A messenger bird flew across the sky before gliding towards its perch where its handler stood waiting to unravel the note wrapped around the bird's foot.

The room smelt of ruffled feathers and bird poop not cleaned since the last time the owner of the dukedom was killed in the blood purge, and the servants ran free.

Much of the Baharuth Empire's long standing foundations were severely understaffed, but some bare-bone and essential facilities were maintained. Messenger birds or animals were useful in that they could spy on rival countries without triggering any magic detection spells that would alert the enemy.

It was a rather common practice, but that which was made only more significant due to the existence of druids, nuisances all of them.

The man attending to the messenger bird quickly read the note before transcribing the contents into another letter which was then attached to a new messenger bird.

Releasing the bird, it flew towards the next relay coop; the process repeated until the message eventually reached Baharuth's palace, and into the hands of the Bloody Emperor.

"Hmm," Jircniv hummed in thought, the message being read aloud to him as he ruminated on the matter on a couch. Servants-in-waiting fanned him with large sails made of feathers on either side of him while he idly rested a hand beneath his chin.

"So the letter was true after all," he mused, thinking about the warning of an impending attack on the capital.

Many of Jircniv's advisors had warned him to ignore the letter's contents, but he'd always been rather prudent and readied an honor guard to heighten the Empire's security. Results reveal that he hadn't been wrong to be cautious, just that his capital wasn't the one that suffered an assault, but that of his Empire's rival nation.

"A Demon? Jaldaboath?" Jircniv muttered while listening to the report of an insider Baharuth had planted into Re-Estize. "Well, it matters little if it was handled by adventurers already."

"Reports vary your majesty," The messenger shook her head, squinting her eyes at the text in front of her to make sure she was seeing it right. "Some claim that the victory's credit was not due solely to the efforts of adventurers and capital guards, but from a Demon Slayer of some sort that intervened. Moreover, further digging revealed that Jaldaboath may not actually have been defeated."

Jircniv sat up and raised a hand to signal the servants on either side of him to stop fanning. Another gesture had them leave as he grew more attentive.

"Explain," he said.

"The Demon might have retreated, or more likely, the Jaldaboath in the capital was merely a representative rather than the true Demon itself. This does not bode well if the estimates of the strength of the Demon and its followers proves true.

Jircniv began to consider the possibility of recurring attacks not only in Re-Estize, but in his Empire as well. Then, analyzing his Empire's defensive response to a demon invasion, he suddenly felt as if his preparations were not thorough enough. Inadequate even if Adamantite Adventurer teams like Blue Rose were said to have struggled.

Shaking his head, Jircniv put the matter aside for further consideration, and stared at the messenger.

"Is that all?" He asked.

"That is all on this matter, your majesty."

Jircniv waved a hand, features stale.

"Inform the guard to maintain vigilance around the Empire, and to report any sightings of suspicious activity. You are dismissed."

"A moment of your time, your majesty." The messenger hesitantly paused rather than leave the room.

Jircniv raised a brow, but allowed the action. Few if any would hesitate to withhold information from him when his precedent for punishment involved blood. Plenty of it if the reputation he'd garnered from the purges was anything to go by.

"Go on?"

The messenger fumbled as she pulled out an edict issued only by the Emperor or members of a Ducal house. Hands trembling, she passed it over to Jircniv and softly explained.

"A petition from the nobles signed by two Ducal Houses, five Marquises, and numerous signatures from earls, viscounts, and barons regarding-"

"About Nero, I presume?" Jircniv played with the edict, snorting in derision.

The messenger's back straightened, her eyes staring anywhere but Jircniv's piercing expression.

"In their words, the 'unscrupulous whore you picked from the streets. All dance, no brain, severely narcissistic.' Yes. Her." She coughed. "They fear she is leading you astray. Tricked you into giving her authority of the west Empire region to claim a title as Duchess."

"I sent her to manage and quell a bandit problem in the region."

"Indeed, you did your majesty but-"

"She did so. Reports tell me she even uprooted a syndicate of the Eight Fingers that dared to traffic citizens of the Empire." Jircniv slowly tore the edict apart. In the end it was nothing but a suggestion. He had final say, and he had nothing to criticize. "She's doing quite well."

"She killed a unit of the Empire's guard!" The messenger mustered some courage from her adoration of Jircniv's progressive policies and reforms. She couldn't let him be led astray even if she incurred his ire.

"The Blood Sucker's work, and she also settled that matter by throwing money and employing some new Adventurer team."

"Y-You are blinded, my liege," the messenger trembled, balling her hands into fists.

"And you are testing my patience." Jircniv pointed the messenger to the door. A far cry from the punishment the messenger imagined after her outburst.

"Dismissed." Jircniv said.

This time, the messenger did not linger, leaving Jircniv on his own to process what he would about the latest information.

If Re-Estize's forces were weakened due to this incident, then this could bode well to prevail in the ongoing border skirmishes. Finally, there could be a chance to push into the enemy's lands and broaden the empire's borders, driving conflict further and further from the empire's native soil.

The question now was, should he?

Jircniv had always decided everything alone, but it was only in times such as these as he couldn't help but think of Nero and her unique outlook on economic and war-time matters.

Perhaps it was time to call her back, but in a way his advisors were right. He could never fully focus when Nero was around.

His eyes would always wander back to that arrogant smirk of hers every time she caught him staring. The audacity.

Gods, he missed her.

Focus. He reminded himself.

What of the heroes who saved the capital?

Sadly, the intelligence didn't reach that far.

Jircniv could only ponder and plan the Empire's next step.

An awarding ceremony was to be held in the central plaza of Re-Estize's capital where locals and citizens could see and praise their saviors.

The place was lined with crowds cheering in adulation, red banners and flags propped and billowing above the masses. A line of royal knights managed a strict perimeter as whispers of the King personally granting honors became widespread.

The contributions of those that had stood their ground and defended the capital would be met with nothing less but the highest appreciation.

Of course, differences in merit existed between the capital's heroes and the Adventurer parties that supposedly pulled out a miracle.

Blue Rose was lauded for its leadership and decisive action, many attributing its participation as the vital factor that led to victory. Such was the power of reputation and the Adamantite ranking. No matter how the leader Lakyus tried to insist that her party's role wasn't as significant, it only came off as humble to the stupid.

The stupid part was literal. She'd called them stupid, and they only cheered more for her stalwart character, embarrassing her in the presence of those whose merits eclipsed hers. She'd have wrung their necks if she could, but she'd been too preoccupied with another matter to muster the will to argue anymore.

Team Darkness, a relatively unknown Adventurer team, was the true star for the capital's victory. Through them, the Adventurers and guards had rallied under the common cause of righteousness, beliefs, and- who was she kidding?

It was greed.

All of them greedy bastards were intent on getting their grubby hands on free top-tier weapons.

Lakyus was the only one who could staunchly argue that she had not succumbed to such unfairness…No. No she was getting side tracked.

Lakyus had told the King about Team Darkness's contribution and the fact that a third-party Demon Slayer had appeared and was the one who truly rid the capital of its infestation. Subsequently, the King sent his men to find and honor the woman who saved his city, but he found nothing.

In a political maneuver to rally support and establish faith in the citizens, the King chose to conceal the truth and emphasize the victory as a collective effort.

Lakyus could only grind her teeth, but she understood.

The less competitors knew about team Darkness and its golden goose, the more secure the King would feel in monopolizing it.

Lakyus could already see it. This entire ceremony that the King would personally preside over was nothing more than a sham to endear the golden goose to the country before the jackals and snakes from rival countries took action.

Shirou was that golden goose, and Lakyus could already see him being escorted to the position of honor, front and center to where the King would grace the crowds.

Of course, Blue Rose's position was no different. They were the team directly beside Shirou.

"Bear with it," Lakyus was advising Shirou on the side in low whispers. At the front, she forced a smile while facing the cheering crowd. "It's publicity."

She could see Shirou's countenance gradually growing exhausted in the limelight.

Poor bastard. He was alone too.


Lakyus shuddered at a possibility, growing suspicious.

"Speaking of which…I don't see Sir Momon or Ms. Nabe?" Lakyus said cryptically while Evil Eye flinched next to her.

Lakyus was fishing, not foolish enough to be unable to link Evil Eye, Momon, and Nabe's common point and not connect dots. Especially with what recently happened on her side.

Sure enough, the answer came.

"We got seperated in a crowd, and I haven't seen them since with all the people trying to introduce themselves to me." Shirou answered, more than willing to pass the time by distracting himself rather than listening to droning speeches and cheers.

Lakyus and Evil Eye shared a look, a heavy air pressuring the both of them as they brooded. It was more Evil Eye than Lakyus, but the rest of her team weren't blind to the interaction.

"Hahha, that's only natural," Gagaran laughed boisterously, slapping a hand over Shirou's back when Lakyus failed to respond in time. "You're lucky we're even having the ceremony or else you'd have more Adventurers and diplomatic members tugging at your arms. Don't get me started on the merchants. Thank you by the way. I love the ax."

"Yes, thank you," Tina and Tia said in tandem as they thumbed their new daggers.

As far as Blue Rose was concerned, Shirou had done them a favor and was deserving of their acknowledgment. It was the same for Momon and Nabe, but the two were strangely absent even now. Tia, Tina, and Gagaran didn't say anything, but they were sure that the absence of his comrades was eating away at Shirou.

Call it intuition. A woman's intuition.

It's never wrong, and if it is, insist it isn't until it is. Always works.

Shirou offered a wry smile and a kurt 'you're welcome,' before he turned back to Lakyus and Evil Eye who Gagaran and the others conveniently pushed forward.

"And what about you two? You seem tense." Shirou noted.

"Them?" Tia hummed and stepped in before Lakyus or Evil Eye could even answer. Bemused, she elbowed Lakyus in the side. "Our leader and Evil Eye are just moody- and too uptight to share."

Prickle curiosity, and then sprinkle it with friendly concern: A master stroke.

"Is there something wrong?" Shirou took the bait.

Lakyus glared at her teammates, and then Shirou as she realized her allies had played her up in a bid to get her to spill. Shirou wasn't any better as his genuine concern was more pressuring than that of her scheming allies.

"Nothing." Lakyus said, tongue suddenly feeling loose due to stress. She crossed her arms and sighed when her answer prolonged the silence between them. Fine. Fine, the more they knew,the more ideas they could bounce between each other.

"Just a little discouraged." Lakyus finally admitted, slumping her shoulders. "I could only stand and watch as Evil Eye was forced into unreasonable terms after a run in with ugh-?"

Lakyus glanced down to see that Evil Eye had tugged on her sleeve and shook her head, before Lakyus grimaced.

Evil Eye hadn't spoken even once lately, too caught up in her head, but unwilling to offload her burdens on others.

"...nevermind." Lakyus relented. It really wasn't for her to say or air out a party member's woes when she was only indirectly affected. "It's not for me to say, but thank you for your concern."

Shirou could only nod, much to Gagaran, Tia, and Tina's disappointment. Evil Eye gave them the stink eye for trying to pry and then huffed.

Meanwhile, the ceremony progressed from rewarding the brave men and women that participated in the battle to those that contributed the most.

A group of three swordsmen appeared to take the stage, walking across to receive a medal each. Only one looked somewhat appreciative of it while the other two could be seen bickering.

Of the three, Blue Rose noted Shirou staring at a particular one named Sasaki.

Gagaran leaned in closer to Shirou's ear.

"Are you curious about them?" She spoke with an air of a gossiper, her arms crossing with a hint of admiration. "They're the reason a lot of us survived while holding back the horde of lesser demons and undead. Many adventures and guardsmen in the capital owe them plenty of gratitude, and I think I might recognize one. I think that's Brain Unglaus. Last I heard, he participated in a tournament against Gazeff, lost, then disappeared. As for the other two, I have no clue how people as skilled as them could remain so unknown."

"He looks like he knows one?" Tia observed, popping Shirou back into Blue Rose's limelight.

"I do," he admitted under pressure and expectation.

"Oh, going to meet them later?" Tina continued for her twin.

Shirou thought about it, but nodded.

"Bring us with you!" Gagaran insisted much to Lakyus's protests about needlessly imposing. "We haven't been able to thank them in person even after this whole mess."

"I'll think about it," Shirou conceded. "Some time later though. I have to deal with something else first, but I should free up by the evening."

"We'll hold you to that," Tina and Tia said. "But for now…it's your turn."

The ninja twins smirked as Shirou's name was called forward.

Those in the know of Shirou's capabilities immediately sat up at attention. This was the moment they were waiting for in order to lobby their cause, and this time, there was nowhere for Shirou to run and deflect!

In the end, after a long speech by the King and numerous representatives trying to drag Shirou into kingdom politics, he was finally freed from all the attention as he beat a hasty retreat.

-Some time later.

Shirou took in a breath, a veritable mound of gold in front of him. The minted coins formed a clinking mountain that could gleam even in the dark. Enchanted gold it had to be. Or it was a perceived effect dependent on a person's level of greed and avarice.

It was the reward Shirou had claimed from the King of E-Rantel, as well as the monetary transactions he'd received from numerous commissions to sell his Traced Weapons.

An identical copy of Lakyus's sword was a hot commodity that many adventurers were willing to pay any price for, but the woman herself almost started crying, forcing Shirou to reconsider personal feelings over money.

In the end, he compromised by refusing to sell copies of a weapon unless the original owner granted permission, earning him a favor from Blue Rose's leader. Obviously, Lakyus refused letting her sword flood the market not only because few if any would be able to withstand its requirements, but personally, it would detract from her image.

Nevertheless, the moment Shirou had been working towards after Cu's death and Gilgamesh's persistent absence, was now here.

The matter with Momon and Nabe could wait until after.

Opening a menu, Shirou began a process that began to liquify the mountain of gold into a viscous bubbling solution.

The Gold tribute was set, and the revival functions should still work.

Gathering together, the gold formed into a flat puddle that then inched upward like pinched table cloth. The gold would then form the likeness of the designated target and facilitate revival.

Only…it didn't.

Before the gold could fully form, it was stretched then, shattered, then reverted back to gold coins.

[Revival Failed]

The notice finalized what Shirou thought had happened. He frowned, eyes narrowing in thought.

It didn't make sense.

He'd considered that not everything may turn out the same as they did in YGGDRASIL, but the fact that the gold had a reaction meant that the mechanic was working. In which case, reasons for failure could only mean that certain requirements weren't met.

Shirou did some digging.

The revival system was one of YGGDRASIL's most basic actions, and didn't have many complications that determined its success other than the wealth of the player.

Was there not enough gold? It shouldn't be the case.

From prior experience, Shirou knew that he had garnered enough to activate the revival function, so it pointed to another contradiction.

[Invalid Target]

His expression hardened at the implication.

Shirou opened a list of active members of the Great Mausoleum and finally noticed the oddity.

[Cu Chulainn]

The name was red.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to my newest patron: Mark!

Next update: Fate Grand Dungeon

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