furrowed her brows, her nose twitching. "It also has this familiar smell…"
'What are you a dog?!'
Chelsea shivered. She knew from her intel that Leone had some sort of beast transformation Teigu, but this was cutting it too close. Gaea Foundation didn't exactly change the scent of a person, only the appearance.
"Can I roast it then?"
Chelsea heard the sound of rustling movement behind her and panicked-
"Hello everyone," a saviour arrived, taking the attention away from Chelsea.
Sheele came walking in with a round of drinks held on a platter between her arms. "I brought some refreshments!"
Akame, Leone, and even Mine who remained stationed up high paused at Sheele's timing. There was some sort of invader, and Sheele got it into her head that this was the time to offer some drinks?
Even Chelsea was dumbfounded.
Since when did any branch of Nigh Raid ever stoop down to hire a scatterbrain?
Chelsea just couldn't wrap her mind around it, but couldn't help but be thankful all the same.
With Sheele's arrival, Chelsea finally made it out of sight by circling around Shirou's tent. If she'd tried to go for the entrance, she knew she'd be stopped, and so she could only try to find another way.
Fortunately, her panther cub form had claws. She figured that slicing her way through the tent was a worthy investment, but would have never have expected that someone had already been a step ahead of her.
There right before her on the south-side of the tent, was a clean cut made from a sharp blade.
Chelsea froze there and then when Bulat appeared, standing guard at the cut section. What was more confounding was that the man was trying to tie it up with sewing needle and thread as if that would fix it?
Chelsea took a step back, accidently knocking over an empty glass bottle that clanked and shattered.
Diving behind empty supply crates, Chelsea could only watch as Bulat's gaze fell on her just as Akame and the rest instantly appeared to investigate.
"B-Bulat? What are you doing, and is that…a hole?" Leone was the one who spoke here, her gaze shifting from Bulat to the cut in the tent's side which Bulat was trying to hide with his large frame.
Needless to say, Bulat's attempts were bound for failure.
Honestly, Bulat's presence took everyone off guard, and what was worse was that the man himself appeared infinitely nervous around Akame and the rest, as if he'd been caught red-handed. He didn't even have the mind to explain that he'd seen a panther cub hiding behind the supply crates.
Chelsea was elated at this stroke of fortune.
Thank you, Susanoo!
It was a chance that Chelsea would not waste.
She silently meandered around the tent, made a new hole, and dashed inside when all eyes were on Bulat.
If Chelsea was being honest with herself, now that she was here, she couldn't help but feel a little nervous. The interior was sprucely decorated unlike the personal space of other Empire nobles that Chelsea had infiltrated, and the lighting from an overhead lamp within the tent was rather dim.
It was because of this dimness that it became fairly easy to track where the light was coming from, and hone in on the person it was illuminating with his chin resting over his hands on a table.
Taking a few breaths, Chelsea gradually returned to her original form. It wouldn't do to play any tricks on the one she needed to request aid from, and keeping her arms in the air in a sign of peace would be a good start. This was especially the case as the gravity of the situation suddenly weighed down on her.
This was him.
The future Emperor.
The figure that Chelsea had seen steadfastly leading a force to combat the Empire while wreathing the army in a radiant light was still too fairy-tale-like for her to believe. In fact, if she hadn't been there watching from the Revolutionary Army's side, she'd never have believed it.
After all, the fairy tales always spoke of happy endings, and there was no happy ending Chelsea could hope to envision in the midst of this civil war.
Then all of a sudden, a ray of light seemed to have pierced the dark and illuminate the vastness of the distant stars.
Shirou's figure which Chelsea and many others had seen represented a hope no one had ever thought of believing again.
A hope for better. For meaningful change.
This was the reason the first Revolutionaries had fought for from the beginning. No matter how much time had passed, and no matter how many deaths were justified, it was inevitable that many felt like they were dying for the sake of dying by this point.
Did their deaths have meaning? Did it lead to anything?
The leaders of the Revolution were always quick to absolve those questions, but it always seemed to be more of a patch job than anything substantial.
It was like the answer was before her.
Chelsea felt like she could speak on behalf of her fallen comrades and state that there was meaning to their cause all along. With forces of the Revolutionaries, and Shirou to act as sword, shield, and rightful Emperor, the future that the Revolution leaders had always boasted of could come to pass.
He was right there.
Chelsea found herself on tenterhooks.
Would he help them? Would he even agree in the first place? It wasn't as if someone of his capability needed them.
Just a few more steps, and she'd be within talking distance.
For an Assassin, Chelsea had honestly never felt so nervous. Worse, she was adept at cold-blooded murder, but was now finding diplomacy more difficult.
Chelsea eventually found her words.
"Sorry to intrude," she spoke respectfully, stepping into view with her hands raised up disarmingly. "My name's Chelsea, a former member of another Revolutionary Army's Night Raid branch."
Chelsea watched Shirou perk up, and glance over at her, but he didn't seem taken aback at her entrance. It was almost as if he was used to intrusions? That or he'd noticed her enter from the beginning.
Chelsea inwardly shook her head, and kept her gaze trained on her feet, making her unable to see Shirou's reactions. No. It was more like she didn't quite dare. She'd mustered her courage, but if Shirou still denied her here, she'd lose the words she'd already memorized in a bid to convince him to save her allies.
Chelsea wasn't disillusioned, nor shameless. Even she wouldn't put her life or limb on the line for people she didn't know, let alone if she was asked to face Esdeath.
Still, the only one who could do so was before her.
She had to try. The death of her friends, her allies, they weren't meaningless!
"It was rude of me to come unannounced, but we've been requesting a meeting with you with little result…" She spoke cordially, fluently.
She heard the rustling of clothing, but didn't crane her neck up to look. She was too focused on continuing.
"In fact, you can request any form of punishment and I will willingly adhere to it. I only ask that you please hear me out…"
More rustling, but no denials. Chelsea pursed her lips and forged on.
"After your victory against the Empire's vanguard forces, it was safe to assume that a momentary reprieve would have been established, b-but general Esdeath doesn't stick to the general mold."
"S-She's been striking at us, the Revolutionaries, relentlessly. It doesn't matter what conditions are offered, or how many try to surrender to keep their lives. Like a monster, she's too focused on the kill for some single-minded reason no one could make sense of."
A cough, but Chelsea could relate. Shirou was likely asking, 'what reason?'
"She's murdering us, for some bullshit excuse like maiden love!"
"It's a ruse! One that anyone can see is a fabrication to provoke the Revolution leaders into slipping in their battlefield judgements." Chelsea gnashed her teeth. "Its like she'd just toying with us, and the worst is that she's not someone we can currently face."
Here, Chelsea gave pause, butterflies floating in her stomach.
"I-I know it's a lot to ask for, and you don't have to agree or anything, but we need your help. If its you, then w-with your sword and shield, you can pave the way. A-And my allies and I can be of use for the throne and change, a-and…"
She was mumbling, rambling even, and she knew it.
What Chelsea couldn't see was that Shirou wasn't as unresponsive as she was assuming he'd be from such an outrageous request. Then again, Shirou could be said to have a hand in the situation, so the oddity of his expression could be explained.
However, Shirou was, in fact, considering Chelsea's words.
Remembering what Chouri had said about bringing the Revolutionaries over to his side, Shirou had realized that this situation could pose as an ideal opportunity. Not only could he save lives, but in turn, he could take another step towards the campaign towards the Empire's capital.
Therefore, he spoke with sincerity and cut off Chelsea's rambling.
"I'll see what I can do."
The words halted Chelsea's garbled tirade, her mouth opening and closing stiffly. Finally, she looked up at Shirou to see neither scorn nor contempt, but empathy. It was like he knew the troubles that she was feeling, and the weight of the responsibility on her back…no. It wasn't 'like' he knew; he probably did know.
He too was a leader of a force.
Lives were on the line, and each death had to mean something.
Regardless, he'd agreed as if his opponent wasn't Esdeath, but some random foot soldier.
Chelsea inwardly felt moved.
There had been no hesitation in that answer. Chelsea had always felt herself to be a good judge of character, and observing Shirou's expression in front of her, she just knew without a shadow of a doubt…It was as if the thought of people dying wouldn't allow him to sit still.
This kind of person could actually exist?
'-And you're taking advantage of him. Adding the weight of more responsibility upon his shoulders…'
For a second, her inner voice seemed to rebuke Chelsea. In some way, she was beginning to understand the actions of Leone and the others.
"T-That's all I can ask for. T-Then I'll be taking my leave?" Chelsea meant it as a closing statement, but it inevitably ended up coming out as a question for dismissal instead in Shirou's presence. Even her actions felt stiff perhaps out of guilt or shame- she didn't think too deeply about it as her attention focused on Shirou shaking his head.
"Are you sure?"
"...?" Chelsea didn't quite understand what Shirou was insinuating for a second.
Shirou shook his head again before smiling wryly. "You snuck in. If you walk out now, what do you think will happen?"
Oh. She paused.
She'd be murdered.
A bang echoed outside, followed by a crashing noise from a familiar cloaked individual being thrown roughly against the tent, tearing through the fabric and tumbling in.
Chelsea stared long and hard, swallowing.
That was Susanoo…and if Susanoo was thrown here then-
It wouldn't be long until the guards around Shirou's perimeter would rush in.
Chelsea needed to get out of here with Susanoo now, but she already knew that she was too late.
A helping hand of salvation was the only life-saving straw Chelsea could grab onto.
"You can stay here," Shirou offered, standing up and moving in front of her. As he stopped beside her, she could almost hear him counting down as if he knew just when the others would storm in before he nodded to reassure her. "I don't think they'll try anything with me around to dissuade them."
This charisma; the sense of trust he naturally gave to others, especially to someone who intruded on him…it was, it was moving.
Chelsea blinked, a shudder traveling down her back as she found a lump forming in her throat, making it hard to swallow.
Could such a kind person really exist in this twisted kingdom?
Tentatively, she took him up on his offer when the air suddenly grew suffocating.
"Then I accept your graciousness."
'I'm still too young to die.'
Thanks for reading, and thanks to my newest patrons: Supphaken and Joshua A!
Sorry for smaller updates as of late. A big project is happening in my current job company and things are getting a bit hectic that I have to work on things outside office hours on my laptop. It shouldn't be like this for much longer though since my employer said it will calm down by the 21 or 23rd of May. Until then, I'll be doing my best to maintain a steady update schedule and write as much as I can per chapter.
Next update: Hero and Sword
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