Shirou had known that other worlds existed. Zelretch's existence was no great secret, and the old vampire had occasionally given Rin and Shirou interesting little experiences by allowing them to see the world through the eyes of themselves in alternate realities. There was the temptation to write this entire thing off as his doing, but Zelretch wasn't such an asshole as to do something like this so close to Illya's big day. His sense of morality might have been a little twisted from essentially living in a million different cultures at the same time though his connection with his parallel universe selves, but some things were universally accepted as 'not okay'.
Besides, Shirou could see the various magus around him, as well as the circle and catalyst that they used in their summons. This was a ritual performed knowingly by people from this world. Which lead to the ever-important question, 'Are these people insane?'
Shirou didn't sense any kind of binding magecraft nearby. No command seals or memory altering magic. He still was in fool possession of his free will. Did these people honestly summon heroes to their world to fight for them without any means to control them what-so-ever?
"You must have many questions, but time is short. You are the chosen Heroes, summoned here by an ancient ritual." One of the robed man said bowing his head as if in worship of the 'heroes'.
"Summoned…?" One of the other three summoned individuals said as he stepped forward in a noticeably aggressive manner, a spear, one of a quality equal to the sword Shirou now held, was tapping against his shoulder. Though the glee in his voice didn't match his body language. "Don't you guys have any shame at all, suddenly dragging us here without our permission?"
"Even if you send us home when the job is done, that's basically just using us as slave labor, you know?" A second added, a younger individual who was probably still in high school and carried a bow. Just like the spear wielder, he seemed to be getting some kind of kick out of this. What was it about Lancers and Archers being assholes?
"Huh?" The final member of their party said dumbly. The young man with the shield seemed like the only person there who was genuinely surprised to having been summoned.
However, as the bow and spearman did exactly what one would expect a summoned hero to do if they found out that their summoner had neglected to prepare command seals, asking such important questions as 'what's in if for me' and 'give me one good reason why I shouldn't just kill you', Shirou noticed something strange in his peripheral vision. Some kind of circle in the corner of his eyes that moved with him as he turned his head, almost as if he had a smudge on a pair of glasses.
Curious about what he could only describe as being an icon at the edge of his sight, Shirou focused his attention on the small button.
Immediately a sort of… menu filled his vision, startling Shirou a good deal.
[Status Magic Main Menu]
Status magic? What the hell was status magic? While the grail system has just a thing like statuses Shirou never really had access to it. Rin had, but she had never described what it looked like. Shirou's eyes looked over the menu and tried to figure out what he was looking at.
'Class: Sword Hero Lv. 1', was printed in English characters in one of the boxes, right under Shirou's name, along with a list of things such as 'attack', 'defense', 'speed', and 'magic', each with numbers going with them that must have been a measurement of how Shirou was in each of those categories. The stat labeled 'cooking' had an especially large number next to it.
Lv… that stood for level, right? Shirou was never much for games but he was fairly sure he had seen that before. So Lv 1 must have meant he was pretty low down then. Perhaps they weren't so stupid as to summon their heroes at full power right off the bat.
Shirou did a quick check of his magic circuits and the condition of his body, but everything came up clean. Nothing was interfering with him as far as he could tell. Maybe there was a system in place that would allow for them to gain greater power then?
"P-Please, at least have an audience with the king before you do anything rash. You can discuss the details of your compensation there." The priest stammered after receiving a string of threats from the all too cheerful spear and bow holders.
"Well, I guess that is that." "Still, talk is talk, even if it is with a king." The two trouble-makers said as they followed the priest out of the secluded room they were summoned in. Shirou followed behind along with the shield guy, with one eye watching for anything that looked like an enemy attack with his other continued to look at the Status screen in front of him.
That particular option was the first thing to jump out at Shirou as he looked over the screen. He focused on it with his one eye, willing it to expose its contents to him. It opened and his screen was filled with some kind of graph, with one colored bubble in the center and several other bubbles connecting to it and one and other filling the screen all around it, passing past the edge of his vision.
[Legendary Holy Sword – Base Form (0/10) – Quality: Very Low Quality – Base Power: 1 – Proficiency: (0%)]
It didn't take Shirou long to realize what the tree meant. Each bubble represented one of the seals that had been placed on the Legendary Holy Sword's power. Apparently, there was an order in which they needed to be unlocked in, and several paths that unlocking could take. It still didn't explain how exactly Shirou was supposed to do the unlocking.
Perhaps Shirou was being too distracted by this, as he didn't really care that the Archer and Lancer of this group would probably be getting them all killed pretty soon if they kept this up, but seeing such a powerful Divine Construct basically nerfed into the ground felt like a tragedy.
Had those two not noticed that the weapons they were holding weren't sharp enough to cut cheese with?
The group went through a long corridor, with windows looking out of the castle over the expansive medieval city below. The other summoned individuals seemed interested in the view, acting something like kids in an aquarium. Perhaps they were wondering whether or not they should try conquering it or if its pleasures could best be experienced without the hassle of rulership. Honestly, you can never tell with heroes.
Out of the Servants that had participated in the Fifth Holy Grail War, only Saber wouldn't have considered blowing off a task like saving the world. Rider and Lancer certainly wouldn't have cared enough to do it. Gilgamesh would have told the 'mongrels' that if they couldn't save their damn selves then they deserved to die. Caster, Berserker? As if. Archer and Assassin…? Good question. Even Shirou didn't really understand Archer's train of thought and they didn't know Assassin well enough to know if he was a prick or if it was just Caster making him do dishonorable things.
The point is, it wasn't surprising at all that two of the four people summoned were completely self-centered about everything. That's just how most heroes are. The word hero only refers to someone who achieves personal glory, not a good person.
If things go south, Shirou might have to kill these two in order to protect this world from them.
Strangely enough, despite being summoned to become heroes, they looked rather ordinary.
The man with the spear was just your typical college pretty boy, with long golden hair done in a ponytail, honey colored eyes, and smooth jawline. The kind of guy that even other guys would have to grudgingly admit was handsome. But unless he was using some kind of technique to hide his muscular physique, he only had the kind of body one can achieve from simply eating right and taking a monthly trip to the gym.
The kid with the bow was even less impressive. Sandy brown hair, green eyes, and the kind of school blazer and tie worn in the more snobby of high schools. The boy wasn't just lean, he was scrawny and a little pale. Despite his high and mighty act, he was walking with his head slightly down and his eyes slightly averted so that he only made fake eye contact, as if out of habit. Not so much as to be noticeable by a casual observer, but Shirou was used to looking for even the smallest of signals. It was the sort of thing one sees in people who have been seriously abused in the past… or in a magus who suspects some sort of mental based attack if they make too much eye contact.
Finally, the young man with the shield was constantly looking around with an expression as if he wanted to reach out and touch everything to make sure it was really but was also hesitating because he didn't want to look like an idiot. With his black hair, dark eyes and white hoody, he could have been a guy you would see on any street corner. Shirou half wondered if the guy was high, so he supposed given their situation, that level of dumbfoundedness was understandable… if he had been a normal guy.
Not only was it their physical appearances, Shirou couldn't detect a single drop of prana from any of these guys, save for what came from their weapons. Were they simply hiding their attributes? They seemed to be playing the part of ordinary, if annoying, people in order to get others to drop their guard. Magus were known for playing such games, and since the weapons they were holding seemed to have just been generated during the summons, Shirou couldn't pull anything on these guys.
There was nothing about any of them that would give them away, meaning that Shirou was already at a disadvantage when it came to the information war. With his unique appearance, there was no chance in hell that he could have passed for an ordinary person. Any magus would take one look at him and would instantly know that he was a spellcaster who had pushed the boundary of what his body could handle one too many times. These people might have already been able to conclude who Shirou was already. He hadn't exactly kept a low profile over the last five years.
He was starting behind and not knowing anything… Just like old times.
The entrance to the audience chambers was the stereotypical and needlessly large double doors that took three people on each side just to open. Shirou scanned over the guards and their weapons and was fairly confident in his ability to make his escape from them if things went south. He was less confident when he noticed a smell of mana being manipulated coming from multiple individuals in the room. Though not especially powerful, one does not usually wish to fight multiple magi on their home turf without first doing proper recon.
He half-considered making a break for it, but he couldn't leave yet. He needed to know what the conditions of his summoning was and how he could possibly get back home, preferably before his little sister woke up.
Shirou sniffed at the air, trying to parse out what types of magecraft were present and identify the users. They would be the first targets to take out if someone started to try to place some kind of mind control on him.
"Oh? So these are the heroes of old?" The elderly man wearing a crown said as he looked over the four of them. His eyes were calculative, but in a much more detached way than Rin's. Not that Shirou really cared, he had seen eyes like those a thousand times since he entered the Moonlight World. Though a man has to be pretty confident about his own abilities to look at a group of four summoned heroes with that kind of expression.
He wasn't holding any kind of weapon or artifact, so Shirou felt pretty confident that at his current distance of just over forty feet, he could take the man down before he had time to cast a spell.
Still, best not to antagonize the king of the country, so Shirou bent his head and averted his eyes… though he was the only one that did so.
"I am the king of this country, Aultcray Melromarc the 32nd. Raise your heads, Heroes." King Aultcray said, seeming to have overlooked the fact that the other had not lowered their heads. "Now, I shall explain the current situation. This country… nay, the very world is on the path to ruin. You see great heroes…" The man was about to go into his speech but stopped when Shirou took a few steps forward past the others and dropped to one knee.
"Your Grace. I understand that your world and its people must be desperate for help, however I need to ask that you return me to my world." Shirou said before anyone could stop him. "My younger sister is sick and in three days she is going to be going through an operation that will decide if she lives or dies." Shirou paused and risked a glance up at the king. The man's jaw had dropped slightly, and his eyes were not so distant as before. He stared at Shirou as if seeing him for the first time. "I am the only family she has left. I have to be there for her. If you need me to comeback after that, then fine, I would gladly fight and die for your people, but give me just one week. Please."
"…I'm sorry to hear such. If it was within my power to grant you your request, I would do so gladly. However, only means for which you all can be returned to your own world requires the calamity that threatens this world to be brought to an end… and I am afraid that will take months, if not years." The king said solemnly.
Shirou's heart sank. Months, or maybe years. He had disappeared without a word, just before Illya's operation. He wouldn't be there for her.
What would she think? Would she believe that he had abandoned her? He remembered how she had been when they had first might. How she had been led to believe that her own father had simply turned his back on her, that he had abandoned her and her mother. That belief had traumatized her, and its effects were still present long after she had found out the truth. Now Shirou himself will have disappeared into thin air. The was nothing he could do to reach her.
Requirements met: [Cursed Series Unlocked – Sword of Sloth]
Everyone just stared as Shirou remained kneeling on the ground in front of the king.
"Just tell me what you need me to do." Shirou said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "The sooner I save this world, the sooner I can get back to my sister."
"…Very well then." Aultcray said before returning to his speech about what disaster was so great as to warrant the summoning of four heroes.
The King told them all a story of a prophesy. One that spoke of Wave after Wave of calamities which would befall the country of Melromarc. If nothing was done, the world itself would fall into ruin.
And after hundreds of years the prophecy was starting to come true. The sands of the ancient 'Hourglass of the Dragon's Era' had begun to run once more. According to legend, the Hourglass of the Dragon's Era was supposed to serve as a monthly warning system for the Wave of Calamity.
At first the people had written it off as mere superstition. However, disaster struck the instant the final grain of sand fell, just as the legend said.
A dimensional fissure appeared over Melromarc, and a vast horde of monsters spilled out from within. Though the country's knights and adventurers just barely managed to subdue them, the next Wave was expected to be even stronger. There was no way they would be able to stop the calamity a second time. And so, the leaders of the country decided to enact the ancient summoning of Heroes, in hopes that they might be saved.
Shirou didn't believe a word that came out of the king's mouth. He had learned from dealing with magi to not be so trusting. He already knew that this was a speech designed to appeal to the heroes in an attempt to control them. Also, experience had taught him to never trust anyone who dealt in politics. That and religion. Especially if they were magi, and the King smelled strongly of some kind of unusual prana. Shirou would have to find a way to get the real story later.
The strange thing was, this story the King told about Waves and the Hourglass of the Dragon's Era sounded familiar, though Shirou couldn't put his finger on where he had heard those terms before.
"Uh huh. So, you expect us to just work for free, then? That's sure convenient for you." The boy with the bow said, crossing his arms in defiance.
"…It really is selfish, you know. Dragging us into a problem that doesn't have anything to do with us." The spearmen agreed.
"Would you two be quiet already." Shirou had had enough of their mouthing off. If there four of them were going to be in the same boat, Shirou would prefer if that boat didn't sink. "It is only common sense that they will compensate us for our efforts, but if you keep acting so difficult, they might start wondering if we aren't too uncontrollable and if they might be better off just killing the four of us and summoning a new batch instead." Shirou scolded the other two 'heroes'.
"In case you hadn't noticed, we are at a disadvantage here." Shirou added, lifting his sword and tapping its blade heavily against his free hand to demonstrate just how dull its edge was. "Legendary and indestructible these weapons maybe, but they have so many seals on them that they are useless at the moment. You'd have a better chance killing someone with a twig than these things. So if these fine guardsmen, with their weapons and magic, decide to take us down, we might not be making it out of here alive."
"Uh… yeah, let's not antagonize anybody." The Shielder said with a nod, one hand going towards the small shield attached to his other arm. Lancer and Archer paled as the Lancer gingerly checked the point of his Legendary Holy Spear to find out that it wouldn't be capable of drawling blood, then looked at just how many guards there were in that room.
"The heroes needn't worry. As you have already surmised, you will be richly compensated for your efforts." The king said, waving down at the four heroes in an attempt to ease their worry. "Besides that, we could also prepare discretionary funds to support you all on your journeys. It's a small price to pay to ensure your cooperation in saving our world."
Hearing this made the other three heroes considerably happier, though they now didn't speak up, either in thanks or to mouth off. They were now much more aware of the situation.
"Now then, Heroes. Tell me your names." The King requested of them.
"Ah… The name's Kitamura Motoyasu, I'm 21 and a college student." The Lancer, Motoyasu, said, not sounding too confident anymore.
"My name is Kawasumi Itsuki. I'm a 17-year-old high-school student." Itsuki, the bowman said from his position next to Motoyasu.
Shirou was next in line, but rather than giving his real name, age and occupation, he lied. "Fugimaru Issei, age 28, I work as a repairman." As a magus, you don't give out any information for free. He had no way of knowing how magecraft worked in this world. Giving away one's real name might be magical suicide here for all he knew. However, openly denying them his identity could cause problems. Best to just lie to them about it.
"A repairman?" Motoyasu repeated, raising an eyebrow and half smirking. It was unlikely that the man believed Shirou, but it didn't matter. Even if he knew who Shirou really was, he had no proof that Shirou… or rather Issei was lying.
"I guess that just leaves me. The name's Iwatani Naofumi, and I'm a 20-year-old college student." The Shielder said, scratching the back of his head nervously.
The King stared at Naofumi as the guy introduced himself, and Shirou was surprised to see the obvious hate in his aura. How in the world could he already hate the guy so much when Naofumi had only been in this world for a few minutes? He'd even been the quietest one so far.
"Hmm. Motoyasu, Itsuki, and Issei, eh?" The king repeated their names, seeming to purposely neglect to say Naofumi's.
"…Uh, Your Majesty? What about me?" The Shield asked a little nervously.
"Oh, my. My sincerest apologies… Naofumi." The king replied… this was getting weird. Just like it wasn't smart for the heroes to antagonize the locals so early, when they weren't at full strength, it was perhaps even dumber for the locals to be antagonizing one of the summoned heroes. What was the king thinking?
Next the group was instructed on how to check their statuses, causing another round of nervous shifting when Motoyasu and Itsuki saw that they were only level 1. Much of the confidence they had before disappeared.
Shirou was more surprised to find out that everyone in this world seemed to have access to Status Magic, and it wasn't simply part of the summoning ritual. It wasn't the weirdest quirk for a world to have, that would be the world where people could fly by making chirping sounds and waving their arms and where hair could talk, but it was rather odd all the same.
When he pulled his own menu back up, Shirou noticed the Help Menu, and opened it up, scanning through the list of items on it, he found that it was basically the owner's manual for having a Legendary Holy Weapon. …Oh boy, he was going to have some reading to do over the next few days.
"Being such a low level is making me uneasy." Itsuki said, biting one of his fingers as he stared at something in front of him that Shirou couldn't see, likely his own Status Menu.
"Ah, about that. We would like you to go on a journey to polish your skills and strengthen your legendary weapons." The king explained to them.
"Do you know how we are supposed to unseal our weapon's power?" Shirou asked the king. Hoping to get a hint as to what to do to restore the Divine Construct to its full glory.
"No. I am simply relating the contents of the legend. It is written that 'the summoned Heroes will grow and strengthen their legendary weapons.'" The king explained.
"Again with the legends. So can we at least use something else until these things are strong enough to be useful?" Motoyasu mumbled. He was twirling his spear absentmindedly, showing a familiarity with its weight. "We can worry about that later. For now, we should just focus on getting stronger like they asked."
All four summoned heroes nodded their heads in agreement at this.
"Well then, should the four of us party up?" Naofumi said looking over at the other three.
Shirou froze. Joining forces with three completely unknown to him individuals who were summoned to be heroes, all of whom he suspected of hiding their true nature, just like he was. It went against all the common sense that Rin had beat into him and which had saved his life on multiple occasions when dealing with the Church's Executioners. However, he didn't see a way out of it without showing how much he distrusted the others. His life would be easier if they didn't suspect that he suspected them. The fact that the Shield Hero was the one to suggest it boosted him from the bottom of Shirou suspicious persons list all the way up to the top.
"Wait just a moment, Heroes." The minister who had been standing next to the king stopped them as they were talking about the possibility of teaming up. "The four of you are to gather companions individually, then set off on your own separate journeys."
"Oh? And why is that?" Itsuki asked.
"It's quite simple. According to legend, the weapons you carry naturally repel each other. Should you operate together as a group, you will do nothing but impede each other's growth." The minister clarified for them.
"So you're saying we can't get strong unless we work alone?" Shirou said, raising an eyebrow. Why would four Divine Constructs born for the same purpose by the same world interfere with one and other? It didn't make much sense. However, the mans story seemed to check out as it seemed the weapons themselves had been listening in on the conversation.
Working together with your fellow legendary weapon holders will be detrimental to your progress. Please try to operate separately as much as possible.
"Looks like it's the real deal…" Motoyasu said. He must have gotten the same message as Shirou.
Well, that was alright. Shirou didn't want to be grouped with these people anyways.
"So then, we need to gather companions, I guess?" Naofumi said, sounding a bit dejected by the idea.
"On the contrary, we will gather companions for you. Have no worries, they will be the best of the best. However, the day grows late. For now, rest yourselves and gather your strength. Your journey begins tomorrow." The minister said politely, giving a short bow.
"Thank you." Itsuki said.
"Yeah, thanks." Motoyasu nodded in agreement. The three other heroes seemed to think that it was wonderful that they wouldn't have to go through the trouble of finding allies before starting their journeys. Only Shirou's opinion was different.
Letting himself be followed around everywhere he went by a group of soldiers handpicked by the government/church to keep an eye on him and probably execute him in his sleep if they thought he was becoming a hassle. That didn't seem like a good idea.
The second everyone's backs were turned, Shirou would just disappear and then he would save this world his own way. These people should know that you can't control a hero that easily.
…But he should probably wait until after they give him his money first…
He'd really been around Rin too much.
Becoming the Hero of the Sword would actually be a huge nerf for Shirou, as he isn't allowed to equip any weapon other than the Legendary Holy Sword itself.
No Shirou isn't going to be using his cursed series, he's just unlocked it because he has already going through his heart rending event. As what he is feeling is powerlessness and the inabilities to act, it would likely fall under the sin of sloth.