There weren't many things that could detract from the overall momentum of the current civil war, but complacency was certainly one of them. And Shirou was not about to make this mistake when he himself knew that he was presently at his most vulnerable, lacking magic energy.
He constantly kept his vigilance, relying on the bolstering effect of the sword he held in hand, and the bare minimum of Reinforcement to keep his body moving in working order.
Ahead of him spanned the capital's inner walls, and beyond that was the royal palace he was intent on reaching. The moment he managed to enter, he would locate the Child Emperor, separate him from Honest's influence, and then oust Honest for his treachery. That was the current plan at its bare bones, but ensuring its completion was the complex part.
The capital streets were scarce of people along the outer perimeter. He theorized that many more prominent members of the capital had already retreated at the first sign of conflict. Moreover, it would likely have been a shock to suddenly see all the outer wall's defenders disappear into his Reality Marble.
At least, this was the reasoning he used to justify how empty it felt while progressing through the streets. He was acting as part of a vanguard unit while Elaine and Chouri fortified the positions they'd taken at the capital's outer walls. This meant organizing their members and securing their supply lines with their allies from Wakoku while preventing any chance of sabotage or counter attack.
This didn't mean that Shirou was acting on his own though. Members of Night Raid who were nimble enough to join Shirou would help spearhead a route to the royal palace.
Chelsea, from another Night Raid branch, hung back to relay their position to Elaine and Chouri at all times. In war, communication and positioning were key instruments to victory, and wherever trail Shirou blazed, the others would then follow.
The plan itself sounded rather simple, but it was made with the basis of Shirou's capabilities as a 'Wizard' to blow through all opposition.
Honestly, Shirou felt that they were giving him far too much credit…and it showed.
"You don't look nervous at all," Lubbock clicked his tongue at Leone who was near Sheele, Mine, and Bulat. He was acting as the group's forward scout by extending the wires of his Teigu out as bastardized feelers.
Meanwhile, Shirou was positioned in the center of the squad with Selka, Akame, and Najenda pulling the rear.
Leone stuck her tongue out, amused at Lubbock cursing at her. Leone wasn't stupid. She knew Lubbock was right to be cautious, but Leone couldn't help it with how well things were going.
"Why would I when we have the emperor on our side?" She joked, jabbing an elbow at Shirou who was maintaining a brisk pace with the rest of them.
He winced, and it was only then that Leone grew sheepish. Not everyone had Teigu that enhanced their bodies like she did, so she lightened up.
Still, it didn't mean she didn't think her point was valid. She called out to Lubbock, her arms crossing, expression smug to the point that her lack of tension made her look animated. "Shirou beat Esdeath, who else do we have to worry about in the capital other than the fat pig? Even if Honest still has his secret guard, Shirou'll just do that thing again- and oh yeah, what even was that? I can't be the only one still thinking about it?"
Leone huffed while recalling that Shirou had yet to even give an explanation. On that many others agreed.
Looking around him, it was clear to Shirou that he wasn't getting out of this without some sort of explanation. However, an actual explanation was going to go over their heads, so he went with something that was the closest estimate to what they could consider the truth.
"It's my personal armory. Any weapon or item I'd ever need is in there, and with enough magic energy, I can pull others into it."
"So, like," Chelsea, who'd been listening in the back, widened her eyes. "You walk around with all of those?"
Wasn't that obvious? A Reality Marble was a reflection of his inner world to begin with.
"Where do you think I keep every weapon I use?" He asked rhetorically.
Many thought back to the opening scenes of the capital's siege, and the world they saw.
It was not lost that practically all of those armaments in the 'armory,' were Teigu. No wonder the Empire had shown such dominance in the past if the blood of the Emperor had access to such equipment. In fact, from the sheer scale of the armory, it wouldn't be far-fetched that the first Emperor arbitrarily stated a specific number of Teigu to mislead his enemies!
Najenda's eyes glinted, while Chelsea was sure that this information would stun even the most composed of commanders and rulers if it got out to the public.
Shirou was uncomfortable with the way the others were looking at him, but it was more bearable than the alternative. In truth, the Empire's history was not that complex. What was, was trying to explain magic theory to those who had no foundation or need to even know.
Regardless, when he saw the gleam in their eyes, specifically, Najenda and Lubbock, he decided to put a stop to any ideas on how it could be used to infiltrate the royal palace.
"Don't get too excited." Shirou spoke up, shaking his head. "It probably won't show up again."
"B-But why?" Leone whined. It was clear that she, like a few others including Mine, were already counting their chickens before they'd hatched.
"I'm low on magic energy." He said without mercy, smiling wryly at their disappointment. "I don't even have enough left to fix my arm let alone deploy the armory again. My current equipment is all I have left."
Akame kept a straight face at the reply. Subtly, she shifted the make-shift bandage she had used to bind the stab wound on her chest. It still stung, and any strenuous movements risked reopening it, but it was currently bearable. Knowing Shirou, he'd force some sort of healing Teigu out if it was to the benefit of anyone other than himself. If he was willing to suffer through his mangled left arm, then she could put up with her own injuries.
It was at this moment that Najenda hummed in thought.
"You said 'probably.'" She pointed out. "How does that work if your magic energy is low? Does it have anything to do with why you faint?"
Shriou stiffened, nearly stumbling by half-a-step.
Damn, how perceptive.
His expression turned grim if barely for an instant.
However, everyone around him were assassins or killers in one way or another. Their perception could not be underestimated. All had noticed the subtle change in Shirou's expression at Najenda's conjecture and grew pensive.
They grew silent, their stares pressuring for an answer in their own way.
Too bad, he did not give one. This wasn't their burden to carry or fret over in this instance, but his.
"How long will it take to reach the castle if we follow the main road?" Shirou changed the subject by using a more pressing issue; something no one failed to frown over.
Regardless, Najenda was a professional.
"If it's the main road, it's likely to be heavily guarded and fortified, and if you're really low on magic energy, then that makes you no different than any of us. We'll have to tread carefully, and that means going around, or taking the time to pierce through with safety as a focus."
"I know a quicker way." Leone pointed in a direction leading away from the main road, and towards the side streets and grungy alleys.
"You mean the slums?" Mine asked, raising her brow. Well, it certainly was viable.
Leone nodded as someone who knew her fair share of slum life.
"I know these slums like the back of my hand. So just follow me."
Leone overtook Lubbock and led the way.
Wave did not know how far he'd retreated from the Capital's outerwalls, but what he did know was that he still didn't feel comfortable even at his current distance. His heart beat rapidly in his chest, and a part of him couldn't help but keep constantly looking over his shoulder.
It was a miracle he'd even managed to escape.
From the moment that world he was pulled into began to break down and shatter, Wave was well aware that he and Kurome would have been besieged by the enemy force if they didn't immediately run.
Unknown to Wave, but it was the white light over his head that gave the enemy forces pause in their pursuit, giving him the opportunity to escape.
Ever since, he'd been on a desperate dash to safety by overextending the stamina consumed by his Teigu, wrapped around him like armor. His breaths came out hoarse, and his arms and legs felt numb.
It was only when he reached the capital's inner walls that he felt safe enough to disengage his Teigu and reposition Kurome, who he'd been carrying, into a seated position. He leaned her back against a wall and tried to pull away, but Kurome clung to him.
She didn't let go of his arm, and was still in a state of shock.
Kurome's hands clenched tightly, her features pale, pupils dilated.
"Easy, easy." Wave coaxed, wincing from her fingers digging into his skin through his shirt. He knelt in front of her, and leveled his gaze with her own. "You're safe. You're safe, alright? We got away."
He didn't know how long they spent like this, but color soon began to return to Kurome's complexion before she slowly let go, leaned back, and covered her face with her hands. She was shaking, her legs shot, and gaze peeking through her fingers unfocused.
Wave was concerned, but didn't know what to say, let alone if he could even say anything with what had just happened. It was while Wave was dwelling on this issue that he tensed when someone landed near him, only to exclaim in pleasant surprise.
"Seryu," Wave breathed out a sigh of relief upon verifying that Seryu was also okay. She was bruised and bleeding in some places, but overall, she looked more mentally drained than anything. However, Wave wasn't about to let that get in the way of his fussing. "Thank goodness you made it out as well."
"I followed right behind you," Seryu said, gaze downcast.
Wave was not having it. At times he could come off as increasingly naive, but he'd always been perceptive regarding the feelings of others. If it was Seryu, then the reason for her to be upset was-
"Are you blaming yourself for running?" Wave couldn't bring himself to believe it, but Seryu's sad nod said otherwise. Wave felt like pulling at his hair. Was her life so fickle?
"The general and the defending army were defeated." He stressed. "There was no point in making a last stand there for any of us. We took the best choice to regroup. Now, we have to come up with some sort of countermeasure."
Seryu made a reply, but Kurome spoke out first as if she was mumbling to herself.
"W-What even was that?" Kurome whispered fearfully, terror causing her to stammer as she cradled her head between her hands.
Wave and Seryu fell quiet. Everyone understood that the outcome would have been far different if the defenders had access to the outer wall's canons and munitions. Instead, it became a field battle where the enemies dominated in both equipment, and leading general.
Worst of all, was the sheer versatility and lethality of that place. Even while fighting Esdeath, those swords seemed to move and strike with a life of their own.
"That was like another world." Wave muttered, recalling the observation he'd made. "We, no; everyone, even the general, were dragged into a death trap."
Seryu had to agree. Kurome pursed her lips.
The question of 'how you face that' was beyond all three of them.
"The rumors must have been true then. We are dealing with something not known since the founding of the Empire." A voice caught all three off guard, but more in a pleasant way. "A Wizard who can wield the miracle that is magic."
"Run!" Wave's eyes lit up in excitement as he turned towards the voice's owner.
Run was the official designated leader of the Jaegers. He was a collected blond-haired man dressed primarily in white military garb down to the boots. Clipped by his ears were what looked like winged trinkets that were, in fact, his Teigu. More importantly, his intellect and insight were undisputed in the Jaegers. Surely, if it was him, he had some sort of plan!
Sadly, this wasn't the case as even Run's expression was blank in the face of the hope Wave was directing at him.
The group fell into silence, each digesting their own thoughts before Seryu began moving. She kept peering over the edge of the inner wall where she could see the enemy side creating forward command bases and taking positions by the capital's main road. Of course, her main focus was on Shirou who's armor and bearings made it impossible for him not to stand out.
Seryu creased her brows, and began readying her gear. A stuffed toy bear-like thing made its way to sit on Seryu's shoulder, Seryu absently petting it with her index finger.
"Seryu, what do you think you're doing?" Wave called out, watching as Seryu began rummaging through her gear before re-arming herself.
She looked at him, and then everyone else looked at her as if she was crazy.
"There's something I want to do, and we can't just stand here and do nothing," she finished strapping on her imperial police combat vest, and then gave a cheeky grunt. "I'm not the smartest, okay? But I know that after what happened at the front gates, our forces need time to reorganize."
Wave read between the lines, and considered Seryu's prior guilt for their failure to hold the front. "Don't tell me-"
"Yeah, I'll buy that time. Too much is at stake, and too many people we are sworn to protect are in danger." Seryu balled her hands into fists, spurred into action through her own conviction. "…In the end, justice will surely prevail."
Seryu made to jump off the top of the inner wall. From here, they could all see how Shirou and his group had broken off from the main road to make a detour through the slums.
She was going to get herself killed!
"Let her go, Wave." Run blocked Wave and shook his head. In some ways, he could understand Seryu's feelings better than Run who was focusing on her safety. "There are some things you can only come to understand on your own. This is what she wants. We're soldiers. If we are to die, we should at least do it on our own terms."
Run stared directly at Wave before Wave looked to Seryu and found her nodding all the same.
T-There was just no reasoning with them here.
"Be careful." Wave said dispiritedly, feeling that her chances were far from good. "If you're really just trying to buy time, then you must avoid head-on confrontation with the enemy leader at all costs. We…We can't beat what he did at the walls, so don't even try. Just focus on surviving."
Seryu smiled wryly. As to why? She didn't even know herself. Just that it was clear that Wave didn't know her well enough yet. There was only one place she was going right now. "Justice doesn't compromise, but thanks, Wave."
She nodded at Wave regardless, but he wasn't the only one to give advice.
"If you ask me, I'd only act if an opportunity presents itself." Run saw right through Seryu. "Assassination before the enemy can deploy his magic is likely our best hope of victory against a Wizard. Good luck."
Seryu nodded one more time before she leapt off the inner wall.
Wave and Kurome could only watch as Seryu's figure soon disappeared into the winding dilapidated paths of the Empire's slum district, her intentions now more than evident to Wave who cursed.
Shortly after Seryu's departure, Run looked ready to do the same.
"Where are you heading?" Wave didn't want to admit it, but he felt more comfortable with Run around to give direction to the Jaegers.
"Admittedly, I can't just remain here myself," Run explained before realizing he probably needed to be more specific when Wave gave him a hard stare. He chuckled despite his low spirits. "I'm going to see if Bols managed to get out alive in that hellscape."
Wave blinked. Unlike Seryu's motivations, he could agree with this.
Run snorted, reading Wave's emotional ups and downs like an open book.
Run's Teigu quite literally granted him wings.
With a flutter of white feathers, Run used his Teigu and glided off. He quickly descended to the ground where he began to move covertly between the buildings. He was not foolish enough to fly openly and welcome enemy aggression.
Left on their own, Kurome finally managed to kill her expression and revert to an uncaring facade.
"Wave, we need to get going too," she urged, not realizing that her condition was any better just because she'd composed her features.
"You're still trembling." Wave mercilessly pointed out. "I'm not about to let you go anywhere like that, and besides, we need a bit of rest to recover from the strain of using our Teigu, you more than me."
Wave was right, and Kurome knew it. But, the problem was that the longer she had to sit still, the more she kept thinking.
"Was the general really defeated?" Kurome tried to make small talk, but was practically shit at it. Her opening topic wasn't exactly an uplifting one.
Wave sighed. If the fire still burning in the distance wasn't enough of a reminder of what happened to the general, then nothing else was. "You already know the answer to that, Kurome. Just focus on yourself and try to recover as much as you can."
That was the thing though. She didn't want to focus on herself…
After all, she felt anxious at the prospect that the Empire could actually lose. The shackles that bound her to the current Empire had never felt so brittle.
More than anything, why?
Why did she do that?
Kurome could still see the figure of her sister saving her life just before Kurome stabbed her in the back.
Was it worth it? If the general was defeated, and only Honest was left, then there really was a chance for the current Empire to be overturned.
The hope Kurome had been refusing to see in Akame's eyes pierced her conscience like sharp knives. Her elder sister was reaching out to her, but she was the one who'd kept rejecting that hand.
Wave and Kurome perked up, their gazes shifting towards a man marching towards them accompanied by Empire soldiers. Wave looked puzzled, but Kurome was clenching her teeth in growing reproach.
"You're both from the Jaegers, right?" The man leered. "You bastards failed to keep the front even with the General on your side. And now, you stand here watching instead of returning to combat? How ridiculous!"
His name was Syura, the son of Prime Minister Honest. His pale hair was spiked up, creating a widow's peaks with long bangs framing his face. An X-shaped scar was cut over the bridge of his nose, and his eyes twinkled with malice. He wore a form fitting white wife-beater, and his hands were in the pockets of his baggy trousers.
Syura spat in contempt.
"That's why I said the Jaeger's were useless."
Wave bristled at the accusation. A person who did not experience that battlefield has no right to look down on their efforts. He gnashed his teeth. "In all respect Sir, but-"
Kurome cut Wave off before he could go at Syura, shaking her head, and gesturing for him to not even try much to his frustration.
Fortunately, even if Syura noticed Wave's actions, his attention was focused elsewhere. Specifically, at the enemy he and his father needed to eliminate the most.
Just like Wave, Run, Seryu, and Kurome had seen before, Syura was tracking Shirou's movements through the gaudy armor he was wearing. It was like he was going out of his way to show that he was fighting openly. Then again, he was a Wizard that had the ability to be so daring.
"They're diverting from the main road?" Syura mused. "But if they still intend to make their way to the Royal Palace, then-"
Syura narrowed his eyes, his gaze predicting that path Shirou and the others were taking before the edges of his lips curved up. "Oh, cutting through the slums?"
Syura grunted before he pulled one of the Empire soldiers next to him by the scruff of his neck.
"Hey, are those charges still in place from before?" Syura questioned.
"C-Charges?" Wave muttered under his breath. He immediately grew alarmed. Oddly, he knew nothing about what Syura was implying, but Kurome didn't look surprised in the least.
"Yes," the soldier answered.
"Good," Syura grinned. "Then blow it up."
B-Blow it up. Wave thought fast, before it clicked. There was only one palace with any merit to blow up, and that was the location the primary enemy was in.
And that meant the slu-! Shit.
"Wave." Kurome slapped a hand over Wave's mouth and forcibly muffled his outburst before anyone could really take notice.
Wave indignantly peeled Kurome's hand away from him. "But there's still people in there and Seryu, she's-"
Kurome could not meet Wave's eyes. She was a coward through and through. Speaking out now, exhausted and mentally drained as they were, would only mean their death at Syura's hands! Syura was already looking at them, daring them to give him the chance.
Struck by Kurome's panic, Wave clenched his fists tight enough to draw blood.
A heartbeat later, and reverberating explosions echoed throughout the Empire's slums.
One second Shirou was running alongside Akame and the others, and in the next, he was dashing ahead to throw Leone back as his intuition warned him of danger.
Leone had been leading from the front by a couple feet, acting as both a scout through the slums and a guide. This distance was crossed by Shirou in an instant before anyone could react, and right there and then, the scent of gunpowder wafted as the earth rumbled.
In a split-second, Shirou curled his body, arms raising to shield his head before the force of numerous explosions struck at all sides. It was only by virtue of Reinforcing his armour beforehand that only several dents and scorch marks were left on him. In fact, some of the debris from falling buildings broke over him rather than crush him underneath.
He groaned, wiping the dirt and grime that clung to his face from the rising dust clouds.
Standing up, he felt his body groaning. A majority of him was still reeling from his bout against Esdeath, but his own stubborn will was what was keeping him up on his feet.
Glancing back from where he had come from, he sighed.
He had thrown Leone out of the way of the explosion, but grimly realized that in saving her, he'd been isolated from all of the others by several layers of collapsed infrastructure. He should have been worried, really, but he was fairly certain that none of them had gotten caught up in the blast with Lubbock there.
Prior to the explosion, he had seen Lubbock use the wires of his Teigu to pull in several pieces of debris that he used to shield everyone. Originally, Shirou would have been included in this shield, but Leone who was too far ahead would have been excluded.
In essence, he had simply traded places with Leone. He didn't know how well she'd survive if she was the one struck rather than him, so he acted before he put in much consideration. In hindsight, he kind of felt sorry now that he thought about it.
Leone must be feeling incredibly guilty.
No, more than that, she's likely being pressured heavily by the others for suggesting this route. The main road would have taken longer and would obviously be more defended, but there was no risk of dilapidated buildings and narrow alleys falling over your head and burying you alive. Moreover, as soon as Elaine and Chouri finished with setting up forward bases at the capital's outer walls, they could reinforce themselves with the support of their allies.
Shirou could only shake his head. Hindsight was easy after the fact, never before.
Understanding that he was alone, he knew it was in his best interest to regroup.
Turning to make his way back, the scene before him gave Shirou pause. From how quiet it had been when he and the others had been following Leone, he'd thought this part of the slums was abandoned, but no, this wasn't the case.
For a moment, Shirou saw red.
There were people buried in the rubble, their arms flailing to push aside dust and debris just to breathe. Then there were the screams, the suffering, and the sobbing. There was no fire, but the sentiment to his own past struck too close to home for Shirou not to feel anything and just walk away. No. Never again.
Instead of making his way out and circling back to rendezvous with the others, he began to detour.
"Here, take my hand."
He reached out to those he could find still buried in the rubble. His fingers grew dirty and ached from sharp splinters, but he didn't stop trying to free those he could see suffering before him. Many were in shock, and didn't even register his actions.
Some, still standing in a daze, wore blank expressions as he patted the dust off their clothes to see if they were injured. Many were, but the drive to live and copious amounts of adrenaline menat most could still move.
"It's alright. It's going to be alright. Just follow me," he tried coaxing them, soon gathering a small crowd.
He then had to find a path for everyone to make their way out of the wreckage.
By chance, he saw a father staring vacantly at a red patch between a piece of timber wedged between two crumbled buildings. In his hands was a small doll, and in the other, a torn paper bag that permeated with the smell of expired bread. Blood was trickling into a small pool beneath the wedge the man stared hollowly at, the figure of an adolescent crushed into paste evident from the sheer volume of red.
Shirou called out to him, but the man didn't respond and just stood there in his grief. That man was already dead. There was no light in his eyes.
"Damn it," Shirou cursed. He had no time to even try to persuade the man when too many were still calling for aid.
There was no other choice but to move on. With the more people he helped, more were willing to help rescue others, amassing a crowd that numbered over a dozen. It was tragic. Shirou could see many limbs, but not many that were moving.
His mood was terrible, but his legs continued step after step, growing with determination. Honest's rule had to be put down.
Eventually, he led everyone away from the worst of the wreckage, and moved towards a clearing where the debris let up back into a mainstreet.
It was here, just as they reached the edges of the slum district that Shirou encountered another survivor. At the end of the clearing, he stumbled into a woman trapped beneath several wooden beams with only her head and left arm visible.
She was breathing, but it was clear that several of her bones were either fractured or broken. Her brown hair was matted over her forehead, filled with cold sweat that made it look greasy. Her breaths came out in wheezes that almost turned into panicked hisses when she inevitably saw him.
"Koro!" She yelled to no avail.
Shirou wasn't sure what the woman thought would happen, but the amount of debris and rubble that littered the area was too much for anything to plow through quickly.
He glanced at the gray light shining over the woman's head, and then paused before approaching her. She tensed instantly, but grew mute when Shirou moved to help free her. Using his good arm, he wedged it between the two beams trapping her, and began to pull. Sure enough, the woman's other arm was freed, but her lower body was still stuck.
However, by freeing her other arm, the emblem of the uniform she was wearing became increasingly evident.
"Imperial Police," Shirou said while recognizing the symbol in front of him. It was something Leone had made him learn the last time he'd visited the Empire's capital, mostly to avoid them.
The woman's features hardened at Shirou's words, but more than anything, her expression became muddled when she peered behind him.
Specifically, she glanced at the crowd he was leading at his back with morbid fascination. It was like her mind couldn't process it specifically because they were just normal citizens and not rebels.
"...What are you doing?" The woman blurted, muscles tense, and jaw set.
"What does it look like?" Shirou replied, trying to see if he could get a better angle to free the woman. He held her wrist to see if she was in good enough condition for him to just wrench her out, but she batted his hand back.
"You're the enemy! Rebels of the Empire!" She accused, looking like she'd rather die than submit.
Shirou's lip twitched. He was expecting something like this from the moment he noticed the gray light over her head, but decided that he'd at least try to reason. Gray at least deserved a chance.
"So that makes whatever the Empire does, right?" Shirou hissed. "Moreover, what makes us rebels and traitors?"
The woman practically had an answer recited.
"You're attacking the capital, disobeying its laws, and disregarding the rule of the Royal Family that's aided by the minds of its wise advisors! Justice stands on the side of the people who enforce the laws meant to keep the innocent safe! Those who can't see that are just evil and deserve nothing less than death."
Shirou clenched his jaw, his expression twisting into something fierce, cold.
"This…is safe?" He gestured to the wreckage, to the injured, and dying. And to even the woman herself who ended up this way due to her own 'allies.' The woman had no response.
Moreover, there was something that Shirou needed to clarify. "I, a blood member of the Royal Family, am a traitor?"
Unexpectedly, the woman nodded sternly with eyes so full of certainty that it made Shirou doubtful.
"Lies! The Prime Minister said you're here to force our Emperor's abdication! Even if you're a blood member, that's open rebellion!"
Silence stretched for a moment, before incredulous laughter broke out of Shirou's mouth. This must be how EMIYA had felt when dealing with those who couldn't think for themselves.
Shirou looked the woman dead in the eyes. "Your Emperor was the one who invited me to the capital, intending on giving me his position."
"W-What?" The woman flinched. "That's not-!"
Shirou suddenly tensed, drawing his sword and rounding behind him.
Sparks grated as a bullet was cut in half, ricocheting into the rubble.
Many more came after.
D-Dammit. He was lying! It was all a lie, this bastard!
Seryu's eyes grew red, blood dripping from her lips from biting down too hard.
Koro, where was Koro?
Seryu needed him to dig her out if she wanted to even consider escaping this wreckage, but even now, she could feel that Koro was still trying to make his way to her.
Seryu could tell what was happening from the moment the first bullet resounded.
With the slums flattened, there were no longer any tall buildings that could obscure the sight of the mounted artillery of the capital's inner walls. It was clear that someone had ordered a shelling with no consideration for allies, enemies, or innocents.
She was going to die.
Seryu flinched, covering her face with a bruised arm as dust kicked up into the air by shrapnel obscured the area in front of her. And yet, a haze of tranquil blue continued to trace elegant lines through the dirt and dust, regal armor groaning with showers of sparks. Briefly, a tattered mantle continued to billow in the onslaught, guided by a sword that shone with a light of a moonlit lake.
Shells and casings were torn in half, cut apart with unerring accuracy and determination. The split halves were redirected on either side of the man's back, exploding with the ignition of gunpowder that had Seryu's ears reverberating even now.
Seryu's thoughts felt like they were in a jumble, her hands balling into fists before losing strength to do even that in her uncertainty.
Up in the inner walls, canons and gunfire continued to pepper down, but the enemy before her wasn't moving to evade at all. It must have been exhausting. His body would have been bruised and battered with every swing and impact, and yet that man remained firm. His knees were trembling, his grip seemed slack, and yet his feet never once knew of rest; his lone arm blurring into a mirage of blue-lit steel despite the sweat beading over his face.
Seryu closed her eyes to it, but nothing changed even then. She could still hear it, feel it even. The desperation and the goal that motivated that man to keep strong inevitably moved her to reopen her eyes. She could not avert her gaze from the truth of what was happening.
Behind him stood her and a crowd of onlookers whose lives would be erased from a single error in timing and interception on his part. He could have left, sought cover of any sort, but he remained to be the cover that would weather the storm of shells and shrapnel for those that couldn't.
He was…protecting them?
He called himself the rightful Emperor. All reports verified that he truly was a member of the Royal Family who represented the Empire and its citizens himself.
Sparks grated endlessly with a fiery orange glow.
His convictions, his gaze that had spoken of no lies or hesitation even in the face of an enemy, why was it so different from Honest, the wise minister? Why? Why?!
Every bullet was getting intercepted, cut, and harmlessly deflected to the sides. He was pulling the impossible off through sheer technique with the sword in his hand alone.
A Peerless Knight.
Seryu could feel her heart beating fast, her chest constricting in a denial that was steadily chipped away with every passing second she stared at the figure before her. His back was broad, his armor gradually turning into tatters, and yet his conviction only grew stronger to the point an unfounded belief began to build.
So long as he stood there, no harm would come to those that remained behind him.
What was good? What was evil? The answer had always been clear. The Empire was right, and all others were in the wrong. She was right to execute all its enemies. But in this case, the enemy was also the blood of the Emperor- and what about what was said before?
The child Emperor wished to abdicate? But Honest said-
Blue light traced from the edge of a blade continued to intercept every strike again, again, and again. He was doing this all with one arm.
With a body that was surely aching, with muscles that were surely screaming, the expression on his face never once considered retreat.
Seryu swallowed, reminded of the old fairy tales of heroes and knights spoken of so long ago by her bedside.
The stories that embody the principle of righteousness and conviction that she'd always taken to the extreme. She was seeing it right here, first hand.
She glanced at the other people protected by the actions of a single man and could see only admiration and heartfelt gratitude. Some were sobbing, others were wiping their tears, trying to remain strong, but all were looking forward with a gaze that spoke more than a thousand words.
Seryu could not even count them as evil or enemies as they were Empire citizens who didn't even stand on the side of the rebels. Such people were making 'that' sort of expression at someone who was evil?
Seryu pursed her lips. To them, they were definitely seeing what she had always imagined as a child absorbed in the world of a storybook.
The man before them, was surely, an Ally of-
Seryu's tense features finally crumpled into genuine confusion.
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The Lonely Peak
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