The whistling of the wind put an end to the silence that divided the battlefield where all eyes focused on the interaction of the army leaders. Neither side was moving, and this went the same for the combatants. Any sudden movements could trigger the onset of battle, and unless given explicit orders, none of lower rank or station would lightly initiate. This went doubly so for the members of Esdeath's army who more than familiar with her temperament.
Unless Esdeath gave the word, going against her orders would only lead to a tragic end. As a general, she didn't tolerate insubordination, more so when Esdeath's current features seemed nothing less than riled.
There was a heated savageness brewing behind her eyes, and at first, many speculated that a bloodbath would occur, but this wasn't the case.
Raising her hand, Esdeath's single action caused everyone to tense in alarm.
Najenda shook her head and focused herself into a battle stance while signalling for the rest to brace for combat.
Akame's features were ruthless in this instance. She'd not forgotten her last encounter with Esdeath, and it was showing. The calmer her features, the more determined to kill she became.
Contrary to all expectation however, Esdeath calmly lowered her arm and made a small gesture with her hands.
"Fall back," Esdeath's voice resounded, causing confusion in both her army and revolutionaries.
Under the stunned silence of all, Esdeath and her forces began to retreat, their encirclement dismantling.
All the while, Esdeath exchanged a meaningful look with Shirou.
Esdeath never questioned why or how Shirou was here. She was no fool and could infer that this must have been her loyal subordinate's own way of 'advancing' her relationship after she'd asked Liver for advice. Truly, the older the wiser.
A flush came up to Esdeath's cheeks. Liver knew her too well.
She'd have to reward Liver greatly.
Was he also the one who told Shirou of the Partas Clan's traditions? A woman of the Partas clan would only ever allow her fangs and claws to be clipped to focus on rearing the cubs if the mate was capable enough to do so. It marked the transition from warrior to mother.
It was a barbaric test, but also the tradition that breeds the strongest offspring.
Her excitement and reminder of her origins was such that Esdeath's own anticipation was overriding everything else.
The short exchange between Shirou and Esdeath's eyes said it all. She'd agreed with Shirou's words.
This place was indeed both too small and too obscure for the two of them.
The capital would be the battlefield of beasts where the weak would submit to the strong.
As for the rest of what Shirou had said…Should she look forward to being dominated, or was Shirou too in over his head?
Her claws and fangs would not be easily clipped, and if he failed to do so, well- he was the one who initiated the challenge.
In the blink of an eye, Esdeath and her unit were gone.
She left. Esdeath actually left.
Victor still couldn't wrap his mind around it, and when he rounded on Chelsea for some sort of explanation, Chelsea herself appeared just as dumbfounded as everyone. Regardless, the feeling of relief that Victor, Chelsea, and all the revolutionaries felt at this moment was genuine.
From a situation of certain defeat and death, everything was reversed the moment the true Emperor took to the field.
"It's him. He's the one who will lead the Empire back to its former glory," Victor whispered to himself, but Chelsea heard nonetheless.
Pursing her lips, Chelsea glanced around at her comrades, and took note of the way that they all regarded Shirou. Where once there was only bitter struggle in their eyes, hope was emerging just as it did within her.
Chelsea was no saint. Her reasons for taking up arms may not have been the most noble, but living a comfortable life was something almost everyone sought for. It was just that now, standing here staring at Shirou like everyone else, it felt like she was suddenly part of something bigger, grander.
Surely, when this was all said and done, everything here would be documented and recorded in the annals of history itself. For this was history in the making.
Swallowing down her sense of anticipation, Chelsea could instantly tell that it wouldn't be long for Shirou to win the favour and admiration of the revolutionaries.
It was ironic. Rather than getting him to join the revolutionaries, Chelsea could already imagine that it would be the revolutionaries lining up in droves to join him, their former leaders left abandoned.
Wasn't that the situation for herself?
Chelsea found a small depreciating smile creeping up onto her face. "Unit commander," she called out to Victor. "The army's going to have to offer a lot more incentive if you want to keep anyone. Of course, this also includes myself."
"Ha!" Victor sneered in mirth, taking off the military cap over his head and placing it onto Chelsea who squawked. "You've been promoted then. I resign."
Without waiting for Chelsea to respond, Victor and the others formally made their way to where Elaine was directing the members of Calla to inquire about recruitment.
Chelsea's lips twitched before she pulled the cap over her head, snorted, and then tossed the cap aside. "Wait for me!"
In the meantime, Najenda had picked Shirou up by the scruff of his neck and strong-armed him away to ask him if he was out of his mind!
Of course, Najenda's actions led to outbursts of protests from those trying to flock to Shirou, but she put down that resistance with a stifling glare. She then ordered Akame and others to set up a perimeter to prevent others from getting too close before ripping back into Shirou.
The others weren't saying anything, making it tacitly clear that Najenda was being spokesperson.
"There's something weird going on here," Najenda mumbled to herself while thinking back to Esdeath, but she still knew her priorities and focused intensely on Shirou for his stupidity. "Do you know what you've just done? You've challenged her?! Esdeath's marked you, and she'll hunt you down like a starved animal!"
That was the point.
This was his battle, and he wasn't going to avoid it.
"Do you know anything I should watch out for against her?" Shirou asked, trying to get a gauge of what he was dealing with.
In his time spent with Esdeath, he was already aware of the versatility of the ice she wielded, but he still lacked understanding of the full extent of her abilities.
Najenda, as a former colleague who fault alongside Esdeath knew Esdeath better than anyone else present.
"Putting aside Esdeath's martial capabilities and physical parameters, her Teigu is of the highest order." Najenda pinched the bridge of her nose, and did her best to focus out her frustration and convey what needed to be conveyed. Shirou was already a target for Esdeath, so preparing him for what was to come was certainly a priority. "In the blink of an eye, she can freeze an entire battlefield, shifting the terrain to her advantage. She's also able to mold her ice to her will, creating anything from weapons to an entire army of ice soldiers. More importantly, there were speculative rumours that she could freeze time itself. It was the only way to explain how she could suddenly be on one side of a battlefield and then appear in the next in an instant. She is no easy foe."
An ability to create an army, and potentially stop time?
Shirou could already imagine the lethality of the combination Najenda had described, and as such, he'd have to consider how he'd go about this bout carefully.
He shook his head and focused on what mattered.
Recalling the reason why he'd shifted from a passive stance to a more active role in bettering the current world, Shirou reaffirmed his decisions. Even if the path he was walking mirrored that of his last life, in this one, he could see the driving factors regarding why he and Saber had been paired as Master and Servant all those years ago.
One day, a person like him, a person like Saber, inevitably like EMIYA had described, would drown in their ideals and die, but so what?
There was still meaning in action.
"How long will it take for the army to reach the capital from here?" Shirou asked, resolve carrying an unwavering conviction in his gaze.
At the moment, Najenda didn't think much of the question. "With an army of this size, maybe a fortnight or more," she answered.
Things would be different if they were just sending a vanguard unit, but moving an army was never as simple as pointing in a direction and ordering a mar-
"Wait a minute." Najenda knit her brows, features twisting into a frown. "If you're asking about this, you don't actually intend to start a trek to the Empire's Capital right now, do you?"
The answer was met with numerous alarmed expressions, not the least of which was Najenda herself.
"That's ridiculous," Najenda felt a vein pop over her forehead. No, more than that, she felt terrified. When a rising hope is smothered into ashes, then all that remains is despair. She couldn't condone this, not now. Not until they were prepared with better odds for victory. "Even assuming we successfully integrate the majority of the revolutionary army forces here with us, it still doesn't change the terrain advantage. The capital has its walls, and the opening act of battle will be a siege. Do you not know that the number of attackers in such a scenario needs to at least be three times the capability of the defenders? Worse, this is the capital, the most heavily fortified area of the Empire!"
From Shirou's expression, Najenda grew frustrated. She could see she that she wasn't getting through to this stubborn bull.
"No. No you cannot." Najenda shut down the first words of protest immediately. "We've all seen what happens when you take it upon yourself to do everything on your own. Your body can't withstand the requirements to use your Teigu let alone the wizardry you use."
From Shirou's track record alone, and the looks Akame and the others were giving him, right now, his credibility was less than shit. Of course, no one would say that outright, but they were certainly all thinking it.
"Suppose we break through the walls and even the playing field, if doing so incapacitates or hinders you, should Esdeath choose that moment to strike again, your dead. Dead. Then there are also the Empire elites who will no doubt target you without care for their own lives."
Najenda began to poke holes anywhere she could in Shirou's intended actions with even the others chipping in by nodding their heads.
Alas, Shirou wasn't easily swayed.
The value he placed on himself, and the value others had of him were too different to see where the problem lied in the first place.
"I'll worry about the specifics, and I'll make ample preparations, okay? You all please just worry about getting the logistics sorted out and finished to begin marching."
"You can't be serious." Najenda was done with this. Rather than persuasion, she asserted flat up denial. "I refuse. There's no logical basis in what you're-"
"The sooner this all ends, the less people will suffer or die. If you and the others take me as your Emperor, then believe in me."
Silence ensued, Akame and the others growing antsy while listening within earshot; all glancing at each other with hesitation, waiting for Najenda's reply.
"I want to punch you." Najenda gnashed her teeth, body tensing, her jaw clenched. "I really do, but…"
Finally, Najenda slumped her shoulders.
It was this aspect of Shirou that was able to garner their faith and admiration to begin with.
"Fine you suicidal bastard."
With the dividing lines between opposing sides clearly established between the current Empire, and the changes Shirou wished to implement under his rule,
From here on, was the beginning of the end.
"We siege the capital."
A sigh escaped Prime Minister Honest's lips as he returned from coaxing the child Emperor to review official documents regarding successorship. The child was all excited at the prospect of transferring his own power to an existing blood relative. In a way, it showed just how lonely the child Emperor must be, and the effect it had on the Emperor. Honest could care less, but the ramifications of the ideal puppet King that he'd spent years fostering, giving it all up was aggravating beyond measure.
Wandering down the lavish halls of the capital's central palace, Honest made his way to the interior audience chambers, and activated a mechanism that opened a hidden underground doorway.
A set of stairs quickly came within view, and Honest descended down into a personal room where he'd have no fear of being discovered. Inside was a desk and reclining chair which Honest sat upon before he rung a bell by the desktop.
No sooner than the bell's tinkling chime echoed throughout the hidden room, a figure entered from a different passage connected to another mechanism outside.
The figure was garbed fully in a brown cloak with the hood pulled up over the head to conceal all features. In the figure's hands was a report that was handed to Honest to preside over.
Humming, Honest narrowed his eyes on the latest information he'd been given, and craned his neck up to stare up at his informant.
"Esdeath retreated?" He inquired for more details.
The informant was more than willing to elaborate, and inclined his head while speaking. "From the reports, she's the one who took the initiative, and no one can understand why, let alone muster the courage to ask her."
It was a very Esdeath-like behaviour, and it didn't surprise Honest all that much. The general had always been one go about things at her own pace, like a predator toying with its prey. Honest would let her have her fun, and in turn, there was a tacit understanding between them to respect their boundaries.
No matter. If Esdeath retreated, she must have judged that something was unfavourable to her that need not be explained to the weak or those who wouldn't understand.
What Honest prioritized now was the reaction of his adversaries.
Light glinted over Honest's eyes as he leaned his body forward on his desk and gestured for the informant to pass over anymore reports. A few more were soon passed over, and Honest skimmed over the contents before grimacing.
"The new Emperor and the coalition that follow him, they are heading to the capital?" Honest creased his brows, a sneer forming over his lips. If they thought he'd easily rescind the power and authority he'd worked his entire life to accumulate, then they were in for a tragedy.
"That is indeed the case." The informant did not deny the statement. "Scouts indicate that they are mobilizing and are on route."
It was here that the informant paused while Honest was taking everything in. Clearing his throat, the informant ventured a suggestion.
"Shall we proceed with deploying that covert assassination unit?"
"Ah yes, you mean the Jaegers?" Honest grinned in thought. Many of the members that constitute the Jaeger hunting team were groomed into lethal specialized weapons. Their deployment was the equivalent of unleashing a dagger into the hearts of the enemy specialists, as was their intended purpose.
Honest ruffled a hand through his beard before grunting. "Last I recall, we were just waiting on Esdeath's decision to act as the leader. Well, how is it?"
"She did?" Honest blinked. How unexpected. Considering Esdeath's general disposition, this wasn't a decision Honest had thought Esdeath would make. "Was there any reason why?"
"She insists that her battleground is in the Capital, and not leading a specialized team. In her words, 'the scale is too small for us,' and 'she wasn't the one meant to chase,' and as such, she blatantly refused."
Honest didn't quite understand, but this wasn't the first time he'd dealt with Esdeath's whims. Even hunting dogs can be spoiled once in a while by their owners.
"No matter. It just means my position in the capital is only further secured." Honest considered himself prudent and at ease. "Esdeath is a bloodthirsty beast, but if you know how to direct it, even the most vicious beast will have its use. Let her do as she pleases, and she will no doubt perform beyond expectation. Restrain her, and well, none have lived to tell the tale."
The informant crossed his arms and pressed his back to lean up against a wall. The man be acting as an informant, but it wasn't as if he wasn't a person of standing in the Empire.
"Then should we dissolve the Jaeger initiative and proceed with Wild Hunt?" The informant suggested. "Your son has been searching for opportunities to prove himself, and there's no greater opportunity here than in this instance."
"No," Honest refused, less out of familial concern and more out of a matter of efficiency. If they had pieces that could already be used for a purpose, there was no need to waste other tools. "Continue with the Jaeger initiative, and select a suitable leader from the remaining members. Esdeath or not, they should be able to eliminate high profile targets as necessary before expending their usefulness. That, or die trying in the glory of the Empire."
A cruel smile spread over Honest's lips, but it vanished in the next when he considered that failure here could mean his future ousting.
The informant accepted the words, and relayed a message to subordinates he had stationed outside. He then returned his attention on Honest.
"What should be done now?" The informant inquired, fingers impatiently rapping against his forearms. "Civil War is coming, and public opinion will not favour the child Emperor. Even the loyalists may rebel or sit on the fence if the blood of the late Emperor flows in both candidates, let alone that stubborn Budo."
Honest didn't answer, but remained unphased while languidly opening a drawer by his desk to pull out two empty liquor glasses, and a bottle of wine.
"Prime Minister?" The Informant griped.
Honest was in no rush and gingerly poured himself a cup, before doing the same for the other glass.
"Wars are not fought without motive," Honest said while pushing the other glass to the informant. "When the spear of the masses is aimed in the wrong direction, we need only orchestrate a means to redirect it. As it is now, it's far more likely that the common rabble that dominate the majority of the legion armies would sooner see the capital burn than defend it."
The informant stared at the offered wine, and then to Honest, before grudgingly picking up the glass.
"Are you not worried, Minister?" The informant asked while swirling the wine discontentedly.
"Worried? No. Not with this kind of traditionally rigid opponent."
The grin over Honest's face grew more twisted, features crinkling in mirth.
"Let me tell you a story. Do you remember former minister Chouri? He is one such example of the traditionally rigid type." Honest too began to swirl the contents of the wine in his glass, letting the mellow scent of alcohol pervade. "You should remember him, yes? Though Chouri was beloved by the people, he was still ousted by me. He stubbornly chose policies and referendums for the Empire and its people, while I chose to consolidate the authority of law to a select few already in power. The result is needless to say. I am here, and he is not. Trust and confidence are a struggle to build, but ties built between mutual greed and desire are what produce results."
The informant digested the words, and then blankly stared at Honest. "You mean to say that the New Emperor is just another Chouri? An elderly politician? Others will not see it that way. The blood of the Royal Family flows through his veins, and the armaments of the Empire itself are wielded by him. He has the sword that has never seen defeat, and the shield that protects the followers behind. Recent accounts describe the sword in the new Emperor's hands as nothing less than the will of the Empire itself. How exaggerated. Fear must have clouded their minds. Still, the weapons may not be the real armaments from legend, but they are symbols which will rally support. The tide of victory does not favour us."
Honest listened, but his expression remained unchanged.
The informant had been right.
Honest was viewing Shirou as just another Chouri. Someone not worth taking too seriously. The actions Shirou was taking were no better than the old minister.
"It's true that those who fight righteously in the light earn the admiration and loyalty of the masses, but the old ways of chivalry and the chivalric order were abandoned for a reason." Honest sat up from his desk and placed a hand on the informant's shoulder. "Subtler, more treacherous means that play on human emotion and psychology, are far more effective in victory."
The informant shrugged off Honest's hand as he would rather get to the point. "What would you have us do, Minister?"
Honest's features now seemed to scream 'how simple,' his confidence overflowing.
If the Empire's army didn't have a motive to fight the new Emperor's succession, then make one.
"In the name of the 'rightful' ruler…Purge the slums, raid the merchant stores, secretly grant amnesty to the Empire's prolific serial murderers and rapists, and burn the outer district's stock of grains. Martyrs will be made, and we'll push the common rabble into a corner- spin it all into a ruse even; an elaborate ploy by an insidious usurper to stir unrest and weaken the Empire's ranks before confrontation. A Noble Emperor, a Kind Emperor? We'll taint that image to the point where even the light of day would not be able to clear the filth."
The informant's eyes widened in understanding before his features muted in acceptance.
All the while, Honest clinked his glass of wine with the informant's and grinned.
"A toast then…to the Tyrant Emperor."
Deep within a secluded district of the Empire's capital, a demure woman of short stature sat on a roof with her legs dangling from the edge, her feet swaying. She wore a black sailor's unform with red trimmings on her sleeves and collar, and dark stocking were worn over her legs that reached up to her thighs.
Shoulder-length raven locks and piercing red eyes stared up at the setting sun before squinting at the figure of a bird flying overhead.
Soon enough, the bird, a pigeon, landed on a designated perch beside the woman with a parcel of paper wrapped around its leg.
Gingerly, the woman felt a twinge of uncertainty well up from within her, before she smothered it all at once. As ominous of a gut feeling as she was having about all this, she'd been taught and trained to smother personal sentiments in favour of executing tasks and orders. This instance was no different.
She wasn't like the one who betrayed the Empire.
She sneered, hands gripping onto her skirt before they slackened.
…She wasn't like the one who left her.
For a moment, the woman trembled, a lump forming in her throat before she shook it off. She was terribly afraid, but just couldn't show it. Dead weight would only be taken out in her division.
The woman scanned her eyes over the most recent notice from the Empire executives before entering the building she was seated above, and directly burning the contents of the message in a fire. She then meandered her way towards an inner meeting room, her features growing colder and colder until they were utterly impassive.
Swinging the door of the meeting room open, a group of gathered team members seated in various locations in the sparsely decorated room all perked up at once.
Without pause, the woman delivered the news she'd just received with features eerily similar to Akame's.
"We have a mission."
Thanks for reading, and thanks to my newest patrons: Michael H, Francsico S, Zero2Sanity, B-rad, Cody G, Kevin L, and Frank!
Next update: Fate Hero and Sword
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?