Written in the Star's

Authors Note: Thanks to all my Patrons! J. Zinkan, F. Ebering, A. Marteddu, Ummy, Auntee Monica, PocketRat, Biktur, R. Baer ChauDavis, Lord Marksman, Adam, Manic.

The wonderful people have decided to support me on . If you'd like to join them you can at p.a.t.r.e.o.n.c.o.m. . just remove the periods! I am currently trying to edit my own original novel for early release in the coming New Year! All patrons will be mentioned in the acknowledgements section!

Special note: thanks to those of you who pointed out that I posted the wrong draft. I really need to get rid of the older ones… My bad. -_-

If you see any other's please let me know.

Chapter 5

In stark contrast to the barren and hopeless city that had been just days ago, numerous familia had gathered for the festival. They filled the streets with bustling motion, stalls decorated in bright colors advertising food and games had been erected. Other signs listing out the various competitions littered the city.

The amount of Familia represented was staggering. It seemed no one was willing to be left out, whether it was the Ganesha Familia stage where they would no doubt work with several monsters or the Dian Cecht Familia who looked to be set to sell their medicines.

Kids ran laughing through the streets.

It was as if the city was alive again.

Shirou walked through the stalls, very aware of the number of eyes on him. It had been happening since the gathering. Apparently, his ability to pull weapons from seemingly nowhere had earned him plenty of attention. He just smiled whenever he caught someone looking and continued on his way.

His job was to patrol the area looking for anyone who seemed to be interested in disturbing the setup while searching for possible vulnerabilities himself. He had yet to find any.

He was passing a stall that looked like it was ready to be opened already. A glance at the sign told him it was a Hephaestus Familia booth, the game, a high striker. Slam a mallet into the base and send a puck up a pole to ring the bell.

"Trace on," he murmured under his breath and strode up to the game. He was surprised, pleasantly so. The game had two settings, marked with a very noticeable lever on the side. The first was assigned to a strength level for those not in a familia. The other lever existed for those who were. However, it would not stop a level six from wringing the bell if they were to tap on the device with their pinky finger.

"Hey, Shirou!"

Following the voice, Shirou found Naaza waving him over from a stall a short ways off. It was equipped with a pot, counter, a box, and a cart.

"Naaza," Shirou said in the way of greeting, "how are your preparations going?"

The dog-eared girl made a show of rolling her eyes, "well enough, the boys are doing a great job, and Lord Miach will be bringing the herbs we'll need later."

"A better question is have you heard the rumors going around?"

Perplexed, Shirou shook his head, considering the only one who really gathered rumors and the like was Lyra and add that to the fact they'd all been working to make sure the festival went off without a hitch. So they were all working around the clock. So, it wasn't too much of a surprise.

Naaza tapped her finger to her lips several times before beginning to speak, "there's a fair few, ranging from your having some skill that allows you to hide large weapons in small areas to you being Goddess Hephaestus's son."

Shirou groaned slightly and pressed his fingers to his forehead. "I hope Goddess Hephaestus isn't too upset by this."

"I'm sure it's fine. It's not like the Goddess is going to blame you for what rumors are saying unless you started them." She paused, and when Shirou raised his head to meet her eyes, he found them narrowed. "You didn't start them, did you?"

He took a half-step back, waving his hands in front of him, and shook his head. "Of course not."

Naaza leaned back and began to laugh, "then you have nothing to worry about, do you?" She said between her peals of laughter.

Searching the surrounding area for anything that might change the topic, he found nothing until the moment he was about to give up on looking—a game. The Soma familia ran it. The prizes were all hanging up, and they were all vouchers for bottles of wine.

The game itself looked simple. Knocking a tower of bottles over with balls, a sign on the front said no one above level one.

He made a mental note to keep an eye on them. Drunken children running through the streets just so happened to be the last thing he wanted to deal with.

"I swear," Naaza said, following his line of sight to figure out where he been looking, "every member of that Familia is out of their gourd. I saw them earlier; they were filling those empty bottles with something."

Shirou had no problems guessing what filled the bottles. "I'll see you later, Naaza," Shirou said as he began to make his way back down the road. He could do very little about the Soma Familia. If he rushed over, there was no doubt they would have some excuse waiting.

"Those are for the level ones. Civilians won't get anything in their bottles." Or something to that effect. No, he'd just have to make a note of it.

Continuing down the street, he noted the signs, many of which hadn't been finished yet. Smaller signs around it advertised sweet sticky bun. While yet to be set up, the stall to its side looked to have everything it needed for goldfish scooping. He couldn't help but wonder what would be used for fish. From the size of the paper scoops, it couldn't be anything significant. It'd have to be a pet-sized fish. Then again, he hadn't seen a pet shop in all of his wanderings through the city. Perhaps it was several minuscule water monsters from the dungeon, Though he couldn't see that happening either.

As he reached the end of the street, Shirou turned to look at the work everyone was putting in. He wanted to help. There, of course, just so happened to be a problem with that.

Strictly speaking, Alise had advised him to focus on his duties and watch over the festival's setup. Make sure everything went without a hitch. But after walking through a handful of times, it was clear his presence was the hiccup his Goddess wanted to avoid.

The builders would work slower as they split their attention between watching him and doing their work. Those painting signs began making mistakes that would have them screaming in frustration every time he walked by. It was like they thought him some demon or another. But, of course, those were the ones that had a more physical response to his presence. Others would duck their heads together and begin to chatter.

So Shirou opted not to make another pass. There were, after all, multiple ways to help. Magic stones primarily, as they were the source of power for, well, everything. Lanterns, clocks, and so many other things relied on them, and an overabundance of the item, which there never seemed to be, could very well drive the prices down.

It wasn't the most direct route to aid anyone, but it would help. Not to mention, Homurahara's lessons regarding supply and demand had finally come in handy. There was a single other bonus from gathering them. While it would add to the Astraea Familia's coffer's, some always got set aside, earmarked to be donated to one of the orphanages in the city.

To that end, the dungeon was his next stop. He just had to wait to be relieved by a member of the Ganesha Familia.

Shirou could only describe his trip down through the dungeon with a single word. Dull. Oh, the monsters still came steadily, but each fell in moments, their blood painting the floors and walls. Kobolds, Goblins, dungeon lizards, none lasted but a handful of moments.

He collected a magic stone from each of them, and though each was small, they would add up. When the dungeon floor stopped producing the creatures, he moved down to the next floor and repeated the process.

When he reached the stairway to the fifth floor, he stopped. Lady Astraea had not only forgiven him but commended him on his actions in the dungeon's fifth floor. However, neither she nor Alise had changed his orders regarding it. So he didn't cross the threshold and wouldn't unless shouts for help came.

None did. Not even reinforcing his ears to their limit brought a scream. Either there were none, or the dungeon had found a way to silence them before they managed to get very far. Shirou personally hoped for the first option. Unfortunately, though, it didn't seem likely.

A section of the dungeon wall shifted, fluctuating as it split from floor to ceiling. Similar fractures ran along the walls on either side. From them fully grown monsters, their eyes closed, arms wrapped about their knees, fell. Their eyes opening before they even reached the ground.

Bursting into motion, Shirou raked his short sword across the chest of the first two before they'd fully risen. The third fell as Shirou slammed the blade through the kobold's neck, continuing to press, forcing it from its feet, and slammed it back to the ground.

The dungeon walls flexed, a dozen more gaps forming across its surface. Their 'birth' occurred much faster than the previous three's, and even as Shirou began to attack, they were on their feet snarling their challenge.

The distance closed in the blink of an eye. Blade met beast, cleaving it from stomach to chest, creating a spray of blood. Ducking around the falling corpse, Shirou raised his sword to catch the descending claws before slamming the blades pommel into the kobolds' nose. It crumpled, yellow eyes shifting to a bloody crimson, and like a puppet with its strings cut, it fell.

He leaped back, slipping between the monsters flanking him, and swept his arms forward. "Trace on."

A dozen swords sped through the air even as they finished forming. The majority of them ended in the dungeon wall. They weren't supposed to. They did, however, corral them, so they were almost standing in a straight line. The four that did impale the monsters did so from awkward angles, making them harder to remove.

Sheathing his weapon, Shirou raised a hand, his magical energy swelling as a long curved single-edged sword nearly the size of a man appeared in his hand. Its name? Radial. The zanbatō, for all of its forty years of existence, had no history beyond its forging. Not a surprise, given that it was meant for use from a mounted position, and as far as Shirou knew, no one took horses into the dungeon.

Taking hold of the long hilt in both hands, Shirou brought it around. The resistance was minor; blood spilled into the air and came down like rain. The kobolds died.

A minute later, upon realizing the dungeon wasn't going to bring forth more monsters, Shirou set to the task of digging the magic stones from the fallen.

An hour later, he had managed to fill two pouches with the small stones the creatures produced and made his way back to the surface, stopping only to trace a copy of his shirt to wipe away the vast amounts of blood coating him. There wasn't any reason to scare anyone after all.

The guild was just as busy as it always was, perhaps busier. Four of the desk attendants were speaking with members of the Ganesha Familia, likely taking messages or orders.

The exchange line conversely was about as empty as Shirou had ever seen it. Only two people remained queued. As he moved to join them, he found his path barred by two well-muscled barbarian men dressed in nothing but loincloths and the swords strapped to their back.

"You the kid that Goddess Astraea accepted?" The first asked, narrowing his eyes as he spoke.

"I don't see why she'd bother to take you when she'd didn't take either of us." His compatriot said.

Shirou shrugged. From their swords, he found that they were part of Set Familia. Both were at level 3 and seemed to have near-identical battle abilities. Worse, despite lacking magic, the weapons, bathed in aggression, held the fury of their wielder's. Alone they craved violence. Together they demanded it. Overall, Shirou wasn't sure how a fight with them would end. There would be property damage in the extreme, and more than likely, at least one of them would end up dead.

"I have no more idea as to why my Goddess chose me than you do." He said quietly. He met the gaze of the one closest to him and smiled.

If anything, the barbarian grew angrier. Shirou could almost hear the creaking of the man's teeth as he looked up toward the guild workers. No one was crazy enough to isolate themselves from the guild by starting a fight in their walls. If they didn't, chances are the guild might decide to stop working with their familia.

"Whatever." He finally snapped before heading for the exchange line. The second turned, 'adjusting' the scabbard on his back so that it came up and struck Shirou across the face as he moved to join his partner.

"Shirou!" The call came bringing his attention around to find Sophie coming toward his at a fast walk looking more than a little panicked.


She took his hand and pulled him off to the opposite side of the room before he could say another word. Only once they'd both settled into the seats did she speak. "What was all of that about?"

Shirou shrugged, "they don't seem happy that I'm in my Familia, and they aren't."

She narrowed her eyes, her lips forming a thin line. "Well, I'll talk with their captain. Violence in the guild is not permitted, no matter who you are."

Then she turned her attention back over to Shirou, "I'm guessing you were coming in to exchange your stones?"

Shirou nodded.

Sophie smiled, "well, it's a little unusual, but we can do that here." She raised a hand, and another woman power-walked over to them a small red chest in her hands and two men on either side of her.

Only then did Shirou realize the answer to a question he'd never thought to ask before. Why has no one tried to rob the guild? His answer came moments later.

The people walking on either side of the woman, for all that they smiled tranquilly, Shirou knew otherwise. The multiple blades at their waists said it all. Their weapons history sang with the spilled blood of the countless enemies they'd dealt with. Man and monster alike. Of shattering and of new shapes gained in the forge. However, the names of the wielders seemed to be absent. It's like they didn't exist! They stopped a short way off, their gazes searching the lobby for threats, or at least all but one did. That one kept his eyes firmly on Shirou.

"Shirou, the magic stones?" Sophie asked, drawing his attention back to her. Then, pulling the pouches from his side, he settled them onto the table. Sophie took them, and the other woman opened the box. Once filled, the five moved back the way they'd come.

Sophie smiled, "she'll be right back with your Valis in just a moment."

Shirou nodded. Though considering the size of the stones, the extra security seemed a bit much to him. When he voiced, that thought his dungeon guide shook her head hard.

"It's a point of pride. The guild has not been robbed and will not be robbed." She explained, "there's a reason the Familia trust the guild after all."

It made sense, though even though Ouranos was in control of the guild, the god couldn't do much to the people himself. Add to that that the guild was the primary buyer for everything that could be found in the dungeon. If someone found a way to rob them, well, Shirou doubted many of the Familia would continue working with them.

Considering they took a fee from any Familia given a D ranking or above that went on an expedition, it wouldn't surprise Shirou if a few Familia were waiting for them to fail.

As the woman approached, still flanked by her guards, red chest in hand, Shirou realized that the guards had to be affiliated somehow with Ouranos himself. However, he didn't know if the god had a Familia. For all, he knew the men were as ordinary as they could get and were just that strong.

He took the pouch of coin and reclaimed his other bag as she offered the chest and stood. "Thanks for your help and sorry for the inconvenience earlier," he said.

Sophie waved her hands in front of her. "No thanks needed! It's my job."

Shirou smiled, "I'll be on my way then." Then, with a slight wave, Shirou headed for the door.

"Shirou, when you come in next, you need to update me on your status," Sophie called after him.

He stopped and called over his shoulder, "I'll be sure to do that."

As soon as he opened the door, Shirou found Neze, Iska, and Asta lunging toward him. "Shirou!" Neze cried, "we need you to cook for us!"

Shirou danced back out the door allowing the three of them to get caught in the opening. The clock showed it was not yet time for dinner. So it wasn't that he was running late. Granted, he didn't mind getting a jumpstart on cooking, but they were definitely acting odd. "What's going on?" He finally asked.

As Iska opened her mouth, Shirou held up a hand. There was no way he could take them seriously as long as they remained lodged in the doorway. Making sure to keep his hands away from any place they shouldn't be, Shirou pulled and pushed the girls a few times until they lurched apart.

When they were all seated in the living room, Shirou bade the girls start again.

"We were at Mama Mia's place having lunch," Iska started, only for Asta to interrupt her.

"We were having steak, and the 'fashion don't' here started blabbing that your food was better and we should've just eaten at home."

Neze snorted, "It's not like you disagreed! What was it you said? 'Indeed, however, I doubt young Shirou would be willing to stay home and cook for us whenever we ask?'" At her words, the dwarf flinched. "Anyway, Mia took offense, see."

Shirou winced. With all the rumors moving through the city about him, it wasn't a stretch that Mia would realize who he was. It wasn't a difficult thing to imagine. He didn't know a cook that would like to have their cooking compared to a child's and found wanting. With each word, he swore he could feel a cold shadow growing behind him.

"So Mia got angry and called me delusional!" Iska said. She clenched her fist so tight that her knuckles began to pop. "I told her to shut up, that any dish you make would put her's to shame."

He could already see where this was going.

"She kicked us out and told us we couldn't come back until we put your cooking where our mouths are." Iska hung her head.

"'Put up or shut up,' were her exact words, I believe," Asta stated.

Shirou nodded. It wasn't as bad as he first thought. There was a simple way to deal with the problem. "Just tell her you were wrong. I bet she'll let you back in if you do."

Neze shook her head, her silver tail swishing back and forth in agitation. "Don't you have any pride? No, that lady is a great cook, but you're better, see."

"Personally, I think you should do it," Alise said from behind Shirou. "If they were to admit they were wrong when you're the better cook." She shook her head.

"Where's the justice in that?"

The simple answer, there was none. But at the same time, the girls really shouldn't have insulted Mia's food in her own establishment. Not that it mattered. With Alise's inclusion and her bringing justice into the conversation, he'd be doing it one way or another.

"Okay, fine. Let me get my knives." Then, taking to his feet, he headed for his room.

As soon as he opened his door, he watched the little jack bird dart beneath his bed. Its head popped out as soon as the door had firmly closed behind him. Then, tilting its head to the side, it tittered at him. Pulling the roll of knives from the hook behind the door, he started to open the door again and stopped.

Its food bowl was nearly empty. Siphoning some feed from the pouch, Shirou filled its dish and watched as the not so monster-ish monster took a few steps out of hiding.

Satisfied, Shirou nodded and headed back toward the living room. Upon arriving, he found Neze absent.

"She ran ahead to let Mia know you're coming," Alise said.

Shirou nodded. "Lead the way."

They found Neze leaning against the building outside the door when they arrived, a smirk on her face. Beside her was a young woman with brown cat ears and tail that matched her shoulder-length hair. She wore a white apron over a green dress.

When they approached, the girl swung the door open and inclined her head. "We've been waiting for you, nya!"

"Thank you," Shirou said as he made his way into the building. Nearly every seat had been taken. Nearly, only because a table in the corner had been reserved, the sign on it read, Reserved for Challenger.

Behind the counter was a woman, her hair pulled back into a ponytail to show her full face. Her forearms looked to be half again the size of his legs. She smiled upon seeing them.

"Never would've thought a kid would have the guts to challenge me at anything!" She laughed. Though she seemed pleased, Shirou couldn't help but notice her smile didn't meet her eyes.

"Before we begin, there's something I'd like to say to you," Shirou said.

She laughed again, "don't tell me you're gonna back out now, kid!"

In response, Shirou bowed, "I would like to apologize on behalf of those in my Familia. They'd no cause to speak as they did."

Silence reigned. Likely, Shirou thought, because he was the newest member of the familia. So he'd no real right to apologize on their behalf.

"We're sorry." The words echoed behind him, surprising Shirou.

"Well, now. I wasn't expecting that." Mama Mia said, dumbfounded before she seemed to regain her boisterous energy. "Well, fine, apologies accepted! Why don't you folks head over to the table, and I'll whip you something up!"

Rising from his bow, Shirou shook his head. "I was under the impression that we were going to compete?"

Mama Mia looked at him in surprise for a moment before standing to the side and gesturing to the kitchen. "You've got balls, kid, fine. You can use anything in the kitchen. You've got to make enough for everyone to have a portion."

Shirou nodded.

The kitchen was well stocked. As he looked through them and the spices, he made sure to pay attention to Mia. I'd already pulled out several pots and filleted several fish. But, by the looks of it, she was going to make a soup dish. As soon as he turned his attention back to the pantry, Shirou made his decision.

What followed was a whirlwind of motion. Shirou started with several pots of his own and, once filled with water, set to boiling. After that, he began by setting up the rest of his station. Finally, he turned to his main ingredient—half a dozen octopi.

Arms came away from the body, and he dropped them into the boiling water. "Trace on," he murmured.

The octopus was already nearing done. Shirou pulled them from the water began slicing the tentacles into even pieces until he had plenty for each person. Finally, he moved them into a pan.

Traditionally the octopus was supposed to cook on low for several hours, but he didn't really have time for that. Instead, he cut each piece in a way that would allow it took cook at maximum speed. The downside is that if the cook lost focus for even a moment at the wrong time, the meat would come out as nothing more than garbage.

This is where his tracing came in, or to be more precise, his reinforcement; each piece was carefully monitored until perfect. Then quickly removed. Finally, when each piece had been removed, he moved on to the dough. Eggs were mixed with flour as well as water and beat until it created a smooth dough, and he added the pickled ginger.

"What are you making over there, kid? Not too many people like octopus, ya know?"

Looking over his shoulder, Shirou smiled. "This is Takoyaki. Or octopus dumplings." Shirou explained. He formed the dumplings and added the octopus before turning to the stove's pot of oil currently heating. Unfortunately, it hadn't quite gotten to temperature yet.

"Well, it looks like my stew is going to be done first, kiddo." Mia laughed as she pulled the stew from the fire and began pulling out the bowls.

Shirou nodded, "It seems that way, of course. It's a good thing that it wasn't to see who could cook the fastest." Then, arming himself with an oil basket, Shirou dipped the first delicacies into the oil.

When he walked out of the kitchen fifteen minutes later, his arms laden with trays, Shirou wasn't surprised to see everyone eating Mia's stew. Or, in some cases, finished having already devoured what she had put in front of them. It took several trips even with Mia's assistants helping, but soon everyone had six dumplings spread across three skewers in front of them, drizzled in a savory sauce.

He watched as they looked at the food, some apprehensive others, like Neze outright drooling before they began to dig in. Only two people, out of everyone, left any on their plate. Those same people hadn't finished the stew either. Shirou turned to Mama Mia, he smiled. "From the look of it, I'd say it's about a tie. How about you?"

Mia looked at him, and for a moment, Shirou was sure she was going to snap at him that he'd no doubt lost when she began laughing again. "Sure, a tie it is."

Shirou nodded and walked into the kitchen. A moment later, he walked back out and offered a plate he'd set aside for her. "Please enjoy!"

She didn't hesitate in taking a large bite out of the first before sighing. "This is like a bite of heaven, kid, no Shirou. You're going to have to give me the recipe!"

Shirou nodded, "It'd be my pleasure."

As he spoke, Mia wrote the recipe down, stopping him only once. "You just said cooking the meat could take hours! Did you poison my patrons?" Her face turned red, and all of a sudden, she was looming over Shirou rolling up her sleeve.

"No, no, no." Shirou waved his hands in front of him, "I used a faster method to cook the meat, but I don't recommend it if you haven't made the dish a few times first. It could ruin it."

She blinked at him and, without another word, resumed her seat, the pen waiting for his following words. "Not gonna lie, Shirou. If any of them get sick, I'm going to hunt you down."

Shirou nodded. It was something he had fully expected. In fact, it was a course of action he likely would have taken with an untested cook if he owned his own establishment.

When he'd finished giving her the recipe along with a few alterations to adjust the sauce and the overall flavor of the dish, Shirou stood. "Thank you for allowing me the use of your kitchen."

"Don't worry about it. Thank you for the recipe. I owe you, one kid."

Shirou wanted to tell her she owed him nothing, but he knew better than that. Instead, he inclined his head and took a container holding his own dinner, and headed for the door. The others were already gone, likely having heard something that pulled them away before they could say something to him. But that was okay. He appreciated their words, but he felt they exaggerated a bit.

He wiped the sweat from his face as he moved out of the pub. The cool night air swept through the streets. It chilled his skin wonderfully. Snacking on the takoyaki, he made his way down the road, his goal Stardust Garden. Or, to be more specific, his bed.

It had been a long day.

A scream from off to his right destroyed any hope of getting to his bed anytime soon. His reinforcement spread through his system, and he took off in a run. The takoyaki lay forgotten on the ground.

A downside to the upswing in the people's morale finally made itself apparent. WHere he'd once been able to move at full speed through the streets due to the lack of people moving about after dark, he now could not.

Leaping over a pair standing near a side road, ricocheting off the building to continue without losing speed, Shirou ignored their gasps of surprise. He didn't have the time. The screams grew louder with each step.

His goal became apparent when he spotted a well-lit bar. Illuminated by the light of its lanterns was a drunken man holding a young woman that couldn't be more than a year or two older than Shirou in the air by her arm. She wore tattered clothing, her long blonde hair tangled with refuse.

A crowd had gathered, but none of them were doing anything to save the girl. Keeping low, Shirou pushed himself harder.

The man noted Shirou's approach too late.

Foot struck wrist, and the girl dropped. Shirou grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder, leaping a short way from the man and the crowd. He placed a hand onto the hilt of his blade.

"Care to explain what's going on?" Shirou asked with a raised brow.

The man spits on the ground. "This hasn't got anything ta do with you adventurer. The girl an' me have some business ta finish."

"Yeah!" "Go away!" "You have no place here!" "Our business is ours!" "Go back to your god!" "That girl, she's hurting our business!" The crowd roared.

The girl began kicking and struggling to get herself free from his shoulder. "I'll put you down if you don't run," Shirou said.

"I won't run." She said in a small voice.

Lie. As soon as she spoke, Shirou knew she'd make a break for it as soon as she had her feet beneath her.

"That girl is a liar, boy! She's fast too. Best keep ahold of her." The man warned. He was opening and closing his hands nonstop, and the scraping of his teeth was audible.

Nonetheless, Shirou lowered the girl to the ground. "Don't," he warned.

As soon as his arm lost contact with the girl, she was away. Shirou had to admit to himself; she was fast. Turning on his heel, Shirou leaped toward the wall and kicked off. Bounding from wall to wall, he passed her in less than a second and skid to a stop, barring her path.

"I told you not to run." He said.

Her eyes filled with fear. A knife slipped from her shirt, and she held it shakily toward Shirou.

A weapon without name. A tool vengeance, twenty-five times she'd stabbed the man who'd attacked her. It also held the hope of the girl in front of him. Ashleigh Baker. Instead, the tool had been used to widen gaps in walls, cut panes from windows in the dead of night, and threaten those who came close. It was the girls' most well cared for possession.

"Miss, you need to put the knife down." He raised his hands to the side, palms up. He'd no intention of attacking her, and if she attacked him, well, she was more than likely to hurt herself in the process. "No one's going to hurt you."

There was a snort from the crowd that had chosen to draw closer. Shirou held back a sigh. That one act had effectively cornered the girl; she was tired, hurt, and scared. There would be only one outcome if he did nothing.

Lunging forward, he struck the bottom of the knife, sending it up into the air, and flipped the girl onto his shoulder again before reaching up and catching the blade on its descent. Then, whipping it about, he pointed it at the man, his eyes narrowed.

He and the crowd had started forward, a few having pulled out lengths of pipe or knives of their own.

"I'll be back to hear your complaints in the morning. If I don't, you can ask for anyone in the Astraea familia at the guild." With that said, Shirou jumped onto the boxes piled against the building nearest him and again onto the roof.

She kicked, struggled, and screamed. Thankfully the trip was a short one. In minutes Shirou was standing at the back entrance of Mama Mia's. "You'll be safe here," Shirou said as he raised a hand to knock, but the door swung open without him needing to.

"What is going on out here?" Mia asked. She held her cleaver at the ready as she stepped through the door.

As she looked at him, Shirou saw her eyes narrow, more so when she realized the screaming was coming from the person over his shoulder. "What have you gotten yourself into, boy?"

He pulled Ashleigh from his shoulder and set her on the ground to face the ex-adventurer but did not let go. "Ms. Mia, may I present Ashleigh Baker," He felt Ashleigh stiffen at his knowing her name, "she is a thief but has skill in the kitchen." Shirou bowed.

"Will you take her in?" He asked. Ashleigh stilled at his words.

Mia said nothing for a long time, and Shirou began to believe she'd turn them both away than she sighed. "I want proof the girls good in the kitchen."

The kitchen knife was quickly produced and offered. Watching as Mia looked it over and drew her thumb across the edge, Shirou made sure to keep a firm grasp on the girl. Not that he needed to. Her struggling had stopped; her attention focused on Mama Mia and the knife.

"I'll not stand any theft here, girl." She said finally, as she extended the knife, not to Shirou but Ashleigh. "That'll be your only warning."

As Mia moved away from the door, Shirou released the girl. There was nothing more he could do to help her. If she ran, Shirou wouldn't chase her. So, nodding to the matron of the Hostess of Fertility, he left.

At the very least, he could say that she'd already dispensed the favor she thought she'd owed him. A win-win as far as he was concerned.

Shirou walked wearily through the door. It wasn't that he was physically tired so much as mentally exhausted. He'd barely made it a step when he found Iska, Neze, and Asta all bowing.

"We are so sorry!" Iska said, "we knew your cooking would make her's look like garbage-" She grunted as Asta elbowed her in the stomach.

"It was wrong of us to put you on the spot," Asta announced.

Neze nodded, "Thank you so much for going along with us! It won't happen again!"

Shirou stared at them, gobsmacked. To be sure, he'd already known his Familia was filled with good people. He even knew they would apologize, but he hadn't thought they would have made a spectacle of it as they had.

"Shirou-Kun, don't you think you should forgive them?" The voice of his Goddess came, and he found her standing in the doorway, a small smile on her face.

Shirou nodded and did just that. Iska straightened a wide grin on her face. "It was totally awesome how you just walked all-" She grunted again as Asta once more elbowed her before she and Neze dragged the Amazon out of the room.

He was about to say something, but Astraea gestured to the room behind her. "Why don't I update your status as we speak?"

Making his way toward the room, Shirou pulled his shirt over his head and settled himself on the stool facing the fireplace. It had been several days since the last time his status had been updated though it wasn't like the stats meant much to him. He hadn't noticed much in the way of differences anyway.

Her hand pressed against his back, and light began to dance through the room.

"How did it go today?"

Shirou shook his head, "progress is slow. Everyone was spending more time talking about the rumors."

"Yes, Hephaistos has already reached out in regards to those." He stiffened, but as her cool hand settled on his shoulder, he couldn't help but relax a bit. "While not particularly pleased, she does not hold it against you."

It was a relief, not that he'd really been overly worried about it. It wasn't like he could do anything about it either. Chances were if rumors were anything like they were in his old life, they were going to change or just get worse if he tried to deny them.

"Is there any sign of Familia trying to take advantage of people with their games?" Astraea asked, breaking him from his musings.

"A few, but I'm afraid until I have a chance to see them in action, there won't be any proof." As she pressed her hand against her chest, he realized his stats must have settled.

"I see." She said quietly. "Well then, make sure you pass the ones you're wary of to the girls." Paper rustled, and then the coarse material pressed against his back.

"Your numbers haven't gone up as much as I'd expected." She added, passing the paper to Shirou. "Perhaps it's time we have you head into the deeper levels." She murmured.

Shirou knew she wasn't talking to him so much as she was talking to herself and instead turned his attention to the sheet.

Strength G 277 - F 305

Endurance F 302 - F 322

Dexterity G 269 - F 301

Agility G 299 - F 318

Magic G 216 - G 260

Yeah. It wasn't much of an improvement, considering he'd been going down into the dungeon as much as he could. Every day as soon as he was done with his patrolling of the festival setup.

But yeah, maybe heading into the deeper floors would produce better results.

Regardless, the festival would be starting in the next few days. He could focus on raising his stats after it was done and over with.

Chapter End

Fun Fact: Contrary to what many people think, the reason I chose Astraea to be Shirou's goddess has nothing to do with justice. That was a fun coincidence. It has everything to do with the fact she is the constellation Virgo. See, I am a Virgo, and there you go. There's your reason.

Next in the rotation and nearing completion is A True Titan!

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Remove the dashes and you're good to go!

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