The sword shone, ever blinding, ever sacred.
Hands went up to shield eyes, an all-encompassing silence ushered into the banquet hall.
What was this? This sensation budding from within? This surging tide beyond description?
An unseen warmth gently permeated, touching upon the inner sanctity of the doubtful and misguided.
It was a subtle thing. Untold but yearned for ever-still.
The keening clang of reverberating metal echoed forth in the silence, goosebumps running down from the skin, tingles forming on the back.
Intermittent pulses of light flashed in holy rays that banished the dark, illuminating all corners of the room and penetrating through even the most hardened of individuals.
Look. See. Behold.
What could be seen in the light was the breathtaking candor of a fleeting moment's aspiration and desire.
Everyone possessed this simple feeling deep in their hearts. A yearning that burns with a passion encapsulated and buried only by the doubts that they themselves cast upon it.
In this moment, that yearning was not simply realized, but visualized through tiny motes of ephemeral stars.
Aultcray staggered back upon his throne, the image of a doting elder brother patting the head of doleful little sister in their youth, forcing a chocked gasp out of his mouth. The girl sincerely looked upon him, the gentle call of 'you're my hero,' a distant memory that shook him to his core as he reflected upon himself. His hands balled into fists, deep melancholy emanating from his chest. He bowed his head, hand pressed over his forehead to shadow his eyes.
Knight Éclair swallowed audibly, seeing a reflection of her younger self working tirelessly and swinging a practice sword for the sake of justice and righteousness. This was a simpler time before she'd been introduced to the corruption of political greed and prejudice.
Ah, so that's how it was all along…
The priests, the people, the heroes, each and every person standing in this hall saw before them memories of the past, or pictures of a desired future.
"W-What is that sword?" Ren's voice wavered, shivers traveling down his back.
Shirou did not answer and merely brandished the weapon he had in hand.
It was a sword that shines with the weight of hope; a hope that all beings, man or woman, adult or child, friend or foe would mournfully exalt as sacred. Separated by ideals, beliefs, and status, it was a sword that unites all warring countrymen upon a single coat-of-arms.
It was pride. It was faith. It was virtue.
Inherently, it was a belief bidding all who bask in the light's glow to remain steadfast in character, integrity, and loyalty.
The sword hummed in its iridescent light, but grasped firmly, it gradually dimming as Shirou lowered it to his side.
"Have you all seen reason?" He questioned in the stunned silence.
There was no answer right away. How could there be?
Shirou knew the weight of this sword's conceptualized impact. Its presence alone was universal in that what it represented surely existed within everyone. So long as one had dreams and ambition, so too would they possess the hope to carry it through. It was this earnest hope itself that would never be tainted.
For a moment, it was as if clarity had returned to the muddled, and wisdom to the old.
Shirou himself was no different. The impact of his Tracing wasn't limited solely to the sword's presence, but the experience he could gleam in full from the sword's history. Abruptly, his entire demeanor shifted.
His back stood straighter, his natural poise exuding an air of surety and assuredness in wake of the opposition. He would not bend. He would not break. The regal aura of an upright person of influence emanated from him in surging waves.
He had no intention of harming anyone from the beginning with his actions, but instead wanted to snap everyone out of their stupor. He reasoned that it was the best method.
Violence over an instigated crowd wouldn't solve the problem of dealing with the perpetrator, nor would striking the perpetrator outright. The risk of the crowd confusing right for wrong, and developing a negative impression was too high. This may even risk a few acting on impulse and implicating themselves.
Of course, he may have had another means to expose the conspirators egging the crowd along, but the hall was too densely packed, and would prove dangerous if fighting broke out.
Right here, right now, he must wrestle away momentum; take it carefully, and methodically through logic.
"Have you all seen reason?!" He called out again, this time louder. "Do you not all understand what you are doing?"
"Y-You would defend this thief?" A priest interjected, having snapped out of his stupor at Shirou's yell and realizing quickly that something needed to be done. Public opinion had been jostled, and murmurs were spreading throughout the crowd.
However, the man's tone lacked any real force. It wasn't necessarily spoken because the man believed in his words, but rather, it was what was expected of him. It was as if the response was more a token gesture than anything that had any real substance.
Shirou took note of the direction the priest glanced at before speaking, and noticed the recipient as the Head Priest of the Three Heroes Church standing near the King. It was the pope, Biscas T. Balmus.
Just as he'd thought. A conspiracy
The sword in Shirou's grasp hummed lightly. It wouldn't be the first conspiracy it had experienced.
Shirou shook his head ruefully before turning to address the man who'd spoken.
"It is better to defend a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one," he replied evenly, voice reverberating. "When the system of law and order is arbitrated solely by the words of a single party without room for legal discourse, what is it, if not tyranny? What is it, if not corruption?"
"It is the voice of the people!" Biscas argued with a straight face.
"No. It is but your prejudice," Shirou said bluntly before addressing everyone else in the room. "Tell me, if the Sword, Spear, or Bow Hero were to be the one accused, would this matter be so one-sided?"
Instantly, Ren, Motoyasu, and Itsuki appeared unsettled, and were starting to realize that certain subtilties truly existed, especially with how quickly it was denied.
"That's not withstanding," Biscas shifted the issue aside. "Neither the Sword, Spear, or Bow Heroes would ever commit such an irreputable crime."
"So, then in your own words, only the Shield Hero is capable of wrongs?" Shirou pointed out.
"I'm not one saying it, merely pointing out that the Shield Hero's actions speak for itself."
"Then what of yours?"
The rebuttal was piercing, Biscas momentarily at a loss for words. His brows furrowed, the square cap over his head, obscuring the scowl over his features. "Mine? I merely propagate the gospel truth as a humble man of the cloth."
"Would that gospel truth include deceit and subterfuge?"
"Blasphemy, you know not of what you speak of. Of course, it's to be expected of one affiliated with a criminal. Bad company begets a twisted perspective, and a decrepit character."
Keel's tail was raised high, fangs bared over her lips. The hairs over her body stood on end, her throat making warning snarls. Her body was already leaning forward, a hand gripping onto the shaft of the red spear over her back. She was mad, angrier than she'd ever felt in a long time.
No, the man who saved her was kind.
Keel was glaring, her own gratitude, admiration, and longing aimed towards her saviour, igniting into a flaring animosity for the people who would belittle him.
Raphtalia was no better in regards to Naofumi, and it was only now that Keel felt like she could understand why such a viciouslycold expression could flicker across Raphtalia's features earlier. She wanted to shut this man's mouth. To stop his blathering, and yet-
"Keel, it's enough."
A hand gently tousled her hair, before coaxing her to calm down.
Shirou remained unperturbed, the clarity in his eyes never once wavering. Far from anything vile or vicious, an air of unfaltering steadiness enshrouded him. Accompanied by the soft glow of the sword in his hands, he was the furthest from any ill reasoned denouncement levied on him.
Biscas felt a growing feeling of constriction around his chest at the adversary before him.
The impression Shirou was giving was just too great at this moment.
The aristocracy and nobles among all others were oddly silent.
What sort of person was the Fifth Summoned Hero?
The thought echoed in their minds.
The way that Shirou was speaking, his demeanor, his aura, it didn't belong to a mere commoner or even that of an ordinary noble, but that of…A Royal?
Murmurs began to spread further, and sensing the growing tension, Aultcray finally intervened upon composing himself.
"Pope, if you would put this matter aside for the time being, perhaps this may just be a misunderstanding on my daughter's part," Aultcray offered an out for all parties involved.
"But, esteemed father…" Myne trailed off when Aultcray merely sighed at her and shook his head in disappointment. "My ring was stolen!" She tried one last time.
"It was given," Raphtalia's steady voice interjected.
Without the yelling and bickering of the instigated crowd, all were able to hear the words clearly.
"Given?" Éclair echoed with interest, whereas beads of sweat formed over a certain knight's forehead. Meanwhile, Myne's eyes widened in panic for a fraction of a second.
"Yes, given," Raphtalia held firm to what she said, standing in front of Naofumi with her arms spread eagle as if to shield him.
"And we are to just believe the one-sided words of a Demi-Human?" Biscas interjected. "Proof is surely needed."
"Hypocrite," Keel muttered before her nose began to twitch. She glanced around the room, and suddenly grew eager.
"He's here. That knight from earlier! I can smell him!" She declared, much to Raphtalia's relief.
Biscas balled his hands into fists at the sudden development. What sort of fools was he conspiring with? Oh yes, the self-entitled First Princess, and one of her personal knights. What was he expecting? Dammit.
"As the King declared, perhaps this is all a misunderstanding," Biscas said, putting on an amicable air of magnanimity. Many were fooled, but those that mattered weren't that easy to convince.
Aultcray inferred immediately that Myne and Biscas were cooperating with each other to besmear the Shield Hero's reputation. In the end, it backfired the moment the instigated crowd was calmed by the sword in Shirou's hand.
Now, Ren, Itsuki, and Motoyasu were flashing Biscas and Myne with odd looks, while Naofumi couldn't even bear to glance in Myne's direction.
What a disaster, but Aultcray couldn't just favour one side in this mess over the other. The Three Heroes church was too ingrained into Melromarc's structure and inner workings for a fallout not to leave some form of lasting damage. Then there was the Shield Hero's party who were formidable in their own right, but more importantly, Aultcray had personal dealings with Shirou.
This was supposed to have had just been a rewarding ceremony, but now Aultcray had to put his wits about him to stabilize this all.
"For the matter of the successful closing of the Wave of Calamity, the rewards are to be distributed as follows…"
Aultcray ignored all complications and soldiered on for the original purpose of the event; effectively delaying budding hostilities that could destabilize Melromarc's foundation, and dropping the accusations on the Shield Hero.
However, the main highlight of what transpired here through the sword in Shirou's hand, would not be forgotten.
It was too monumental. Too moving.
Shirou Emiya, was a mystery.
It was only after leaving the castle's audience hall that Shirou ended up dismissing the sword in his hands, but regardless, the impact of its presence had already been felt. Already, the way people were viewing him had mixed expressions of speculation and curiosity especially among the members of nobility in attendance.
Keel didn't like the extra attention at all, choosing to stick close to Shirou's side while Raphtalia did the same with Naofumi. They found rather quickly that most gazes tended to stray away from a Demi-Human's glare rather fast. It could just be the animalistic features that both Keel and Raphtalia sported, but there was no doubt that their fangs appeared especially sharp at this moment.
Naofumi who'd been keeping quiet ever since Shirou had stepped up earlier paused in his steps, and took in a deep breath. "Shirou," he called.
"Yes?" Shirou stopped and replied back.
It was only a single word, but it conveyed a weight and appreciation that couldn't be underestimated. The gratitude reflected in Naofumi's eyes was genuine in that he likely wouldn't hesitate to rush out with his shield to return the favour. No, more than that, the feeling was similar to how brothers would treat each other.
"If you're thankful, then try not to get involved in these things anymore. I'm sure I already explained about Melromarc's general reception of Demi-Humans, and by extension the Shield Hero."
"Not well, yeah, I can see that now…" Naofumi grumbled, slouching as he continued walking.
Shirou smacked a hand over Naofumi's back. "Buck up. Think of it this way, you may not be well liked here, but what about in Siltvelt? You'd be their national hero, and I'm sure they'd line up just to meet you."
"Lord Naofumi is the Hero of all Demi-Humans," Raphtalia boasted, hands on her hips, chest puffed out. "It would be our honour to be of help! You should hear all the stories."
"Really?" Naofumi perked up, suddenly feeling a lot better before he sighed nonetheless.
"Guess that wasn't enough to cheer you up after all that, was it?" Shirou smiled wryly, but could never have guessed the true reason.
"Do you think that Myne may have just been misunderstood?" Naofumi tentatively broached the topic, much to Shirou and Keel's deadpan. "I-I mean, look. It was that knight who gave me the ring, and told me that Myne was gifting it to me. W-What if it was all just a set-up by the knight to break the Shield Hero's relations with a member of Melromarc's Royal Family? Yeah, doesn't it sound plausible?"
"Not in the least," Raphtalia rejected without remorse. It didn't matter to her regarding the rational of Naofumi's explanation. Moreover, the harshness in her tone was equal parts convincing, and equal parts belying her own personal interests in the matter.
She gripped on the hem of her battle skirt, staring up at Naofumi's eyes with a wobble in her lips.
"She's a B-Bitch," she said a bad word, but she soldiered on either way.
"Raphtalia, who taught you that?" Naofumi grew appalled.
"I-I can swear. I'm not a child anymore. I-I'm an adult-"
"Who's stuttering because she's too innocent," Keel elbowed Raphtalia's side and whispered. "Be firmer, or they'll never take us seriously," she advised with her own hint of personal investment.
"She's a Bitch," Keel said outright.
"Not you too," Naofumi deflated, but couldn't get another word out to convince Raphtalia otherwise. As far as she was concerned, Naofumi should never interact with Myne again.
"Lord Shirou…" Raphtalia leveled her wide eyes on Shirou. She was practically begging for aid- no a distraction, anything!
Shirou could only facilitate the gesture, as he understood best that Naofumi may really need something to temporarily take what happened off of his mind.
"Here, Naofumi," Shirou grabbed one of the coin pouches secured around his waist and tossed it into Naofumi's hands. "These are half of our earnings from the Wave. Take it and look for a few horses or something with Raphtalia. Keel and I will look for a suitable wagon for transport."
Raphtalia nodded vehemently at Shirou's suggestion, glancing at him with unconcealed appreciation.
They'd discussed it before, but they really did need an alternative means of transportation other than shooting arrows tethered to a large shield. Unless one was strapped onto it, one would run the high risk of falling at mach speeds and dying if their stats were low enough.
"You heard Lord Shirou, let's go Lord Noafumi!" Raphtalia tugged on Naofumi's sleeve and bodily dragged him away faster than the eye could blink.
This left only Shirou and Keel to go about their business with the monetary rewards they'd just obtained. Hearing the jingling of the coins on his person, and seeing the reserved way Keel suggested just heading back to camp after purchasing a wagon, Shirou ended up deciding on a different course of action.
"Want to go around town?" He offered kindly, knowing full well that Keel had never experienced such things before.
"C-Can we go back to that restaurant?" Keel asked shyly.
"The one with the kid's meal?"
The tips of Keel's cheeks coloured before she gradually nodded her head, and grabbed onto his sleeve.
"Sure," he agreed readily.
Shirou should have expected something to happen considering Naofumi's mental state, and Raphtalia's general innocence, before he'd let them go off with half of the funds to purchase a mount for the wagon. However, he hadn't been thinking with this level of rational at the time, and was instead influenced by Raphtalia's pleading and his own nature.
Sure, it wasn't the best choice to have Naofumi and Raphtalia go in their own at their previous state, but from an emotional perspective, it was a good choice.
Standing next to the recently purchased wagon, Shirou and Keel stared at their two other party members with varying levels of incredulity.
"You went out to find a horse to pull the wagon, and you bought an egg?"
"The seller said it was a good deal."
"Who is this seller? I'd like to talk to him about how an egg is supposed to pull a cart."
"By rolling?" Raphtalia tried to defend Naofumi and her actions, but even her neutral features twisted into a cringe.
"Why yes," Shirou deadpanned with a nodding Keel. "We should latch it onto the wagon right now, and see how far it can pull it by rolling?"
Naofumi flushed in embarrassment and gaped like a fish out of water.
Shirou turned to Keel still rubbing her stomach in contentment from not one, but three kids meals.
"Keel, how do you feel about sunny-side up tomorrow? There should be plenty of servings due to the size of the egg."
"Stop that," Naofumi snatched the egg back and held it in his arms. "I was told that if a Hero raised their own mount, they can have more potential!" he reasoned.
"Was that the sale's pitch? Did you end up asking anyone else about this?" Shirou looked to Raphtalia when he said this and noted the flush working its way up her pale neck right away. The answer was obviously no.
Shirou sighed before glancing in contemplation at the egg Naofumi was holding.
"What's it supposed to be anyway?" Keel spoke up.
As Naofumi wasn't so well versed in the fauna of this new world, he could only wait for the next passing carriage and point out what the egg will eventually turn into.
"A chicken?" Shirou couldn't make the connection between how searching to purchase a horse had ended up with this.
Now that Naofumi stared, it really did look like an oversized chicken, didn't it?
Oh God, there goes his expectation of a mythical mount. He figured that by 'potential,' a hero could evolve their mount into a legendary. At least, that was how it was supposed to work in games.
"I-It's a Filolial, Lord Naofumi. I-It's good, I swear!" Raphtalia hastily explained at Naofumi's expense, but Naofumi was already dispirited enough for it to prove ineffective.
"So," Shirou turned to Keel. "Sunny-side or scrambled?"
Keel subconsciously licked her lips, her tail wagging.
Raphtalia was appalled.
"Uwu! Lord Naofumi bought this egg, we're not eating it!"
They didn't end up eating the egg Naofumi bought, but instead allowed Naofumi to try and hatch it using whatever means the locals offered him in advice.
In any case, the dawn of the next day had a certain female Knight returning to Shirou and Naofumi's camp site with contemplative expression.
Éclair was still caught up in the events of the prior day, and it wasn't the Shield Hero that took a majority of her thoughts, but the other hero summoned with him.
It could have just been a trick of the eyes, but it seemed as if the sword Shirou wielded had appeared from out of nowhere. But how could that be? She wasn't aware of any sort of magic of this nature. Moreover, the mantle Shirou wore over his hunting leathers could have easily hidden a sheathed sword.
Maybe she was just overthinking the matter, but regardless, she was here for a reason outside her own spirit of inquiry.
"Is something wrong, Ms. Éclair?" Shirou called out, recognizing Éclair for her demeanor and upright character so similar to a Saber he used to know. Over all, he had a pretty decent impression of this female Knight.
"No, far from it." Éclair shook her head. "I have merely come to offer myself as an escort. The both of you likely plan to go for class advancement, yes?"
Shirou didn't hide the matter and directly verified Éclair's conjecture.
"That makes it perfect then," Éclair nodded firmly. "I'm here to make sure that no complications occur," she said. With that said, there was no need to elaborate further.
The attitude of the Three Heroes Church was practically displayed the other day.
Éclair had surprisingly come on the King's orders to aid Shirou and Naofumi in their Class Advancement procedures. Considering that the Dragon Hourglass used for advancement was located within the Three Heroes Church, Éclair could understand why Aultcray had given her this task.
In another sense, she was just…taken aback at the King's foresight was all.
For the longest time, she'd only ever heard stories about Melromarc's wise King of the past, but had never truly believed them until now.
In any case, she was the one who'd offered her services in the first place even before the King's command.
Naofumi looked at her skeptically once Shirou explained what was going on. Obviously, he was less trusting than he'd been before, but not to the point of shutting everyone out. Wary was more of an apt description.
"I assure you on my honour as a Knight, I have no ulterior motives that would bring either of you physical or reputational harm," Éclair bowed in a show of honesty that was enough to win Shirou and Naofumi over.
Be that as it may, the nostalgia of Éclair's bearings and conduct was more than enough to convince Shirou from the beginning. There hadn't been a need for her to bow, but the fact that she did, only further cemented her impression of an upright knight.
"Glad to have you," Shirou smiled in earnest, reaching a hand out and shaking Éclair's firmly.
"Ah, uhm, yes. I too am glad," Éclair fumbled momentarily, too used to nobles disregarding her as a knight when not privy to her true status. It wasn't as if she went around boasting about it.
It just went to show the type of character Shirou and the members of the Shield Party had.
She shook her head to rid herself of idle thoughts, and beckoned for Shirou and Naofumi to go ahead as she trailed in the rear on her own.
Glancing at Shirou's back, Éclair couldn't help but stare for just that tad bit longer though.
Composing herself, she placed a hand over her chest and took a calming breath to reel in her admiration for the man who could wield such a devote sword. She was curious, doubly so when she'd heard discussions pertaining to speculation about Shirou's true identity.
However, Éclair knew better.
From Shirou's demeanor on that day, his poise, and resolve…in her opinion, all of it were characteristics of a noble Knight that she aspired to be. Her goal of her future self was practically right in front of her, and this excited her to no end.
She'd even had thoughts about how to tentatively broach the topic of apprenticing under him? How glorious it would be to have the guidance of someone so inspiring?
Out of sight, she clapped her reddening cheeks, a minor break in the neutrality of her features.
She had a mission and she'd get it done, but in the end of the day- she too had ulterior motives that were perhaps less than pure. How curious, but it was never wrong to follow a proper role-model, she convinced herself.
Standing nearest to Shirou, Keel's ears intuitively perked up, as she glanced Éclair's way from behind her.
In nature, animals were always the most perceptive. In contrast, Demi-Humans possessed similar attributes that could trigger on an instinctual level.
Éclair could not discern the meaning of Keel's stare, but instead heard the sound of a subconscious low territorial growl.
Curiosity was what killed the cat- and dogs can kill cats.
Éclair gave a disarming wave, but to no effect. Keel huffed and refused to continue looking at her.
Sighing, Éclair soon focused herself.
The matter of class advancement was important for any hero, including the Shield Hero.
The rewarding ceremony was already a disaster in its own right.
In this case, she would make sure that no complications would occur on her honour as a knight.
Sorry for delays! There was a rainstorm here in the Pacific Northwest, and my area recently experienced a blackout. My condolences for those who experienced flooding in the town over. Working in the dark was horrible, and I had to stop working all together when my laptop's battery ran out. In any case, I'll stop rambling here.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to my newest patrons: Juandeah FF2, and Trent C!
Next update: Fate Kill
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The Lonely Peak
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