Disclaimer: Fate/Stay Night and League of Legends are the properties of Type-Moon and Riot Games respectively.
Chapter 2: Unexpected Revelations
He hadn't slept a wink. His tortured psyche wouldn't let him.
A dozen scenarios kept running through his head, taunting him with what ifs and elusive visions.
Could he have done something differently to alter the outcome of the Holy Grail War?
Had he truly put forward every ounce of effort he could have, done everything possible?
He didn't know which possibility was worse – having tried his best and so utterly failed or possessing the ability but not the will or luck to succeed.
Caught in an unending loop of recrimination and reflection, a prison of his own making, sleep always seemed beyond reach.
Trapped within the cool tranquil darkness, his mind lay mired within the past, dwelling on memories that shone so vividly in his mind, serving as a harsh reminder of what he had been unable to save.
It was with a feeling close to dread that the cogs of Shirou's mind relentlessly churned as he desperately sought out answers to questions that even he didn't fully recognize or understand.
There was a war being waged within – one raging between forces and ideas that were the sum of Shirou – though after hours that felt like weeks, the storm gradually died down and in the smog-filled battlefields on a barren plane; one belief stood above all.
As the first glimmers of sunlight heralded the coming of the new day, so too did resolute metallic eyes creak open, shining with the sheen of a thousand swords.
Shirou shifted with discomfort, he hadn't even changed out of his initial attire before collapsing, and his clothing along with the surrounding sheets were soaked in sweat. With his inner turmoil allayed for the time being, more mundane issues were now brought to the fore.
He swung himself out of the comfortable mattress, which had unfortunately failed in its purpose, then quickly shrugged out of his unsuitable sleepwear, half-consciously folding and leaving them on the wooden floor. His skin sticky with half-dried perspiration, the bathroom couldn't have looked more inviting.
His mind empty of other thoughts, the only thing on Shirou's mind was a quick shower then a long hot soak. Despite or maybe because of his many motionless hours, exhaustion weighed heavily on him. He hadn't even checked out his room's bathroom the day before, and fortunate for him, it was fully-stocked with a myriad of strange soaps and fragrant liquids.
Single-mindedly heading for what he assumed to be the bathing area; a slightly indented area with a showerhead affixed around waist-height next to a decently sized bathtub. He slumped tiredly onto the conveniently located stool, then lightly brushed the aqua crystal embedded in the wall next to the showerhead.
Expecting a spray of water, it actually took a few moments for Shirou to notice that nothing had happened. His mind wandering back to Varus' quick instructions the day before, Shirou tried again with a tentative mutter, "Water?"
This time his actions were greeted with the anticipated water, but his lack of attention to the details of his surroundings had cost him. With a hiss of discomfort, icy water washed over his body, eliciting a lightning-quick response as Shirou instinctively grabbed the showerhead and directed the freezing water into the tub, shivering all the while.
Only now spotting the prominent porcelain knob directly below the activating crystal, Shirou twisted its indicator away from the bluest portion of its arcing display and well into the red region. Testing its temperature cautiously, he aimed the showerhead back at himself then luxuriated in the near-scalding waters.
Blinking water out of his eyes, Shirou's attentions turned to his bandaged right arm. As he slowly unwrapped the soaked dressing, extensive freshly-healed wounds littering his arm were revealed. Varus' concentrated attack the day before had actually managed to completely destroy two layers of Rho Aias – no mean feat – and damage to the Noble Phantasm had the unfortunate effect of echoing itself on its user.
What came as a surprise to Shirou was how far along was the healing process; the pale tender flesh that marked where his injuries had been certainly didn't appear a day old. Was this some reflection of his apparent merger with Archer's arm? Servants had accelerated healing after all, though he'd never heard of anything even vaguely resembling his circumstances.
Still, he wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, it wasn't anywhere near as quick as Avalon, but any degree of accelerated healing was always welcome.
Shirou's ablutions came to a slight hitch as he reached for the dispensers of what he assumed to be soap and miscellaneous toiletries. They were labelled, but the words were completely indecipherable. Luckily, through foresight or accident, the labels also contained descriptive illustrations and Shirou was able to finishing cleansing his body of its accumulated muck.
He then reached over to the identical crystal above the bathtub nozzle, adjusting the temperature knob as he activated the water flow. Continuing to bask in his shower as the bathtub filled, Shirou steadfastly kept his mind clear of thought.
With the tub steaming and filled almost to its brim, Shirou shut off the shower then sank into the near-painful waters and savored the heat as it soaked into aching muscles and strained tendon. The stresses of the night hadn't left his body untouched, and it showed beyond the weariness in his features.
Relaxing into the contoured niche of the bath, Shirou started to drift and before he knew it, his mind knew no more.
Shirou was awoken by the sunbeams shining through the toilet's high window. With no way to tell the time, the teen was left clueless as to how long he'd napped for, though the crick in his neck told him that it couldn't have been short. Curiously, the bath waters hadn't cooled significantly, though they were now merely warm rather than threatening to sear skin from flesh.
The redhead sat up slowly, then stretched languorously, absent-mindedly noting his pruned flesh from staying immersed for so long. Standing up, he unplugged the bathtub, then dried himself using a towel from the wall-mounted rack.
Hanging the towel back up, Shirou walked over to the wall-length mirror and observed himself carefully. He wasn't one to indulge in self-admiration, and this time was no different, instead his eyes scrutinized his body carefully, searching for the various marks of his life, yet finding none.
The dimension-displaced refugee felt a moment of nausea then, as his mind's eye superimposed two more images over his own, and neither fitted him. His was a body empty of the blemishes of time and living, and it showed.
Idly, Shirou's hand rose to rub at his chest where a grotesque vaguely circular ridge of scar-tissue used to be. It had been the memento of a death stroke before, yet he had been strangely attached to it: It had been a hallmark of the change in his life, a milestone of sorts for the life-altering events that had followed. Now it was gone, along with everything he had ever known, and only he remained, once again walking alone and leaving everyone behind.
He stilled, his mind filled with fire.
The first Fuyuki Fire had incinerated the existence that came before Shirou Emiya, the second had finished the job.
This time was different.
Everything he had known before the first Fuyuki Fire had been erased, even his very identity had been scorched away, leaving nothing but a husk. But this time…this time he remembered. It would be up to him to preserve their memories and…live on.
"Shirou! Nice to see you up and about. We thought you'd never leave your room," Varus laughed as he approached auburn-haired teen. "You arrived just in time for lunch, fortuitous timing indeed."
The brunet was decked out once again in white and blue, colors Shirou was rapidly coming to associate with the Quinctilius family, and his welcome seemed to have attracted the attentions of almost everyone else in the dining hall.
Shirou smiled his own greeting and was waved over by the cheerful Quinctilius heir, "Come, come. My family's all here and they've been wanting to meet you."
The pair walked back over to the largest table, tracked by nearly every eye in the hall, though none of the attention seemed negative. There was a constant murmuring, but Shirou tuned them out with a slight blush after getting the gist of the discussions.
The table was decked with foodstuff, almost brimming with savory meats and steaming vegetables, the cooks had gone all-out after Shirou's display, and it showed.
Around two score people were seated at the table, though Varus led him to its head where a smaller group were waiting for them.
At the head of the table sat a matronly woman who exuded an aristocratic air softened by faint smile lines, her storm-grey eyes, the same hue as Varus' own, tracked their passage toward them with eagle-like intensity and Shirou had no doubt that this was the Quinctilius matriarch. Seated next to her was a large man with salt and pepper hair, clad in bronzed armor, radiating a sense of tension that didn't seem directed at anyone. On the opposite side of the table sat Varus' wife, Marcella, and a young boy, barely older than a toddler, and Shirou couldn't recall if the child had been part of the group that had swarmed them yesterday.
Varus motioned toward them, "Shirou, this is my family." He then pointed them out in turn, "My beautiful mother, Claudia. My uncle, Tiberius. You've met my lovely wife, Marcella, and this is our rambunctious terror, Marcus." His final words provoking a blown raspberry from the little tyke.
Shirou smiled and nodded as he was introduced, and he couldn't help but notice that everyone's gazes still remained fixed upon their gathering.
With their introductions done, Varus sat down next to his wife and gestured toward the empty chair next to his uncle, "I'm sure you're hungry, so don't stand on ceremony, just grab whatever food catches your fancy and dig in."
As Shirou sat down into the high-backed chair and cautiously ladled some of the dishes onto his plate, it seemed to send a signal to everyone else in the room as they proceeded to continue their meal.
The food was quite unlike any he'd eaten before, though there were a few dishes he faintly recognized here and there. Overall though, it certainly inspired his palate and his expression turned thoughtful as he unconsciously analyzed their taste and composition even as he enjoyed his meal.
There was some easy banter between the family, though nothing was aimed at Shirou, at least not before he had gotten several bites in and assuaged a little of his hunger.
"So Shirou, would you mind telling us about your world?" Claudia asked, a hint of military bearing leaking through.
He took a moment to swallow, considering his answer, "It's…very different from here. For one; Magecraft isn't commonplace at all."
Claudia looked a little surprised, "No magic? What do you use instead then?"
"Really? So your world doesn't use any magic? Even Piltover and Zaun integrate the two for their techmaturgy."
'Piltover? Zaun? Techmaturgy?'
"Yes, technology does for my world, what Thaumaturgy appears to do for yours." Before anyone else could interject, Shirou continued, "What exactly are Piltover, Zaun and techmaturgy by the way?"
It was Tiberius who answered, his voice a brassy rumble and its military cadence unmistakable, "Piltover and Zaun are the two leading nations in techmaturgy, also known as hextech. They're both located in the north-eastern region of Valoran, almost directly west of Ionia. Piltover is usually likened to be the nobler scientific community, while Zaun tends to be more unscrupulous and possessing of flexible morality." In a tone that brokered no joking he continued, "I'd advise you to be wary of Zaunites, they'd experiment on their own mothers if it meant advancing their sciences. As for techmaturgy, it's basically the mixing of technology and magic in the advancement of both."
"So these two countries, are they at odds with each other?" Shirou asked tentatively.
Claudia shot a look at Tiberius as she answered, "Officially, they enjoy friendly competition and are cordial rivals."
"They are at war," Claudia said succinctly, she continued, her tone unflinching, "It's currently restricted to sabotage and underground movements, but the signs are there."
It was a lot to take in and while the information was welcome, Shirou wondered why they were so free with their intelligence, this wasn't knowledge usually shared amongst near-strangers. He felt like Claudia was leading him with her questions and answers, but to what, he wasn't sure.
"What are the implications?" He threw out a guess.
The Quinctilius matriarch looked at him shrewdly, "Zaun and Piltover stand on opposite sides, and each favor one of the two most prominent factions on Valoran: Noxus and Demacia respectively. Each side seeks to gather power to combat the other, and for now, neither is confident enough in their strength over the other to openly go to war. For now, both factions are rallying their allies and they are not content to leave the other countries neutral in their conflict."
Shirou nodded, his experiences as EMIYA had seen such a scenario played out all too many times.
"Bandle and Bilgewater have already thrown their support behind either of the two factions, so their strength remains relatively even. But this leaves Ionia as one of the dwindling neutral powers left on Runeterra, and pressures are mounting for us to choose a side, despite our wishes for peace."
Not wanting to offer an opinion, but instinctively sensing the stately woman's wishes for such, Shirou played the devil's advocate, "Why don't you back Demacia then? Wouldn't it be the obvious choice given the opposing side? It can't be that bad, can it?"
"Demacia…values justice above all. But it is their own brand of justice, though they hold themselves to even stricter standards than towards outsiders. It is…stifling and intolerant, and not something Ionia can proudly support. To do so, would be to betray our own ideals."
Her last words resonated within him as he stiffened. Hoping that no one had noticed and scrambling for something to cover his lapse, Shirou said, "I believe Varus-san mentioned something about a…League?"
Claudia scoffed, an image discordant with her initial prim atmosphere, "The League is ineffective. It's only as powerful as its Champions and Summoners will it to be, and most of its members already have a vested interest in the conflict."
"What is the League exactly?"
"It stands for the League of Legends…a little pretentious really. And it's supposed to serve as a mediating body for the political landscape of Runeterra. It totes itself as the gathering of the movers and shakers of the world, individuals of sufficient power and influence that their will contributes to the stability and instability of Runeterra."
It sounded a little like the United Nations, an admirable concept that fell short in practice due to political leanings and the withholding of power.
"What do the terms Champion and Summoner refer to?" Absently Shirou noticed Varus and Marcella's child, Marcus, slip away after finishing his meal, clearly bored from the grown-up discussion.
Claudia watched her grandchild leave, then turned back to Shirou, "Champions and Summoners are exceptional individuals who have fulfilled the requirements to join the League of Legends. They must possess incomparable qualities and have distinguished themselves beyond shadow of doubt. Most of these extraordinary beings tend to already be legends in their own right or in the making, recognized throughout the world, thus the name."
A chill went down Shirou's spine, Claudia didn't seem like one to exaggerate, and her words painted an acutely disquieting picture, it hadn't been a conscious decision on her part, but her chosen words couldn't have been more unsettling.
Legends. It wasn't much of a leap in logic for the word to be associated with Heroes. He didn't know how these Legends would compare with the avatars from the Throne of Heroes. But Shirou had already been embroiled in a war that had contained just 8 of humanity's best; and just the collateral damage had been devastating.
What was worse, judging from Claudia's tone, it sounded like the League had access to a lot more than 8 Legends, and Shirou's mind shied away from imagining the aftermath of such a conflict. If there was even an aftermath.
Their region of the table had remained quiet besides for the sounds of eating while Shirou obviously contemplated Claudia's words, then he broke the silence, "What are the differences between Champions and Summoners?"
There were a few unreadable looks passed between the Quinctilius family members, then Tiberius spoke, "Those are the roles that the Legends within the League fall into: Champions are the more combat-oriented individuals, or might I say more suited for frontline battle. Summoners on the other hand tend to be more research based or whose powers are more suited off the battlefield, though individuals can hold both titles."
"Why the names though, I can guess the reasoning behind 'Champion', but why 'Summoner'?"
"For you to understand the meaning behind their names, you have to know their origin. The League is not just a mediator; it also serves as a last resort before open war. Instead of nations sending armies to settle their perceived slights, they can nominate Champions to defend their cause on the Fields of Justice. We talked earlier about Champions having vested interests? Well, this is where it comes into play. The opposing parties will nominate the Champions who have volunteered their services – usually their own countrymen and allies – and after a convoluted negotiation process, 5 champions on each side meet in an arena to resolve the conflict, with the agreed upon stakes going to the victor."
Legendary Heroes battling for a prize? Sounds familiar. Though there were obvious differences.
"Anyway, to cut a long story short, Summoners were the ones who created the avatars for the Champions to control on the Fields of Justice, thus allowing the battles to remain without bloodshed, in theory ensuring that no blood grudges would be created." Tiberius continued, the tension surrounding him, which had ramped down, returning with full force, "Unfortunately, with a large proportion of Champions uninterested in supporting peace talks, it seems unlikely that either side will even be willing to settle for a resolution in the Fields."
"What about Ionia's own Champions? Didn't Varus-san mention something about a Karma assisting in the arbitrating?"
"Duchess Karma," Tiberius said with slight emphasis, "Has travelled to Valoran to volunteer her services as adjudicator, but…Ionia doesn't have any Champions. The Elders chose not to join the League-"
"What!" Shirou couldn't stop his outburst. Taking a deep breath, he continued, "Tiberius-san, I apologize for my interruption, but why hasn't Ionia joined the League. If only to lend its voice to be heard?"
This time it was Claudia who answered with a tinge of melancholy, "Ionia maintains itself to be impartial in all aspects of Valoran's politics. To join the League would be to contribute to the political climate and lose our stance of neutrality."
"But that's ridiculous," Shirou couldn't seem to stop his mouth, he was normally more polite than this, yet his natural impulses had changed, "The forces on Valoran aren't going to forget or ignore you just because you keep insisting that you stand impartial. If you're not willing to represent your own interests, then how can you expect others to do so?" His voice was rising, both in volume and passion, "You say you prize peace. But rather than putting forth all effort in pursuit of it, you satisfy yourself with middling resolve. Your country has sent your Karma and that's enough," Scorn dripped from his words, "Why don't you stop your half-efforts and do something!"
His tirade had possessed a quality, a sincerity that couldn't be denied, and no one had been able to interrupt while it had been in progress. Finally, in the hush that came after, both Claudia and Tiberius gave what seemed to be a nod of approval to Varus, who smiled a little and said simply, "I agree."
Shirou was shocked at the sudden turn around, "Then what was with all that earlier?"
"Call it a quirk of the family, but we usually want to take some measure of our guests. And before you ask, yes, you passed. With flying colors I might add."
The redhead had been doing the mental equivalent of digging in his heels, so changing gears so quickly had thrown him off, "But what your mother's spiel about non-interference and neutrality?"
Varus laughed cheerily, though there was a hint of his mother and uncle in his manner, "We may revere peace and balance, but we're not naïve as to believe that others think the same way. That's why my father, Nero, the governing Elder of Galrin, isn't here at our family gathering. He's back in the Quinctilius family manor, doing what he can to shore up Galrin's defenses. Unfortunately, he's limited in his preparations given the lack of support from the other Elders."
Claudia interjected, "That's not to say we have no allies, and they are certainly not lying on their laurels. The Assembly of Elder might not have decided to join the League, but we are not oblivious to its machinations." Then in a sudden change of subject, Claudia grinned rather mischievously, "And I'm glad to see that you seem to approve of our chefs."
A little confused, Shirou looked down at his empty plate and then took in the bare platters around him. Throughout their discussion, Shirou had unconsciously continued his meal – possibly another remnant of EMIYA's experiences – and the sheer amount he'd managed to put away rivalled Servant portions.
With a faint feeling of embarrassment, Shirou gave a seated half-bow, "I apologize for my unthinking behavior, I hope this doesn't cause any problems. Also, thank you for the meal, and my compliments to the chefs."
Varus' mother was quick to wave off Shirou's apology, "No, no. It was no problem at all. Actually, I think your words just might make quite a few people's day. You made quite the impression yesterday. There's not a person in the household who hasn't heard of you now."
Varus was quick to butt in, "Yea, your banquet has already reached legendary proportions; your name has reached Quinctiliuses from all corners of Ionia. Rest assured that your restaurant will have no shortage of customers."
There was a brief moment of silence as members of the Quinctilius family pretending not to be eavesdropping took in Varus' words, then bedlam erupted as many jumped up and down in joy, while others approached Shirou to boisterously pledge to be his first and most frequent customers.
Shirou just looked a little shell-shocked at the response; it hadn't been news to him but he had thought them to be exaggerations. Now he was clearly being proven wrong as person after person shook his hand enthusiastically, before Varus moved to liberate Shirou from his ardent fans.
Outside the dining hall, in the surprising quiet of the corridor – passing the threshold appeared to have cut down on the noise dramatically – Varus and Shirou discussed their plans for the day. Shirou wanted to conduct some research regarding the upkeep, various requirements and location of his potential restaurant, but Varus was quick to cut in, insisting to Shirou that he'd handle those issues and that Shirou simply had to vet the choices later. Instead, there was a more pressing issue as the Pallas council had requested a meeting with Shirou again.
There was no hesitation in Shirou's acquiescence, he had predicted that such an occurrence was likely, and he had a few questions of his own for them anyway.
The stroll out of the Quinctilius home was leisurely and the banter was casual and easy as Varus answered Shirou's questions about the world he had found himself in.
"The known world is separated into several regions. There's the super-continent, Valoran, which contains the majority of nations, but explaining its geography and layout is difficult without a map, so I won't even try." He waved rather flippantly at this, "There're multiple smaller ones, of course the foremost being Ionia, which lies to the north-east of Valoran. Ionia, itself comprises of the Ionian mainland, and three main subsidiary islands: Galrin to the south, Shon-Xan to the south-east and Tenmon to the north-west. There're many smaller islands, but there's too many to recall."
Shirou walked along silently, silently committing everything to memory and nodding occasionally to show his continued attention, this was information every person on Runeterra should know, and his lack of knowledge would make him stick out like a sore thumb.
"To our south, across the Guardian Sea, lies Bilgewater," Varus fairly spat the name. "It's a large archipelago nation, and owner of the strongest 'navy' on Runeterra." Shirou could hear the clear disdain in Varus' voice. "Their main landmass consists of 3 large islands, and their capital is a huge port on Blue Flame Island. There's an extensive pirate element sheltering in the sea of islands consisting of Bilgewater. They deny it, the bastards, but they tacitly support the piracy of non-Bilgewater ships and the pillaging of coastal areas. Galrin and Shon-Xan both have a horrible history of fending off the almost constant raids by Bilgewater privateers. Heck, that's one of the reasons why we Quinctiliuses made a name for ourselves."
Varus paused and looked a little apprehensive, "The last major region is called the Shadow Isles. It stands alone, far to the west of Valoran, and it has barely even been charted. A land constantly shrouded in mist, honestly, not much is known about it, not even its true size. The perpetual fog that blankets the region make navigating it near impossible, add in its undead population, and even Ezreal is cautious about exploring the place. Frankly, it unsettles the heck out of me and the entities that wander out from there are ones you should steer clear off."
The brunet saw the clear question in Shirou's eyes and exhaled noisily, "Every single thing that has crossed the Conqueror's Sea from the Shadow Isles have unilaterally pursued membership into the League and been accepted. Their purpose is unknown and they're certainly not talking. Some of them are monsters… walking disasters, devastation follows in their wake," Varus' face had turned blank, hiding all emotion.
Shirou didn't want to push, but a lack of information was dangerous, and this seemed particularly so, "Walking disasters? …What did they do to deserve such a designation?"
"One of the worst calls itself Hecarim; the public refer to it as the Shadow of War, and it's revoltingly appropriate. The first records of Hecarim place its landing somewhere in the north-western region of Valoran, where it proceeded to cut a swath down the Serpentine River and all the way to the Institute of War, the headquarters of the League. Its journey started in the massacre of nearly a dozen northern-barbarian tribes, then went on to butcher every river town that got in its path and most famously the complete annihilation of all the troops engaged in one of the skirmishes between Demacia and Noxus. In the span of just a single month, its death count was more than a hundred thousand civilians and another twenty thousand or so troops. That thing went up against two armies and emerged the victor, and according to him, they were all 'just in the way'."
"You know the worst part?" Varus' voice was harder than Shirou had ever heard it. "If you trace Hecarim's path, you'd find it practically a straight line. That monster wasn't joking. All those people slaughtered. They really were just in its way."
Varus took a deep breath as Shirou's mind reeled at the numbers, when Varus had mentioned the undead, he had braced himself but this surpassed his worst expectations. This Hecarim sounded like a Dead Apostle Ancestor unleashed; immensely powerful vampires of his world who made up their aristocracy of sorts. Even at their worst, the outbreaks of 'mere' Dead Apostles resulted in the deaths of thousands, almost never exceeding four figures.
Hecarim's death toll… it wasn't the highest he'd encountered, but if what Varus was telling him was true, and this was all incidental damage. Then Hecarim was a threat to humanity too dangerous to be ignored and he…
No. He wasn't an Ally of Justice. He had forsaken and been forsaken by his ideals. Such decisions could not be taken back.
He would live, and live as Shirou Emiya; the testament to the lives of those who had fallen.
They reached and passed the estate gates minutes later, Varus had waited for further questions, but Shirou hadn't seemed inclined to do so. Instead, their talk had turned to more benign topics as Shirou had steered his questions back to Ionia and Pallas, an area that Varus had taken to with great gusto.
"Ionia is made up of eighteen provinces; the foremost being our principle province, Heikou. Its capital is the Placidium, noted to be second in beauty only to Pallas. One thing our nation is famous for, besides our vaunted diplomacy, is our martial arts. You'd be surprised how many incredible forms of martial arts have been created in the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment."
"Oh, so Varus-san, are you a martial artist as well?"
"Me? I'm well-versed in my family's own brand of unarmed and armed fighting styles, though of course I specialize in the bow. In all modesty, you'll never find better."
Something rose up within Shirou then, it was small and foreign, and he easily dismissed it, "So your family has its own martial art?"
"Yup, though its roots were far more mundane than something like seeking enlightenment," Varus chuckled, "It just sort of emerged in my ancestors' constant clashes with pirates and brigands. Survival was a huge motivating factor and our style was refined in all the raids and attacks. Before you ask, most martial art styles are named after their founding family, so you can easily guess the name of my family style. Anyway, as my family established itself as being more combat-inclined, surrounding towns hired our members as guards and gradually we were acknowledged as the family in-charge of most of the defenses of what would become Galrin."
"So that's why your family base is there?"
"Pretty much, that's also why I came to Crius forty years ago to get out from under the shadow of the Quinctilius name, and I think I've done well so far."
Shirou was nodding along when something Varus had said occurred to him, "Wait, you came here forty years ago?" Seeing Varus' affirmative look, he continued, "Then how old are you now?"
Varus looked rather puzzled at Shirou, before laughing a bit, "Shirou, don't you know it's not polite to ask a man his age?" The joke seemed to pass right over Shirou's head, if his serious expression was anything to judge by, "I'm sixty-three and still in the spring of my youth." He thumped his chest cheerily, "Why? How old did you think I was?"
Shirou was a little at a loss for words, he hadn't thought about the implications of Magecraft being so proliferate in the world. He'd assumed that it had simply taken the place of technology, but he was now being proved thoroughly wrong. The magi in his old world were long-lived and their life-spans often extended into the centuries, so it shouldn't have been unexpected for humans of this world to be far more long-lived than he was used to.
"Maybe in your late twenties?" Shirou didn't even try to lie, even as EMIYA, he'd never been adept at falsehoods, and his experiences were telling him that Varus wouldn't be deceived for even a second.
"What? Did I look that inexperienced to you?" Varus looked at Shirou in mock outrage, then continued before Shirou could respond, "Eh, I assume that either the life-spans or growth cycles in your old world are different from ours, so don't worry."
It was another stark reminder of his companion's astute nature and Shirou had a nagging feeling that the archer would have fit in quite easily with the Legends of the League.
"In my old world, normal people are lucky to reach the ripe old age of a hundred," Shirou explained anyway.
Once again the piercing gleam in Varus' eyes appeared, "So what about the not-so-normal people?"
Shirou didn't hesitate as he answered, "Those count their lives in the centuries, if not more. What about Runeterra?"
"Hard to say, life-expectancy seems to range anywhere from over a hundred years to multiple millennia. There's actually a Wuju-style practitioner who's supposed to be its founding master and said to have lived since the birth of Ionia. That'd make him at least eleven thousand years old." Varus paused for dramatic effect, "Then again, he could just be senile."
Intel on a place's fighting styles and tactics was always valuable and Shirou couldn't stop his impulse to learn more, "So could his longevity be linked to his martial art, this Wuju-style?"
"Well…it's possible, his disciples, and there are a lot of them, do seem on the longer-lived of the spectrum. There's even a sect in Pallas and the master there is several millennia old. You'll probably see him later since he's on the council."
Shirou filed that info away for later, a martial art that had survived and thrived for several thousand years would be worth looking into, he might not be a Hero of Justice, but this world was turning out to be way more dangerous than his old one, and he would not stand by and stagnate.
"Varus-san, you mentioned earlier that Ionia is home to many incredible martial arts, what others are there?"
Something indecipherable flashed across Varus' face and Shirou wondered if he'd hit some hidden pitfall, but Varus just continued jauntily, "Quite possibly the most famous is the Hiten-style of the famed Elder Lito. It is said that blades breathe in his grasp and I was privileged to witness the feat with my own two eyes." Varus' look of awe as his eyes grew distant couldn't be faked, "His martial demonstration was breathtakingly beautiful, there was a oneness with his swords that was so transcendent, they almost seemed to float on air. It wasn't grace or even skill; words just fail to describe the sheer encompassing quality that was Elder Lito's display. People come from all over the world for even a mere glimpse and I can't blame them."
"Is the Hiten-style as widespread as the Wuju-style?"
"Oh, no. Elder Lito's disciples are few and far between. He almost never takes on students, though it doesn't stop people from trying."
"So is there a…sect in Pallas?"
Varus looked at Shirou from a corner of his eye, "You're interested in learning these martial arts." It was a statement not a question.
"Ambitious…I recall you use two swords, trying to expand on your skills?"
Shirou shrugged, there was no point in denying it, so he settled on a half-truth, "It seems like the prudent thing to do, with the state of Runeterra as it is."
Varus looked to reply but suddenly his presence seemed to swell as his eyes blazed with golden light. Shirou was instantly on his guard, the imaginary hammer in his head cocked, he didn't know what was going on and he didn't think Varus intended him harm, but he would stand ready nonetheless.
The Pallas Guardian's already impressive aura had expanded in an instant, almost exploding outwards in its rapidity to encompass a continuously increasing area. There had been a constant impression of not exactly being watched, but a sense of consciousness of his movements ever since the tunnel from the Pit, but now that feeling multiplied several times over.
Shirou's mystic senses manifested itself as a sort of synesthesia – interpreting foreign Prana and Magecraft as scents – and this display carried with it a curious trace of clear morning sunlight.
It was barely perceptible but Varus appeared to be surrounding by a faint nimbus of light, which on closer inspection revealed itself to be the convergence of countless glowing filaments, the strands stretching forth from all over the city.
Shirou could scarcely believe it, but it looked like Varus was tapped into the warding system of the entire city of Pallas; definite proof that his status as Guardian of Pallas was no overstatement.
Varus' large metallic bow seemed to almost phase into existence within his grasp, but it came as no surprise to Shirou that the archer hadn't been unarmed. He had already glimpsed Varus' weapon the day before, and the instant he had done so, Varus' signature weapon and all its intricacies had already been laid bare – The trick to the bow's appearance was the ornate grey and brass gauntlet which possessed a similar aesthetic to the weapon. They were in fact a single linked artifact, with the gauntlet allowing for the manifestation of the bow.
The Pallas Guardian turned his bow skyward, drawing back its luminous bowstring in the same movement. At full draw, a familiar radiant projectile coalesced from nothing to nock itself on the bowstring and just before Varus loosed his glowing arrow, Shirou managed to make out hazily glowing chains spiraling down the arrow's shaft.
There was a single arcing trail of light, then Varus' presence abruptly folded itself back as the golden light faded from his eyes and he put away his bow. Shirou's mystic senses continued to follow the shot as it impacted an individual about two kilometers away and then seemed to unfold around its target, immobilizing it.
Turning back to Shirou, the man smiled sheepishly as if he hadn't done anything of significance, "Sorry, there was an armed robbery in progress and I had to intervene. Don't want to infringe on the peacekeepers, but there wasn't any nearby so I thought it best to step in."
"You're linked into the wards of Pallas aren't you, not just the temple," Shirou tentatively probed, this was defensively-pertinent information and he didn't want to push Varus.
It seemed like his caution wasn't warranted as Varus answered without delay, "Indeed I am. My title isn't just for show you know."
Shirou agreed with Varus' statement silently; his access to the powerful wards of the city – and its comprehensive surveillance coverage – combined with his prodigious skill at the bow, made for an unavoidable threat to any interloper. The offensive attacks he'd exhibited yesterday were impressive, at least verging on Servant-level if the damage to Rho Aias was anything to go by, and the charged blast that had resembled the launching of a miniature sun – the scent of Varus' power was definitely appropriate – hadn't even been unleashed at its full potency.
In addition, the arrow that had just been loosed had possessed the ability to restrain its target, and Shirou could certainly recall the inhuman speed at which Varus had been able to loose his attacks yesterday, it wasn't any stretch of the imagination to envision the two aspects joined, allowing for a large-scale incapacitation of targets. Used in conjunction with his mystic reconnaissance, Varus quite literally possessed the ability to singlehandedly slow if not outright stop an extensive assault on Pallas.
One of the few real limitations Shirou could foresee was Varus' range and the ability of his enemies to intercept or dodge the projectiles. As Shirou's thoughts continued to analyze Varus and his weapon's capabilities, he increasingly likened the elaborate brass bow to his world's Noble Phantasms – the weapons of Heroic Spirits – and the connotations disturbed him.
With individuals like Varus walking around, Shirou had the increasing suspicion that Runeterra's version of the Age of Gods had never ended.
The trek back up the immaculately manicured hillside to the Temple of Pallas did nothing to sooth Shirou's troubled mind. Varus had continued to chat amiably with the teen, and Shirou did his best to reciprocate, but his heart wasn't in it.
A constant discordant thought kept hammering itself at Shirou's mind; this was a world stuck in the Age of Divinity, where monsters and heroes walked the earth.
The duo passed through the serene corridors of the temple filled with quietly discussing monks and the occasional pair of guards; given that the temple also functioned as the governing center of the city, it wasn't unexpected to see that there was a large complement of Ionian troops stationed there at any one time.
Once again tracing their way back to the council chamber's double-doors, they were halted by a wizened old nun, bent over with age yet filled with a discernable vibrancy.
"Greetings Varus, Guardian of Pallas and Shirou Emiya, our honored guest from another world, my name is Shizuka Hisui. The council is currently convening with another honored visitor. Please wait a moment while they finish," She bowed low, gesturing to a furnished alcove to the side, where a pot of tea lay steaming.
Their wait was short, they had barely finished nursing their first cup when the guards posted at the doors opened wide the chamber entrance and the nun tottered over to inform them that the council would see them now.
The council chambers were just as Shirou had remembered it, fragrant with incense and its mystic protections were as formidable as ever. There were fewer council members present than the day before, six seats lay empty though Elder Agrippa and seven other councilors were in attendance, including the Councilor Augustus.
Agrippa smiled as the pair entered, "Welcome back Shirou Emiya, I hope Pallas has been treating you well?" At the same time, she offered a cordial greeting to Varus.
He bowed to the Elder, "Thank you Elder Agrippa, the hospitality of Ionia has been amazing and the people of Pallas have been unbelievably accommodating, I am truly humbled by the welcome Pallas," Shirou turned to Varus, "And the Quinctilius family have presented me."
The Elder beamed and for a moment the years seemed to sluice off her, "Ohh, you are very much welcome. Anyway, we have enough time for pleasantries later. The reason why we requested your presence today was because we managed to get hold of a fitting guide for you. Varus is fine and all," She laughed congenially, taking any possible edge off the jibe, "But he is hardly the most appropriate person to teach you about Runeterra."
Agrippa gestured to the side, and Shirou was shocked to discover a young woman standing scarcely a few steps away from him, seemingly completely innocuous. He hadn't noticed her proximity at all and it was only now that the Elder had pointed her out, did the woman's presence seem obvious.
"This generous young lady has volunteered to be your guide and teacher during your stay with us, and I assure you that her knowledge is impeccable."
The dark-haired beauty stepped forward, her stride flawlessly balanced, "It's nice to meet you, Mr Emiya."
"My name is Akali Kagerou."
AN: Sorry about the delay, I'm far from the fastest writer and I rewrote many portions of this chapter way too many times. I'm still not happy with certain parts, with Shirou's inner turmoil at the beginning of the chapter standing out the most.
Thanks for all the great reviews; I try to reply when I have the time though don't expect any major spoilers from my responses.
Anyway, this chapter doesn't really have any action, I'm still mostly in the world-building and character development phase so don't expect too many explosions or blood spilling in the upcoming chapters.
I try to show not tell, and there are quite a few more subtle but important details scattered about my chapters (as well as easter eggs), hopefully I'm not being too heavy-handed with some of my hints, haha. Also, there'll be quite a few instances where a question or detail is raised, only for its answer to be raised in the future, so feel free to speculate and jump to conclusions.
Some people have been asking who exactly would be appearing in upcoming chapters and I think it's become obvious.
On another note, I found it interesting that both ancient Roman and Japanese cultures have one thing in common when it comes to their ablutions, they both love their baths. With Ionia being a curious mix of Oriental and Roman influences, I found that they surprisingly did have some details in common, and it was fun to craft more of Ionia.
Please read and review (fanfic authors live off reviews after all), comments, suggestions and constructive criticism are welcome, though flames will be ignored.