It would be a lie to say that Chelsea couldn't feel the tension in the air when Mine and the others arrived and instantly leveled their gazes on her, but in the end, she somehow managed to keep her composure despite the shivers traveling down her spine.
Susanoo, the lucky Teigu bastard was unresponsive, either feigning unconsciousness, or in a genuinely debilitated state. Chelsea couldn't determine which of the two options was the truth, but understood that it would be safer for Susanoo to not draw attention to himself here.
Dragging Susanoo closer to her by the scruff of his torn cloak, Chelsea meekly made herself small and retreated further behind 'safety.' She held no inkling that if Shirou wasn't in front of her right now, then she'd be torn apart by the sheer indignation she could see from Akame and the others.
One look at Susanoo's sorry state was enough for Chelsea to nervously swallow down a lump of panic forming in her throat.
He was black and blue, bruises all over.
Chelsea knew that Susanoo was a special type of living Teigu, but this was just too much. His durability was far higher than hers, and it looked like he'd been through the ringer.
Just imagining the consequences if Shirou hadn't offered to bail her out was causing Chelsea's complexion to whiten. Swallowing nervously, she pulled Susanoo closer to her, and tugged on the bottom of Shirou's sleeve, urging him to act before the silence and tension gave her a heart attack.
Chelsea's action was immediately met with narrowed eyes and clenched teeth.
No matter how irritable Akame and the others grew, there was simply no turning back time.
The fact that Shirou was the one between them and Chelsea was the root of the problem.
They already told Chelsea 'No,' and yet here she was, having snuck in behind their backs. Honestly, it was difficult to distinguish if they were more irked at Chelsea for ignoring their words, or that she'd actually managed to get past them through a series of coincidences.
Akame took in a breath, and chilled her features. Balled hands and clenched teeth revealed her true thoughts on the matter, yet, like many present, they knew Shirou all too well.
Shirou standing up for Chelsea, likely because he'd agreed to her request for aid, was far too predictable.
"I think…there's been a misunderstanding here?" Shirou said.
Those words were the words that Akame and the others who wanted him to rest and recover, least wanted to hear.
Leone felt her features strain into a grimace, Selka standing nearest to Leone contemplating whether she should have hit Susanoo harder when she'd had the chance. She'd been the one to brute force him back before he could make an escape.
"A misunderstanding?" Najenda spoke up, trailing at the back of the group of people who were making a ruckus in the middle of the night. Behind her was Lubbock, Chouri, and Sheele.
Najenda raised a brow at Shirou, then scoffed at Chelsea who shied away from her gaze. There was obviously no misunderstanding to be made here and everyone knew it.
"Is that what she told you?" Najenda crossed her arms while staring at Shirou, her lips shifting into a frown.
"She asked for help," Shirou answered, not noticing Chelsea swallowing behind him.
That was the point! It was exactly what they told her not to do.
Of course, Leone and the others couldn't explicitly admit this reason, but nevertheless, it was spilled milk, causing many to inwardly seethe. One look at Shirou, his stance, and his actions was all one needed to infer what his decision was.
"You plan to help her, don't you?" Akame butted in with a stern voice. There was almost a palpable layer of agitation surrounding her.
Akame's crimson eyes glanced at Chelsea, then back towards Shirou, and yet in that single instance, Chelsea felt like ice had been poured over her. She'd offended this woman, and Chelsea had no idea how large of a grudge she'd incurred for the sake of those depending on her.
For a moment, Chelsea felt like an animal on a chopping board, with Shirou the only barrier separating her from the cleaver.
"I can't just stand and do nothing," Shirou said, drawing Akame's attention away from Chelsea and onto himself. They stared at each other in silence like this for several seconds with neither blinking in an attempt for the other to give, but they were getting nowhere.
"Weeell…you could?" Leone huffed, moving to second Akame on this one, Selka right behind her.
"No one would hold it against you." This time Elaine spoke up, having understood the crux of things after some subtle observation.
As for Najenda, Sheele, and Lubbock, they kept their silence for the most part. Then again, Najenda was frowning, which had Lubbock frowning, while Sheele was tilting her head wondering if now was a good time to say that she'd made refreshments for everyone?
Noting the oppressiveness hanging in the air, Shirou knew that he couldn't allow it to fester lest he risk the situation coming to blows.
"I'll need you all to trust me on this, but I have a plan," he said, keeping things fairly vague and open-ended.
"A plan?" Elaine did not sound convinced. It wasn't the first time she'd heard 'I have a plan' from Shirou's lips. They grew up together as childhood friends, and let's just say that not all his plans were foolproof. "Care to elaborate?"
Shirou choked, his breath catching in his throat.
See. There, right there. Shirou was stumbling. Whatever he was thinking may sound logical to him, but utterly unacceptable to others.
Elaine narrowed her eyes.
"None of you would believe me."
There it was. That typical answer. Unfortunately for Shirou, this wasn't Elaine's first rodeo in the 'how to' Shirou manual. "Try us," she challenged.
As far as Elaine, Akame, and the others were considered, there was no justification or safe plan when it came to dealing with Esdeath and her army.
Shirou shook his head in a fluster, clearly unwilling to answer until he paused and noticed Bulat. "It will be fine. Bulat can help me," he reasoned.
"I can?" Bulat mouthed, only for it to suddenly dawn on him when Shirou gave him a particular look.
"We can help too," Selka raised a brow, confused as to why Bulat of all people was the one singled out.
"No," Bulat suddenly intervened under the scrutiny of the others. His features were a tad strained, but there was also determination in them. "I think I get what he has in mind."
"You do?" Najenda questioned Bulat, skeptical. "If Shirou won't elaborate, why don't you?"
Bulat looked pushed to the edge. "Captain, do you hate me? Have I ever wronged you? Why can't you just trust me on this?"
Subtly, Bulat inched away from Akame, Selka, and the others who gave him confused looks. None were more confused than Najenda herself.
Lubbock was the only one who glanced from Shirou to Bulat and surmised that the two were in cahoots about something.
"What sort of dangerous plan do you both-"
"I just need you to trust me on this. I know what I'm doing," Shirou forced his way through, shifting the argument from one based on rationality to a trust issue where many found it difficult to put themselves in a position of doubt against him.
Using the opportunity while he had the initiative, Shirou called out the older gentlemen silently observing the proceedings with a smile from the side.
"Chouri, a word," Shirou called, gesturing for Chouri to get close enough to whisper into his ear.
Chouri perked up, but was more than willing to lend his aid. He'd just discussed with Shirou about the need to recruit the revolutionaries and here he was already being proactive about it.
"If it's wisdom you need, then I'm more than willing to provide it," Chouri grinned as Shirou wrapped an arm around Chouri's shoulders and led him away from earshot.
"What do you know of the Partas Clan?" Was all that could be heard as Shirou drew Chouri away with a resolute expression.
The rest could only blindly speculate what else Shirou and Chouri were discussing as they moved to a secluded corner of the room.
Chelsea, who'd lost her meat shield, nervously waved at Akame and the others in an attempt to diffuse their anger, but it was only stoking the flames. Therefore, she gave up and sealed her lips shut.
She'd leave it to fate by this point.
On the east side of Kalance Plains, a detachment of the Revolutionary Army that had been dispatched from the civil war's front line were reaching an impasse. The whole group of revolutionaries were trapped within a tight encirclement and forced to contend against a monster who thought little of their combat strength. There wasn't even room to escape.
Despite the encirclement being carried out prior, other than Esdeath, no one in her army had actively fought. They only served to cage everyone inside while their general rampaged freely.
The Revolutionaries besieged by Esdeath's forces were not having a good time. Slowly, they were being whittled away.
If not for the hastily created fortifications they'd made when they'd initially arrived at Kalance plains, the entire army could have already been reduced to ice sculptures by this point. Wooden palisades made from cut trees and pieces of debris acted as make-shift walls while dummy tents acted as decoys to delay her assaults.
Nevertheless, there was only so much time before Esdeath grew impatient and ordered her encirclement to encroach upon the area and narrow the radius of the circle.
Victor Freeheart was the name of the commander in charge of the revolutionaires dispatched from the main resistance army. Beneath him were several other sub-units headed by their own platoon leaders. However, in this case, full control was in Victor's hands after the events of the first clash in Kalance plains between the Empire forces and Calla. The light that shone down on that day had not only bathed the battlefield in its splendor, but had also shone down over the revolutionaries.
Those in charge of platoons and squads with black light hanging over their heads were swiftly detained and investigated. It didn't take long from there to discover that the light of the sword's judgment was not wrong. Backhanded deals, traces of treachery, and greed led motivations created a picture of filth that disgusted those who'd once considered them righteous. It proved first-hand that the revolutionaries were not filled solely with fellow idealists and countrymen, but also with the same corrupt filth that propels the Empire into decline.
In the same vein, those true to the cause were revealed such as Victor himself, thereby consolidating and strengthening his leadership position.
All in all, these events and restructuring of the army were beneficial. If not for Esdeath's sudden attack on them, Victor would have compiled a report back to the main army camp detailing the authenticity of the 'True' Emperor of the Empire.
"General," an aide called out to Victor. "Esdeath has destroyed the last dummy outpost. She's on her way here and is already engaging our vanguard troops…"
Victor's countenance turned grim. "How many men do we have?"
"Barely half. Most are still injured after the attempt to breach the encirclement to send a delegation to the true emperor's camp."
Victor glanced to a second aide, panting and out of breath that had just arrived and interrupted the first. "Platoon thirteen let a group of strangers into our central camp!"
"What?" Victor demanded, eyes narrowing at all the bad news coming to him at once.
Unauthorized entry of unaffiliated members into the central command area was strictly prohibited. This was all the more important as any number of assassin's could easily infiltrate, and Esdeath was not above using such a means.
"Who let them through?! Who gave the clearance?!" Victor scowled, veins popping over his forehead. He was stressed enough trying to devise a counter against Esdeath's relentless pursuit, and now that she was confronting the main army, a potential attack from the inside could destabilize everything.
"I did," a voice answered in Victor's agitation, giving him immediate pause.
Briskly walking up to Victor, Chelsea couldn't quite hide the excitement in her expression.
"Chelsea…you came back." Victor uttered before realization set in. It was one thing if Chelsea came back resolved for death, but her demeanor was anything but. "Does this mean that-"
Everyone within earshot gave pause at the firm answer, Victor's mind going blank.
"…He's actually here?" Victor didn't know it, but he and many others present were gradually raising their spirits.
The ends of Chelsea's lips tugged up before slowly nodding. "He's here."
Fervor and life returned to desolate eyes.
"Rally the men!" Victor began shouting orders immediately. "We move to support the true Emperor!"
Mobilizing everyone through the chain of command, Victor eagerly shifted his attention back to Chelsea. "Where is he? We must consider our plan of action against an opponent of Esdeath's caliber. Did you not bring him with you- damn bastards if they held him up for failing to recognize him, I'll court-martial them!"
Chelsea opened and closed her mouth, mulling over how best to explain things in a way that didn't end with admitting that she had no clue about what Shirou had in mind. She was just thankful he'd save her life and even go as far as to indulge her request for aid. Now that was the disposition of an Emperor.
Problems of the masses do not qualify as problems for someone of his station…
Chelsea felt she was running out of justification at this point, when the real reason she couldn't get any details was that Akame and the others had detained her movements with strict eyes. It was only after they arrived at the perimeter of the battlefield that they allowed her to use her Teigue to sneak past Esdeath's army. Then and only then after making contact with the revolutionaries, she regained her freedom.
In the end, Chelsea didn't end up having to think of an answer for Victor to accept.
Chelsea froze, much like everyone else with a view of the current battlefield from the central camp.
A certain red-head was boldly marching towards the battlefield where Esdeath and her army were sweeping through the revolutionary army's vanguard units.
Chelsea's pupils dilated.
What did Shirou think he was doing? Where was his plan?
Whether or not Shirou felt his actions were right or wrong, it still didn't change the fact that he was one of the main perpetrators behind the sudden attack on the Revolutionary Army. Just by the virtue of the hope they directed upon seeing him, made a sour feeling well within him.
To look upon the orchestrator of one's misfortune with such a gaze was far too burdensome.
This was his mistake; his mistake to fix.
Therefore, he was obligated to make it right.
He would right this wrong, both to stay true to himself, and to mitigate needless killing.
The battlefield itself seemed to pause as he stepped forward, the crunching of his feet over patches of dirt and debris, echoing in the silence. There was no way that he wasn't able to be recognized with his features that had stood out in the prior exchange.
One man alone, through the help of his allies was able to change the tide of a war with a sword held aloft, and a shield kept steadfast over his people. He was the beacon of overwhelming hope that many could no longer ignore. For in the darkness of depression and despair, even the tiniest hope can sometimes be enough to drag weary feet forward, and tired gazes back towards the distant future upon the horizon.
Akame and the other members of Night Raid and Calla were visibly distressed at his actions, but Shirou knew that he couldn't blame them. If he were in their place, he'd be feeling concern too given that he hadn't explicitly divulged the contents of what he intended to do to resolve this matter.
In hindsight, putting a high-profile target like himself right at the front, and walking towards the enemy on his own would have set warning alarms for anyone sane, but this wasn't exactly a 'sane' situation either.
For the sake of proving her worth, Esdeath would try to take on an army on her own.
This was the kind of madness Shirou was dealing with here, and in response, he too had decided to reciprocate outside of common sense in order to reach her.
The fact that Shirou had stepped forward in view of all with neither his sword or shield on his person roused many voices of disbelief; none more so than from his own allies who were glaring daggers at Bulat for not saying anything about this to them! Obviously, if he did, Shirou knew he'd meet fierce resistance, so the best he could do was rely on Bulat who grudgingly accepted the fallout. To Bulat, being beaten or scorned for his rashness was abetter fate than being murdered for trying to set up their friend and future Emperor with a psychopath. Let it be said, that future developments could not be pinned on him through his actions now, and that's what mattered.
Bulat did his part, and followed through on his old commander's wish. This was enough, so give him a break.
Meanwhile, as Shirou continued walking to the front without resistance from the stunned soldiers who didn't dare impede him, some of the Empire soldiers readied their weapons and took aim.
Tension immediately rose, but it was squashed by none other than a reproachful gaze that froze the Empire soldiers in place.
"Stand down," Esdeath's tone was icy. She was the general, not them. They would act only when she instructed them to act, and never before.
Besides, it was vague, but the Empire soldiers under Esdeath felt something amiss in their general. She'd never been one to just waste an opportunity, but they simply didn't have the courage to voice their doubts.
As expected, Shirou took in a breath when he watched Esdeath reign in her troops.
Esdeath wouldn't act out of character in front of others, but her actions spoke louder for her intentions than anything else.
His appearance here most certainly stunned and surprised her, but her poker face wasn't one so easily disturbed.
Many may find Esdeath's intentions or goals in this battle difficult to wrap their mind around, but Shirou was one of two besides Liver who understood completely. For the sake of her goal, she didn't really care for the lives of those who stood opposed to her, just as Shirou had hardened himself to rid the Empire of the corrupt people that plagued it. He supposed it was all about perspective here, but different from him, Esdeath had no reservations.
If you were weak, you would die. If you were strong, you would live.
Such a mentality was no different from a wild animal, and yet, it was essentially what the Partas Clan was. Chouri had briefed him on the disbanded Clan's history and even revealed to him their societal structure; something Shirou ingrained into memory during his stay in Esdeath's personal tent. She kept all manner of trophies there, and it included weapons from her own tribe which his eyes gleamed the history from.
This was precisely how Shirou knew that Esdeath was a Partas Clan member, and the reason he'd even attempt what he was doing now. In a sense, it was…tradition.
Shirou knew exactly what Esdeath wanted from him. She made that clear by her words and actions.
Regardless of Shirou's personal thoughts, if his actions now would draw Esdeath's full attention to him and him alone rather than those who couldn't defend themselves from her overbearing advances…then fine.
He'd give her what she wanted through the records Chouri had shared with him about the Partas Clan.
Shirou stopped in front of Esdeath and her army, just close enough that his voice could be heard clearly without having to shout.
"You want me?"
The words instantly gave everyone a strange feeling of ambiguity, as if they were missing context. However, it was only natural for a member of Honest's Empire to want to capture and kill the new Emperor candidate by all means. Therefore, many thought nothing of the remark, treating it as a simple goading act.
Esdeath hummed, her lips spreading into a smile before she opened her mouth to answer only to be interrupted.
"Then subdue me on our own terms!"
Esdeath shuddered, a feeling of lightning striking through her with unwavering clarity. The words resonated within her more than she'd ever care to admit.
"A beast does not cower!"
Memories of her childhood came unbidden and unraveled within the landscape of her mind. The feral grin of her mother, the rambunctious arrogance and pride of her father, it was all coming back.
"A beast does not clip its own fangs!"
How long ago was it?
"A beast does not willingly submit or be tamed!"
Although disbanded, she too was of the Partas Clan.
"It's made to!"
These words were meant for none other than Esdeath, and Esdeath alone. At this point, she was trembling, her bangs shadowing her features.
None knew what Esdeath was thinking.
The Partas Clan was barbaric in the sense that their societal structure and customs were more similar to animals and Danger Beasts than humans. They were a clan built to weed the weak and favour the strong. A clan created by the strong, for the strong.
Relationships were built on that of dominance.
If a man could not subdue their partner, then they were not worthy of that partner.
Through tradition, they would fight to determine the alpha.
Endure. Endure. O God this was tiring…
Shirou couldn't even allow himself to break his stern expression as he followed through with the rest.
"This is a declaration of war!" He directly announced.
Wind blew across the divide between the armies, kicking up loose pieces of dirt, sand, and gravel. Swirling, they formed snaking clouds that acted as a backdrop to a scene of desolation left in wake of a clash of monsters.
No, it was utterly lacking. If he could see it, then Esdeath could see it too.
"Fall back, gather your forces, and let the capital be the battleground of beasts! A mere plain where only soldiers may spectate is not worthy!"
Esdeath's hands balled into fists, the agitating roar of her blood pumping through her, heating up her complexion.
"I will crush you to the ground!"
"Stamp your pride and confidence into paste underfoot!"
"And pound the meaning of 'humility,' into your flesh and bones!"
Subconsciously, she began shifting her weight beneath her from side to side.
"If I say 'Go,' the only answer is 'When?!'"
"If I say 'Save,' the only answer is 'how many?!'"
'…Dammit Chouri! Where the hell did you get these lines?'
It was through sheer willpower that Shirou didn't cringe and managed to keep a straight face as he finally finished.
Silence immediately ensued across the expanse between the armies, tension running through the air at the blatant provocation game. To them, Esdeath would not fall for such a ruse so easily, but the same couldn't be said for those under her. Esdeath's retinue of soldiers were livid by this point, drawing their weapons on their general's behalf. This time, without Esdeath's reprimand.
It was as they thought!
The fact that Esdeath hadn't spoken a word about their actions must have indicated a tacit agreement. As if their general would actually pull back and listen to the words of a madman when the enemy was clearly disadvantaged!
It never crossed their mind that Esdeath could potentially be lost in thought or too distracted to formulate words.
In contrast, from the perspective of Najenda and the Revolutionary members behind her, things weren't quite the same.
Sure, the morale of the Revolutionaries was at its peak from Shirou's posturing, Najenda wasn't sure if that was part of his plan or not, but she digressed, she cared not for it. Instead, Najenda backed away when she finally focused on Esdeath's reaction in the distance. If there was anyone that knew Esdeath in the Revolutionary Army, it was her as a former colleague.
Najenda could tell instantly despite how stoic Esdeath was trying to be in the public eye.
Esdeath's subtle expression simply wasn't the look one would make when getting threatened.
Those who knew her well enough could instantly tell.
T-The fuck are you blushing for?!
Thanks for reading! And thanks to my newest patrons: Zhuldasbaev and Chernobog!
C-Rank Poll results:
[Winner A: Fate Legend]
[Winner B: Fate Alternative]
Next update: Fate Legend
P a treon. com (slash) Parcasious
The Lonely Peak
New Book: Out on Amazon (Remove dash on link)
Survivor's Log Reflection: Amazon.c-om/dp/B08VDDGN7Z?