Chapter 9

The City of Vale

"Guys! Guys!" Nora bounced around excitedly on the way up to the aircraft. "This is amazing!"

The orange haired girl was a bundle of energy as he flittered around each of her teammates beaming a bright smile. "Like, I've been to Vale City before with Ren and that was pretty cool! However," she sucked in a great amount of air, "going with my own team? Ahh-!" Her eyes squinted shut. "Having the four of us hang out is gonna be so awesome!"

Ren simply maintained a small smile. His pale pink eyes dutifully tracked Nora, always making sure to nudge her in the right direction before she could ever bump into something or someone. "As they say," he began, "good company makes everything better."

Nora's energy was infectious as I was unable to hide my own little grin. That girl had been unable to contain herself the moment we were declared the victors.

"Hey leader?" Nora popped up beside me. "Have you ever been to Vale before?"

"Hmm," I returned a non-committal hum, "no, not really. This will be the first time for me stepping into the city."

She gasped, hands on both cheeks with her mouth wide open. "No way! Are you serious Shirou?"

My eyebrow quirked up.

"Then you are in for a serious treat!" She grabbed my arm enthusiastically. "Vale is like one of the biggest and bestest cities in the world! There's so much to see and do, we could literally take a whole month off just exploring around! And god, the food!" She cried out passionately. "They've got all kinds of stuff from all over the world!"

"Indeed," followed up Ren as he pried his partner away from me. I nodded my head in thanks as he returned the gesture. "The city is very multi-cultural giving a person a taste of all the other regions while still holding onto its own distinct culture and vibe."

"I must say it has been… quite some time since I've ventured out into Vale," spoke up Pyrrha.

I glanced at my partner that walked beside me. "How long ago since you last visited?"

"Let's see…" She placed a finger on her chin. "I think it was over a year ago."

"How was it?"

"It was… interesting, to say the least," she answered diplomatically with a smile.

That was probably at the height of her career and popularity. She was a four-time champion, so if it was over a year ago that meant she had accomplished a three-peat. A legendary feat that few, if any, would ever be able to achieve. Companies and sponsors would've clamored over themselves to have her endorse their products or brands. And that meant she had probably been flown out to almost every kingdom.

"Look, there's our ride!" pointed out Nora.

Just up ahead was our transport into the city. Since the campus was considered well outside the city limits. The only practical way for people to commute was to take air transportation since the vast stretch of land separated the school from the city.

As we stepped closer, the door to the cockpit was open with a leg that swung out lazily. "Stab trim cutout switches, normal. Wheel well fire warning, checked. Radios, radar, and transponder, set and on standby. Rudder and aileron trims, free and zero."

With Nora's thunderous approach, his head glanced to the direction of the bounding footsteps.

"Ah," he grinned warmly hopping out. He looked to be a middle-aged man with dark brown hair that was combed back. His clean-shaven face greeted us, "You four must be Team…" He squinted at his tablet. "S-N-P-R correct?" A curious eyebrow slowly rose at having to say all four letters. He double-backed to his tablet, checking to see if he had missed our team's name. "No abbreviation or anything?"

"They never assigned us one, so we're going as is for now." I offered an explanation.

"Heh," he huffed out in amusement, "not to worry." He offered out his hand. "The name's Emmerich Jaeger, I'll be your pilot this morning. A pleasure to meet you."

"Shirou Emiya, leader of Team SNPR," I shook. "Likewise."

The pilot tossed his tablet back inside. "We should be ready to depart as soon as you're all strapped in. Should be a short flight, weather is nice and clear too. Hopefully that means a smooth flight into the city," he explained conversationally, eyeing everyone on the team. "Just went through the final preflight checklist and-" his voice abruptly stopped. Plain brown eyes blinked then grew wide in astonishment. "W-Wow!" The awestruck man blurted. "Apologies, but… are you the Pyrrha Nikos?"

My eyes snuck a glance to Pyrrha.

If I had blinked or not looked in time, I would have missed it. Her shoulders stiffened almost imperceptibly. The corners of her lips tugged down a fraction of an inch before they were instantly pulled up into a smile. Her eyes brightened, dazzling the man with an image that left him awestruck. The image that Pyrrha projected was so well crafted that it even left Ren and Nora enchanted.

It was beautiful, and yet, it felt so… forced.

The mask that Pyrrha seamlessly slid on was so fast that I couldn't help but stare. The way she transitioned reminded me of when I would play the part of being a clueless fool to Julian.

"Yes, I am!" answered Pyrrha.

"If you don't mind miss," he fished out his scroll from one of his pockets. "Could I trouble you for a picture and autograph for my son? He's a big fan of yours and well hehe," he scratched the back of his head. "I sort of am too! If my son ever found out that I met the Invincible Girl herself and didn't try asking. He'd never forgive me!" he laughed to himself.

"Of course, I don't mind at all!" My partner laid down her bags as she patted her clothes down and adjusted her tiara.

"Fantastic!" Emmerich turned to me. "Hey, would you mind taking the picture for me?"

"Sure…" I accepted his scroll and brought t up. They posed in front of the aircraft with the man giving a big smile and thumbs up. Pyrrha accompanied it with a charming smile that had the ability to sweep anyone off their feet. She radiated such beauty that I had to pause for a second to gather myself as I realized I was almost pulled into the same trap like everyone else. "Three, two, one."

The snap of the picture tore me out of the illusion.


"Thank you so much!" He shook her hand enthusiastically before pulling out a notepad and pen from his flight suit. "Do you mind addressing this to my son? His name is Erich Jaeger. Something simple will be more than enough."

"Of course," she said serenely as she wrote something down. "To Erich Jaeger… Be strong, Be Kind! Signed… Pyrrha Nikos!"

"Wow, thank you once again!" He inspected the photo and autograph together. "I can't wait to tell my son about this!" The man chuckled bashfully. "Sorry, sorry, a grown man like myself getting all worked up about this must be a poor sight to see."

"No, no," Pyrrha put her hands up placatingly, "it's okay, the pleasure was all mine!"

Sweet, honeyed words that instantly assuaged his worries. "Oh, you are simply too kind Miss Nikos!" He pocketed his items away before clapping his hands. "Alright then, let's get you four underway, shall we? It'll be a quick flight, but I'll try and take us on a scenic route. Hopefully the boys up in the tower won't mind if we did some sight-seeing."

"You needn't trouble yourself for me," concerned Pyrrha.

"Nah," he waved her off. "Think of it was a thank you and apology for bothering you and your team. Besides," he climbed up into his seat, "the weather is so lovely today! Now hop on in you four!"

The door to the cockpit closed shut.

Ren and Nora were already piling into the cabin with the latter pulling the former. I took a step forward, but stopped to turn around as Pyrrha picked up her belongings by herself. Her back was turned away as she gave Beacon Academy one last look before dipping her head. When the engines began to kick up, her ponytail wavered in the wind. Her shoulders rose and dropped; a heavy breath being exhaled.

Stepping back out, I called out to her, "Everything okay Pyrrha?"

"Yes, of course," she said, beaming me with that smile. Her eyes never met my gaze. "I was just… taking in the sight, you know?"

Pyrrha's bangs covered her eyes as she stepped into the cabin of the aircraft.

As I followed her inside and settled into my seat. I gave Beacon Academy a good look as well. There it stood, with great spires and hallways, a modern castle that nurtured the next generation of huntsmen and huntresses. People from all over the world came here for a myriad of things. For a great many, this was the first step in their journey to becoming a gallant hero. For some, a place to forge lasting friendships and maybe something more. And for a scant few, a place to begin anew.

I couldn't help but wonder to myself.

What was Beacon to Pyrrha?

Ozpin sat high in his tower.

On a clear day, his vantage point allowed him to cast his gaze on almost the entirety of the kingdom. With such clarity, he often found his eyes wandering away from his paperwork that seemed unending on his desk. And when his eyes wandered too often, Glynda would always be there to reprimand him.

"So, there they go." However, it was not the case today as his longtime friend gazed out worryingly. "Away from the nest and off into the world."

He couldn't help but smile.

Underneath that cold, harsh exterior that Glynda was so fond of exuding laid a genuinely softhearted person. Students under her tutelage were provided only the best effort from her and therefore she expected the same in return. After all, their lives were in her hands as the lessons Glynda imparted could either mean life or death in the field.

"You know… I've watched countless first year teams go out onto their first missions, but it still never gets any easier," she softly commented.

He returned a non-committal hum.

"Still…" continued Glynda. "I do wonder why Mister Emiya chose this assignment out of all the others. While it certainly isn't the most dangerous, it is rather," she paused trying to find the right word, "complex."

Ozpin chuckled as he picked up his mug. "A complex work-study for a complex individual. I have complete confidence that Mister Emiya and his team will return with stellar results."

She inclined her head in agreeance. "That boy has proven himself to be a cut above the rest. He's kept with our terms and has so far exceled in every class putting himself just below Miss Schnee and Miss Nikos."

The headmaster chose to simply sip his coffee, electing to keep his silence as he caught Glynda's eyes. They sharpened considerably before softening as she tapped away at her tablet. "Oz."


Her lips pressed thinly together. Uncertainty and concern danced in her eyes for a scant moment that was blinked away. "We're starting to run out of places to look," she stated.

He schooled his features inward at the news.

"At the rate we're going, I'm hesitant to think that we might not be able to hold our end of the deal. We're already starting to have some unwanted attention turning our way." Her voice paused allowing her words to settle. "James messaged me not too long ago wondering what reason we have to be poking around his kingdom's birth records. He's beginning to ask questions."

Ozpin refrained from sighing out heavily.

James Ironwood had an almost incessant need to poke his nose in all matters. This matter in particular required discreteness above all else. Something that his fellow headmaster was not the best at since when he moved, so to did the might of the Atlas military. "Tell him it's a private matter and that he needn't worry." Ozpin gazed down at the dark drink before taking a sip. "Be sure to remind me that he too has more important matters that require his attention."

"Very well," nodded the woman. She was already typing out a message before she came to a stop. "Oz," Glynda drew in a deep breath, "I'm beginning to think that maybe-"

"Keep looking," he cut in before she could finish that dangerous line. "We will keep searching until there is no other place to look."

"And when there is no where else for us to turn to?" Her eyes pinned him into his seat.

He stayed silent for a moment, simply seeking comfort in his favorite beverage only to find it tasting bitter than usual. The drink doing nothing to assuage the reality of once more being the bearer of terrible news. Of all the trials and tribulations, of all the adversities he overcame, nothing proved more difficult than delivering a message of sorrow.

After all, the last time he had to deliver such news was-

Ozpin immediately ceased that line of thought.

"Then like always…" He could already feel it, another weight slowly being added on his shoulders. It's weight ever growing, ever encumbering with passing time. "I will bear that burden," he resolved solemnly.

As Beacon Academy shrunk, the City of Vale grew larger.

Flying afforded us a view of the land in almost its entirety. Surrounding the city proper were great walls that protected the capitol and its people. The iron curtain stretched from coast to coast, one point to another, making a clear divide from civilization and nature. An astounding feat of human engineering.

"Incredible isn't it?" remarked Ren. "The walls are considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. An undertaking that took almost a century to complete."

"I've never seen anything quite like it," I replied.

Few things could compare to the sheer scale of this project. The Great Walls of China came to mind, but even that seemed small in comparison to how this superstructure towered over the landscape.

The further we flew in; realization began to settle in at the vastness of civilization. The body of water that sat below the cliffs of Beacon Academy was nothing more than an enormous river system. The main vein split the city in two with one of the arms forking out and ending at the academy. From ground level, it was so laughably big that it appeared to be a lake instead.

As the line of thought continued, could this even be called a city?

By rough comparison, this had to eclipse even all the wards of Tokyo put together.

At the southlands, separated by the river, an immense amount of land was purposed for agriculture. The northern branch that led to Beacon was almost crystal clear blue water while the southern one contained a yellow tinge. In-between the forked rivers, lied what appeared to be the residential district; suburbs, apartments, and high-rises all packed in tightly. Over yonder in the north, skyscrapers and towers dotted the landscape. And all along the coastline were harbors and factories.

Connecting it all together were intricate roadways and railways that acted as the veins and arteries of this colossal body. Cars and trains flowed throughout the city bringing people to their destination. The extensive networked ensured that traffic flowed smoothly as much as possible.

As we flew deeper, a peculiar structure stuck out.

The reserved grounds allowed it to stand out in the concrete jungle. An old castle that looked eerily familiar to the one that we departed from. Stone and painted glass decorated its surface rather than steel and concrete. A similar grand causeway, just like Beacon's, carved a path up to the central gate.

Ren nudged my shoulder. "Resemble anything Shirou?"

"Yeah," I hummed, "kind of looks like Beacon."

"Mhm," he confirmed with a nod. "Beacon was modeled after the original castle in the city. That right there," pointed Ren, "you're looking at the former seat of power of this land. Where the great Kings of Vale used to live and rule from. For hundreds of years, this was the place where policy and edicts were made and carried out. From the first king to the very last who abdicated the throne. All that history… happened here," he finished.

"The last king… that was Oswyn, right?" said Nora.

"Yeah," Ren smiled approvingly that she paid attention to their classes. "He's also the one that established the Huntsman Academies and began the wall project after the Great War. They say he also assisted in constructing one of the other Seven Wonders."

"What's the other one?" I asked.

"As a sign of peace and to foster prosperity and cooperation between the two former warring kingdoms. He helped along the designs to raise Atlas off the ground. Sadly, he never lived to see it, but eventually they got the kingdom to float up into the air."

My eyebrow slowly rose, but didn't question it.

There had been far stranger things back home such as the mysterious mobile base of the Wandering Sea. From what I gleamed off from my travels with Kiritsugu. It was more like a moving mountain range that hid in the seas and rarely, if ever, came up on dry land. So, the thought of a floating landmass wasn't too farfetched for me.

"Alright you four," the intercoms crackled above. "I hope you enjoyed some sight-seeing of Vale! We're on final approach for landing at the airport. Get yourselves buckled in; we'll be touching down shortly."

At that, we returned to our seats as the aircraft began its descent.

Pyrrha jostled slightly in her seat once the aircraft landed.

The engines outside died down to a low whine as the doors depressurized and slid open. She was the last to leave and step out onto the platform. The pilot had already hopped out of his cockpit as he waved them all a farewell.

"Good luck you four on your assignment." He smiled warmly. "And thank you once again Miss Nikos! Really appreciate what you did for me!"

With practiced ease, she returned his smile with one of her own and a courteous bow of her head. "No, no, the pleasure was all mine!"

Turning back to her team, Nora and Ren were already making their way into the terminal. Shirou on the other hand waited patiently for her. His eyes met hers for a scant moment. On instinct, she flashed him a smile in attempt to allay any worries.

She recognized that it failed to do anything as he simply blinked. A soft sigh escaped his lips before motioning for her to keep up and led her to the other half of their team.

Walking through the terminal, Pyrrha allowed herself to comfortably settle next to Shirou. As they waded deeper into the building, it was when she began to feel the stares build. One head turned, then another, those stares quickly became whispers, whispers turned into chatter, and chatter gave way to gossip.

The bangs of her red hair shadowed over her eyes.

"Hey, that's the Invincible Girl!" A brunette, off to the side, gasped to her friend.

"Oh my gosh, it is!" Her blonde friend jumped excitedly, already pulling out her scroll and snapping pictures.

"It's the four-time champion!" Pyrrha caught sight of a man shoving his friend, finger pointed directly at her. "Man… she's even hotter in person," he sighed out dreamily. "The videos on the net don't do her any justice!"

The other man's eyes stared, his eyes drinking in the sight to the fullest. "Oh man… oh man! Hey, do you think I could get an autograph from her?" he asked. "Or maybe even her number?"

"Pfft." His friend dismissed him. "As if she'd give a nobody like you the time or day. The most us shmucks can do is look from afar."

Pyrrha automatically slipped on her public persona. A face full of smiles while tossing out waves here and there to the budding crowd. She tossed them breadcrumbs, in a vain hope to appease their need for attention, however that only seemed to spur them on. They quickly grew in numbers as cameras snapped pictures and were quickly uploaded in excitement. More and more quickly came to investigate what all the commotion was about.

Her hand squeezed onto the handles of her bags.

No matter how many times it has happened, it seemed to never get any easier. The feeling of isolation and loneliness unduly caused by their fervent idolization struck her deeply. How they revered and adored only served to strengthen her belief that the fame she came onto was more of a curse than a blessing.

Endure, she chanted in her head.

Withstand this moment for the sake of her partner. Present herself as prim and proper as possible. Do not cause or make a scene that would provide ammunition for people to use to harass her team. Persevere through this short moment for their sake. Afterwards, she could find solace in her team once this was all over.

Just endure and-

Suddenly, alarms blared in her ears. They clambered loudly inciting a panic among the crowd as they quickly dispersed at the thought of a potential fire. In the midst of the commotion, her hand was grabbed and pulled along by Shirou as he ordered Ren and Nora to keep up.

How did a fire break out and where?

Green eyes quickly scanned her surroundings for any signs of smoke. It was hard to make out anything in the chaos as people pushed and shoved their way to get out. And then, by either luck or chance, she spotted something on the wall furthest from her. Blue motes of light dispersed over a small red box that left a hole in it.

Something had struck the alarm causing it to go off.

Pyrrha recognized those familiar particles fade away before.

Her eyes darted back to Shirou. He weaved his way through the panicked crowd expertly before ushering them into a discrete hallway. She and her team watched the people rush by as they tried to escape from a fire that never existed.

She kept her gaze on him. Not even bothering to take note at how hard she squeezed his hand. Shirou didn't seem to mind either as he turned to her once the coast was clear. She was speechless, largely unsure of what to say or bring up.

"Man!" Nora exhaled out loudly. "Was there like a fire or something? One moment people were staring and stuff, and the next moment it became a madhouse!"

Ren poked his head out, looking left to right. "I'm not sure either," he said evenly. "Something must've caused the fire alarm to go off or maybe someone pulled a prank."

"What kind of prank involves pulling the fire alarm at one of the biggest airports in the kingdom?" questioned Nora.

"It's just a guess," Ren simply shrugged.

Pyrrha continued staring at the culprit even as he wore a mask of innocence. His guise felt terrifying to look at as he was able to act just as clueless as everyone else. She dryly gulped, finally working up the nerves to ask.

"Shirou was that-"

"Pretty scary?" I finished Pyrrha's sentence. "Yeah, the fire alarm going off suddenly was certainly unexpected."

She stared wide-eyed; mouth slightly agape.

I casually dismissed her reaction with a grin and released her hand.

"Well, that was certainly interesting," I remarked. "I figured entering the city would be memorable, but not this memorable."

"Yeah!" giggled Nora. "That's certainly a way to make it memorable!"

"Alright," my hand brushed through my hair. "Looks like the crowd has finally thinned out a bit. Let's get going and head to the arrivals. Hopefully whoever is waiting for us didn't run off."

"Lead the way leader!" saluted the orange-haired girl.

I took the lead once again as we stepped back out into the throng of people. This time, diligently using sightlines to avoid any unwarranted attention that might be brought onto Pyrrha. We kept to the sides, always avoiding major traffic, and large groups of people.

As we slinked around, a group of men strode with purpose toward us.

There were four of them in total, two humans and two faunus. All of them wore form fitting suits and dark trench coats that had an emblem of two snakes intertwining a rod stitched on the left breast.

Ministry of Welfare, Public Safety Bureau, Criminal Investigation Department.

They all appeared rather non-descript, fitting considering the occupation, except for one in particular with his orange slicked back hair. He stood out among the rhythm of black and brown. That person led from the front with how the other three trailed behind slightly. Aside from his hair, a noteworthy characteristic of him was that piece of his hair stuck out from his bangs. Much to his chagrin, as he ran his hand through his hair to smooth it out, it promptly popped back out.

"Mister Emiya?" he questioned, his voice being soft and mellow.

"Yes?" I answered neutrally.

"It's a pleasure to meet you and your team." He extended his hand out to which I accepted. "I am Senior Inspector Woo Jin-chul," introduced the rather tall man; he was at least a head taller than me. "And this is my team." His head moved left to right, acknowledging the other three with him. "We are here to pick up your team. If would follow us please," his hand motioned to the side politely.

"Please, lead the way," I said.

The man quickly led everyone to the car park where our rides awaited. Two blacked out vehicles parked not too far from the entrance. A special spot reserved for officials as could be told from the sign.

"Oh my gosh!" Nora, ever the energetic one, hopped eagerly. "This is just like all those secret agent and spy movies that we used to watch Ren!"

"Hmm… now that you mentioned it," he grinned, playing along with her.

Jin-chul made a non-committal hum. "I assure you; we are far less than what the movies and shows portray us as. We are merely humble servants to the public.

The way he talked only emboldened Nora further. "See! He even talks like one of them! Do you think we'll get to dress up like them too? Oh my gosh, I can already see it now! Special Agent Nora Valkyrie reporting for duty!" She flourished a salute.

Ren hid his embarrassment behind a cough. "Ahem, Nora, they don't use the term agents. What you meant to say is Inspector."

"Inspector. Agent," she weighed the names on each hand. "Same thing!"

I barely held back a grimace as we entered the vehicle. They were too reminiscent of what Kiritsugu tended to wear. The thought of donning their uniforms churned my stomach a bit. That was too much irony even for me. A son who tossed aside his father's dreams and ideals only to then take on his appearance was all sorts of twisted and cruel.

Perhaps – this truly was karma.

Where our flight into the city was loud and lively, the drive to our destination was far more subdued and quieter.

Woo Jin-chul sat in the passenger seat while his partner drove.

The Senior Inspector took us on the most direct route. On our way there, we passed several places of note that we spotted from the sky, but it wasn't enough to fully appreciate the sights. They were cursory glances at best and Nora began a game with Ren to spot certain cars that by to past the time.

The normally rambunctious and plucky member had quieted herself down to barely a whisper. However, due to the quietness of the ride, her whispers were more than loud enough to hear her clearly.

"We're almost there," announced Jin-chul over his shoulder.

Skyscrapers loomed overhead as we turned into an exit ramp. Traffic slowed to a crawl as we were in the heart of the city. People filled the sidewalks as they went about their business. Food trucks and concession stands could be seen at some corners as we passed by. Nora could be heard in the back bugging Ren about food already as he tried to calm her down.

When we turned at an intersection, the high-rise building that came into view differed greatly from its neighbors. The building's mass and scale at its lower levels gave it the appearance of a temple. A broad set of steps swept up from the square it sat in front of to a massive colonnade that covered most of the front of the building. Its mix of pristine white stone and marbling was a pleasure for the eyes.

The ride slowed near the bottom of the steps. Looking out through the window, the stone steps that led up to the colonnaded entrance were flanked by two statues. They stared down at us with absolute righteousness as if they were judging you.

"What beautiful architecture," said a wide-eyed Ren. His pink eyes doing their best to take in every facet.

"Wow…" Nora shared the same sentiments. "Talk about first impressions!"

"Impressive, isn't it?" commented Jin-chul.

Glancing to the rear-view mirror, I caught the small grin that tugged at the corners of the man's lip.

"Very much so!" affirmed Pyrrha.

"It's a commanding sight to see for all officers and inspectors. A reminder of our duty to the kingdom's people to mete out justice to those who spread injustice," he intoned. "We're coming up to your stop." The vehicle drove into the underground carpark and came to a stop.

Jin-chul was the first to exit.

As we got out, the doors to the building opened up to reveal more people dressed in similar clothes. One person stood out immediately, a woman with short light blonde hair which was tied up in a ponytail like Pyrrha's. She had a pointed nose and slanted grey eyes that gave nothing away. It was hard to discern anything from her just like with Jin-chul.

"This is Senior Inspector Cha Hae-in," introduced Jin-chul. "She will lead you to the debriefing room."

"A pleasure to meet you Team SNPR." Her voice soft and pleasant just like the other senior inspector's. "Follow me please."

She led us into the building from which we took an elevator that brought us up to the main floor of the building. When the doors slid open, the heart of Vale's special law enforcement division greeted us. The central atrium was a rotunda that contained stained-glass windows and clerestory. High above our heads was a striking mural that depicted what I could only presume were the origins of their institution through the years.

The soles of our shoes clacked against the polished marble flooring.

There wasn't much time to ponder or gander as Senior Inspector Hae-in ushered us through the floor towards another elevator. We went up dozens of more floors to reach the debriefing room. With the chime signaling our arrival, the blonde stepped out first with us trailing close behind.

At the end of the hallway were a set of double doors. Swiping her badge against a pad, the locks came undone, and opened to a spacious room that wasn't too dissimilar to the lecture halls in Beacon with its raised seating.

Filling into the room, Hae-in bowed politely from the entrance, "The Director will meet with you shortly."

The doors clicked softly as she left us to our own devices.

"Man!" Nora sighed out loudly, throwing her luggage to the floor before plopping down onto a seat. "This place is intense! I thought Beacon was pretty big and grandiose, but this is just something else!"

"It's the history of this place," said Ren. "This institution of justice dates back well before the founding of huntsmen academies. They have been enforcing the law and keeping the peace since the inception of the city. The justice department, more specifically this one, have been fervent supporters and enforcers of the king's law." He settled into his seat next to Nora's with a contemplative look. "The only place that can rival this is the one up in Atlas."

"You know, I wonder what we're gonna do while we're here," pondered Nora, mind wandering off to the next subject. "Solve mysteries? Go bust some secret underground criminal ring? Oh! Maybe we'll even get a crack at that Romani guy we heard about on the news!"

"Roman, not Romani," corrected Ren.

"Yeah that guy!" Nora snapped her fingers. "Wouldn't that be cool? It'd be like when we were kids playing cops and robbers! But for real, for real this time!"

I chuckled and shook my head. "Probably none of that," answering realistically. "We'll most likely be stuck with performing basic tasks for the department. Maybe even shadow someone of seniority to gain familiarity with their practices."

"Aww," Nora's lower lip jutted out, "so does that mean we won't get to do any of the cool stuff?"

"I'm not sure," I rubbed my chin, taking a seat. "I know for sure they won't send us out immediately on our own or anything like that. They would want to properly familiarize us with the kingdom's laws and regulations first before anything else. Learn the ropes on how things function inside the departments and various sections, run small errands, and provide support wherever they need us to be."

Nora sprawled her arms out. "That sounds like so much work! And not the fun kind either!"

"The work-study dossier did mention that the level of difficulty is high," brought up Pyrrha as took a seat next to me. "Work like this is highly scrutinized since knowledge of law is needed. Not to mention they would be giving us a lot of power as just students."

"Plus, they want us to be prepared more than anything else," I added. "After all, preparation is the key to success."

"A fine quote young man." A new voice came into the room. "I think I might use that myself."

We all turned to the person entering the room. Flanked beside him were familiar faces of Woo Jin-chul and Cha Hae-in. To my widening eyes, his reddish aura was visible as it roiled off of him like hot steam. I blinked away to squash down my astonishment. The man was tall, taller than the other two, and Jin-chul was about a head or so taller than me already. The wrinkles on his face gave away his age coupled with the various scars scattered about.

There was a gash on his forehead, a nasty cut on his left cheek, a gruesome jagged mark that went vertically on his right cheek, and lastly what appeared to be a gunshot wound near his hairline.

Nevertheless – even with all the blemishes he carried himself affably.

A smile with closed eyes.

The black and white suit that he wore did nothing to hide the rippling muscles that laid underneath. He was imposing with every step he took that seemed to shake the floor. To take his age at face value and ignoring the rest would be a death sentence.

"A pleasure to meet you and your team Mister Emiya."

I stood up.

The old man in the suit strode up. His voice old, a slight baritone timbre, it was deep, but not necessarily dark. "I am Director Go Gun-hee," he extended his large hand that dwarfed mine. I took a quick note that his hands were full of scars too. We shook, the strength and power he possessed was staggering. In a way, Go Gun-hee reminded me of Peter Port if our professor were more streamlined. Then again Professor Port was more of a strongman than anything else. "That's a mighty fine grip you have there."

"As do you," I returned the reception. "It's nice to meet you as well Director Gun-hee."

His aura and my magical one collided with one another. A brief clash, those eyes that were closed, opened for a split second as his grin widened. A heartbeat later and it was gone, his hand released as his chest rumbled. "Interesting, very interesting."

He then went up to the others to greet them in the same fashion.

Nora took the challenge from his firm grip and returned the favor with extra gusto.

"Ho-ho!" Gun-hee threw his head back. "Very impressive young lady!"

The orange haired girl bared her teeth. "Ya gotta tell me your workout old man!"

"A lady after my own heart! Ha-!" He barked out another laugh. "Another time, I'll be sure to get back with you before you leave!"

When Ren and Gun-hee shook hands, there was silence. Ren stared impassively as Gun-hee cracked his eyes open once again. "Hmm," a neutral hum, "that grip… are you by chance a fellow practitioner?"

A small grin grew on Ren's face.

The man chuckled softly. "Care for a spar in the future?"

"If you would have me," Ren inclined his head.

"I would."

His answer left Ren almost giddy when he returned to his seat.

The Director came up to the last member, he observed Pyrrha briefly. "Hmm…" She presented a cordial smile. "A pleasure to have you aboard Miss Nikos," his hand outstretched. "I hope Vale and Beacon has been kind to you so far."

"It has," measuredly replied Pyrrha as their hands shook. "And thank you for having us."

"Now that introductions are out of the way," he stepped back down to the center. "Let's get you through orientation and into our special unit. Hae-in," called Gun-hee, "the lights please."

The blonde inspector dimmed the lights as a screen appeared in front of us.

Standing behind the podium Go Gun-hee began, "I would like to formally welcome you four, Team SNPR," he paused with a raised eyebrow at the lack of acronym, "to the Criminal Investigation Department." Up on the screen, the emblem of a rod with two snakes intertwined emerged. "We are part of the Ministry of Welfare's Public Safety Bureau that cooperates with the regular Law Enforcement Division of Vale City. Our section specializes in cases that are highly sensitive and require considerable effort and particular skillsets."

"Like Roman Torchwick?" brought up Nora with her hand raised.

Gun-hee mulled over his response before answering. "Torchwick is an old case and a peculiar one at that too." His hand stroked his well-trimmed beard. "He resurfaced after disappearing for almost a decade. Normally, with his reappearance and recent activity, he would be near the top of our list to pursue. However, with our current on-going investigations of other… sensitive matters in the city. The department has been stretched quite thin," he lamented. "Ah well – a subject for another time if we clear you for it; Jin-chul," he requested.

The man instantly materialized at his side and produced a folder. He then handed them out to us a document that read at the top: Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.

"There will be a great many things for you to learn and comprehend in a short amount of time." The screen changed to present several points. "While you are under our care, you will be familiarizing yourselves with upholding and enforcing criminal laws of the Kingdom of Vale. As well as developing crucial skills to provide effective leadership and criminal justice services on all levels of government whether it be; federal, kingdom, municipal, or to other international agencies and partners."

"Oh boy," Nora murmured as she scratched her head. "This is so not like how it is on TV…"

"It rarely ever is," Ren laid a comforting hand on her shoulder.

The Director only hummed before continuing. "Adding on to that, you will also be learning to protect civil rights, combatting criminal organizations and enterprises, along with various violent crime and white-collar crime." He turned a page in his folder. "And lastly, to protect certain unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

"So much, so much," fretted Nora. "So much to learn, so much to think ahh-!"

Even Pyrrha and Ren who never seem daunted by coursework appeared concerned. The redhead flipping through her guide commented absently, "This is… a significant amount to learn."

"Intimidating, isn't it?" A statement, not a question. "Our relationship with the huntsmen academy typically has Ozpin sending students with a bit more years under their belt," off-handedly remarked Gun-hee. "So, it is rather… peculiar in that he sent us four young, green students." He stared poignantly at us. "You're either exceptionally advanced or foolhardy."

A provocation, but with a glance back to my team, they did not rise to the bait.

I regarded him coolly.

It came off harsh, but that was the reality in this line of work. Go Gun-hee would be a fool if he blindly accepted people that could potentially damage their department. He had to measure people's worth by their competency and accomplishments. Outside of our academics; Team SNPR had little, if none. His skepticism was sound by all means.

"We will do our best."

The words economical and even. Saying anything more would only serve to convey arrogance and hubris. Yet on the other end, shirking away from the difficulty would have him lose what little faith and confidence he had in us.

He grinned approvingly. "That's what I like to hear." With a clap of his hands the lights came back on with the screen behind him fading away. "Onwards and upwards, after registering into the C.I.D.'s systems, you four will be integrated into the department. Senior Inspector Hae-in will be your supervisor for the duration of your work study."

I gestured for my team to stand.

"Thank you for having us, we are under your care." We bowed as one.

Director Go Gun-hee returned the bow. "I'll be watching you four closely. I look forward to your results." He dismissed himself from the room with Woo Jin-chul tailing behind.

"Team SNPR," stepped in Hae-in. "Follow me please for registration."

Registration went smoothly as it possibly could.

In my hands was my freshly printed ID. The unsmiling mugshot photo of myself drilled holes back into me with mild displeasure. A mishmash of emotions stirred within my bowels; some nostalgic, but most of it discomforting. "New Inspector Trainee…" I read softly.

Stuffing down the sentiments that built up, I clipped on the badge and got up.

The mirror nearby reflected back a haunting figure. He dressed himself in a dark two-piece suit with a matching jacket, black tie, black shoes, and pants. Off to the side were more sets to wear while on duty. With each article of clothing inspected, the frown in the mirror became heavier and pronounced. Displeasure fully set when the final piece of clothing was in its place.

The overcoat brought the whole ensemble together.

The ghost of Emiya Kiritsugu silently approved.

"Truly, life has a wicked sense of humor…" A hand ran through my hair. I shrugged off the coat before grabbing the rest of my belongings and exiting the room.

I was the last to change as the rest of my team waited, casually interacting with each other.

Ren wore the same garb and fitted quite well in the get up. He acknowledged my presence with a nod as I strode up beside him. Pyrrha and Nora stood across from us who wore the same thing as Senior Inspector Hae-in. In the place of pants, they wore a business skirt and dark pantyhose that covered their legs. The heels they wore also gave them a bit of extra height.

"Shirou," greeted Pyrrha. Her green eyes gave a quick once over. The corners of her lips tugged up a bit to show she appreciated the dark suit and tie uniform. "You look quite… dashing."

My hand tugged a bit at the tie. "Thanks," I returned with a small huff, shifting slightly on my feet. Stuffing down the discomfort was a lot more difficult than I thought. "And you look as elegant and classy as ever." With someone like Pyrrha, it would take a herculean effort to look bad in anything.

Pyrrha covered her amusement with a hand.

Off to Pyrrha's side, Nora gawked. "Ohhh yeah," drool drizzled out the side of her mouth. That girl was as brazened as a bull with how she shamelessly stared at Ren. "Mama sees what Mama likes," she growled lowly.

Ren straightened his posture, shifted his weight on his feet, and posed. Nora delightfully clapped in great appreciation to the show he put on. She even threw in a couple of whistles.

The door behind us opened.

Our supervisor stepped in and nodded approvingly. "Good, you all look like proper Inspectors already. Now," she placed her hands together, "let's head to your accommodations."

Gathering our belongings, we shuffled out as a group to an elevator down the hall.

"Beacon Academy provides its students a daily stipend for groceries and other commodities." Hae-in began to explain as we rode up. "If you are unable to provide for yourselves. You have the ability to access the dining hall on the main floor."

"Food any good?" Nora poked her head up.

Hae-in's shoulders shrugged. "I think it's alright, some don't really care and prefer going out to their preferred places."

"Ahh," nodded Nora before pressing on. "So, you got any places you can recommend?"

"Well," the woman placed a finger on her chin, "there's a nice café and diner that's not too far from here. Just down the street as a matter of fact. The place is open almost twenty-four-seven and is run by a retired Inspector and his wife. Good prices, good food, and good people," she praised highly. "His wife specializes in hot drinks and baked goods while he does a splattering of things."

"Can ya name a few?"

"I would say…" she paused momentarily. "He's decent at a lot of things, but his real specialty lies in Mistralian food." At that Pyrrha instantly perked up at the mention of her home kingdom. "Personally, I think he's the best in the city for comfort food. Although you'll have some detractors in the office if you ask around enough."

"I'll put his food to the test!" Nora's eyes glinted dangerously.

Cha Hae-in rapidly blinked. A lone eyebrow rose in bewilderment, unsure if she heard Nora correctly. "…Excuse me?"

"Sorry," Ren stepped in. "She's a bit of a foodie," he stated as if it answered everything.

"I- I see…" Apparently it did as the blonde gave one last glance at the orange haired girl before the elevator dinged. "The room is not too far from here." She stepped out first as we followed her down the hall to a door. "Your scrolls should be uploaded with the necessary clearance and permissions." Her scroll tapped below the door's handle unlocking it with a click.

The entrance swung open with a push to reveal a modest apartment. With the lights off, it was hard to make out anything from the door way. Her hand motioned for us to step in while she flicked on the lights.

"You have about an hour before we reconvene to iron out your schedule and give you a tour of the various branches in the department. Do you remember the way back?" asked Hae-in.

"Yes ma'am," I answered.

"Good, until later."

"This is so awesome!" gushed Nora.

With great enthusiasm, she kicked off her shoes at the entryway and began exploring the place with childlike eagerness.

"Look guys, look!" She jabbed her finger to her right. "We got a kitchen!" Nora was there one moment and gone the next. The sounds of cabinet being flung open along with pots and pans clanging against each other filled the room. "They gave us like… everything!" She returned to us, wearing a stock pot for a helmet, wok for a shield, and a frying pan as a bludgeoning weapon. "Hey, these are nice brands too!"

Ren pinched the bridge of his nose. "Nora… what did I tell you about playing with kitchen equipment?"

"Un… to not do so because it's unhygienic?"

"And what are you doing right now?"

"Playing with kitchen equipment?"

Pink eyes stared blandly at mirthful turquoise.

The energetic girl's tongue stuck out as she lightly conked her frying pan into her helmet. "Hehe-! I'll put it back, don't you worry!" We all winced as Nora stuffed them back where she found them. "All good!"

Ren ran a hand down his face. "Lord, I hope she didn't break anything." His voice came out muffled behind his hand. "Be a real shame if we ended up having to pay for damages."

"I'd rather not have that on our record," I winced.

"Oh sweet! You guys, these couches are ultra-comfy!" To prove her point, she gave a hop, skip, and a jump. "Oh god! Leather couches are the best!" she moaned while rolling around. "Come on you guys, get in here already!"

The three of us shared a small smile at her enthusiasm.

At a more sedate pace, we slid off our shoes before venturing in further. Ren bent down and neatly arranged Nora's shoes together, making sure to put hers next to his. "Same old, same old Nora," he muttered fondly. "Just like when we were kids…"

My feet automatically led me to the kitchen.

Was it strange that I felt some type of longing well deep inside? When had been the last time I cooked something let alone be in a kitchen? How long had it been since I made a meal to sit down and enjoy? A home cooked meal sounded awfully wonderful right about now. Although that then brought up another question. What would I even make in the first place?

Perhaps something simple like grilled salmon, rice, and miso soup? That was something easy to fall back into. Or maybe something a little more elaborate? No, I shook my head, elaborate was just time consuming and unnecessary.

Simple was best in the end.

With a soft sigh, I begrudgingly moved out of the kitchen after applying considerable amounts of self-control. There were other more important things that needed to be addressed. Food was a high priority on my list, but the team came first.

Pyrrha had laid her bags down as she made herself comfortable on a single seater.

Ren lifted Nora's legs to allow himself a seat before plopping them back down. The girl giggling with glee as she hugged one of the pillows. As she rolled to her side, a soft exhale escaped from the girl's mouth as she stared up to the ceiling.

"You know, it hasn't really hit me that we're on our first work-study as a team," confessed Nora. "Like… yeah, I was cheering and all that, but it hasn't like… hit-hit until now. Gosh," she closed her eyes, "it all feels like it went by so fast. I mean, just yesterday we were beating up everyone and now here we are in downtown Vale City."

"A little fast," agreed Ren. "But I don't think it's a bad thing. It shows how much progress we've made as a team."

"No, no, it isn't!" Nora threw her gaze at me worrying if she offended me or anything. "Like it's great that all the sweat and labor you had us go through paid off in the end. You made sure we were well prepared and trained for whatever any of the teams would throw at us. It's just…" the girl chewed on the inside of her cheek. "Don't you think we could've at least celebrated? You know, do something to recognize our first accomplishment as a team?"

Ren opened his mouth as if he was about to chide his partner about being disciplined, but he hesitated. Her recognized Nora's points as he reflected over the things the team was put through to get to where they were. I had given them little time to rest and relax. Days and nights filled with nothing but studying, coursework, and practice to afford us the edge on the competition.

I leaned against the seater that Pyrrha sat on. "No, you're right," I admitted softly. I recognized in part that not everyone was a workaholic. That was the result of years in being with Kiritsugu and becoming accustomed to how he would work himself into exhaustion. "It's inconsiderate of me now that I think about it."

To think I emulated my old man in more ways than one was sobering.

"Maybe we can go out!" thought Nora.

"We don't have to do anything," supplied Pyrrha. "Or maybe… something private and just for us?" she offered the idea.

"I think that would be nice," said Ren. "We do have a kitchen…" his voice trailed off as he eyed the place behind me. "It's been a while since I've had a homecooked meal." He echoed the same sentiments I had earlier when we entered.

"Mmm," Nora moaned blissfully with eyes closed, "that sounds real nice right about now. I can't remember the last time I got to sat down around a table with friends and… family." Her voice went uncharacteristically small at the end. "Sharing a homecooked meal with everyone would be a nice way to celebrate."

"A homecooked meal with friends and family?" whispered Ren, his hand taken in by Nora as she gave him a reaffirming squeeze.

The intimacy that Ren and Nora shared was telling. The more time I spent around them, the more I learned piece by piece. Everyone kept something close to their hearts. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, let alone me, that we all carried some sort of burden or pain.

My eyes closed followed by a resolute nod. "Alright then, today's menu for the team will be a homecooked meal to celebrate our accomplishments." I was looking forward to being back in the kitchen. "I'll whip up something for us tonight."

"What will you be making?" Pyrrha peered up from her seat. "I do recall you being interested in the student lounge with its kitchen back in our dorms."

"Hm? You remembered that offhand comment?" I murmured in disbelief.

"Of course," she smiled, "why wouldn't I remember? You seemed so excited when we passed by it. I would never forget something as small as that when it concerns someone I care about."

Pyrrha's sincerity chipped away at my heart. She should exercise restraint, words like that could make anyone easily fall in love with that candor. "Well… I'd like to keep it a surprise," I finally answered scratching my cheek. "Would give everyone something to look forward to at the end of the day."

"Then consider me excited," happily clapped Pyrrha.

"Sounds good to me," grinned Ren.

"Ooh-!" A tuff of orange hair perked up. "Homecooked meal! Homecooked meal!" chanted Nora. "I can't wait for tonight!" As if one cue, her stomach growled loudly for everyone in the room to hear. We all turned to her as she sheepishly rubbed the back of her head. "Haha-! Well whaddya know?"

"Looks like the monster can't wait either," teased Ren as he poked her stomach.

"Tee-hee~! Stop it!" She slapped his hand away. "You know I'm ticklish Renny!"

I pulled out my Scroll to check the time.

"Well we don't have that much time before we have to head back. How about we check out what they have at the dining hall?" I suggested.

Nora instantly jumped up from the couch and was already putting her shoes back on. "What are you guys waiting for?! Come on! Let's see how good the food is compared to Beacon!"

"Oh Nora," Ren shook his head as he made his way to her.

I could only grin while Pyrrha giggled softly in the background.

"Come on, come on you slowpokes! Quit your lollygagging and let's go!" Nora made sure to keep cadence with a clap. "We only got thirty minutes folks!"

"What a gluttonous girl with a ravenous appetite," I rolled my eyes.

"Welcome back," softly greeted Hae-in. "I hope that you've found everything to be of satisfactory."

"We have," I answered for the team, "thank you."

All four of us shuffled into the room and took our seats. Laid out in front of us was another folder that we began to peek through to read. The blonde supervisor took that as her cue to begin as she pushed off from the desk.

"In there," she pointed at our folders, "will be your schedule for the next two weeks or so. You will be on rotation with all six branches within the department. While there at your station, you'll be observed and assessed with your performance by the lead. After your two weeks are up, we'll move you into active duty by performing small tasks outside to gain work experience."

As it were, our schedule started out with the Intelligence Section, before moving onto Kingdom Security, Criminal/Cyber/Response/Services, Science and Technology, Information and Technology, and lastly Human Resources. Curiously enough, the last section's Executive Assistant Director was also our handler, Cha Hae-in.

Nora went through the contents of the folder; eyebrows furrowing the more she read. "There's just so much…"

Ren rubbed at his chin, scrutinizing the schedule. "This is quite… a large amount of information we must learn in a very short period of time," he noted softly.

Pyrrha took the time to reorganize her papers before speaking up. "It will be very challenging. It's almost non-stop work with little downtime in-between. We'll be jumping from one department to another all the while under intense scrutiny," she chuckled softly. "I'm all for challenges, but…"

The task was undeniably daunting.

There were no two-ways about it. I threw my team into the deep side of the people. As previously mentioned by Go Gun-hee in our introduction. This work-study was meant for students who were prepping for their huntsmen license. A deep understanding of how law enforcement worked was an essential skill for a well-rounded huntsmen or huntress.

"We'll be okay," I reassured my team as best as I could. "We'll tackle the problems one at a time as a team."

"You sound rather confident Mister Emiya," stated Hae-in. "Or is this perhaps… arrogance?"

"No," I shook my head, "simply faith in their abilities to overcome adversity."

A rather low effort probe by the inspector. She didn't think we could actually get through this work-study. Although, one could hardly fault her. Even with a talented group, talent had its limits, and was often where experience came into play. Something that I had plenty to spare and share. All those years of working under Kiritsugu finally paying its dividends.

"Faith can only get you so far," she replied evenly.

"You'll be surprised at how far it can actually get you and then some."

She frowned slightly before the corners of her lips turned upward. "Ha," a huff of amusement, "oddly enough… someone spoke those same words to me before." Her head shook softly. "Very well, we shall see how your faith in your teammates pan out. Now then," Hae-in gathered up the papers on her desk and headed to the door. "Let's get you four underway with the tour, shall we?"

We collected our folders and walked out in tow of our supervisor turned tour guide. A long day was ahead of us.

Nora practically kicked open the door the moment it unlocked.

"Oh my GOSH! That was probably like the longest day of my life!" She haphazardly kicked off her shoes in the foyer and dumped herself onto the couch before groaning loudly. "There was just so much that it felt kind of overwhelming! Who knew that there was so much effort that went into investigations and stuff?"

As previously before, Ren neatly fixed Nora's shoes before taking off his.

"A great many investigations are often done behind the scenes," informed Ren. "I've read from a journalistic study that the ratio is something like eighty-to-twenty in terms of indoor and outdoor work. A majority of manpower goes into gathering data and information, analyzing and processing it into a cohesive picture, and detailing steps to close the case."

I crossed my arms as I leaned against the kitchen counter. Ren certainly did his homework. "He's right Nora. A lot of it is just researching and building your case. The action that you see is often short and fleeting."

"So, there is action at least," reasoned Nora.

"Maybe?" I shrugged. "It depends on the type of case."

"Ugh," the girl flipped herself over and the moment she did, her stomach growled out.

Pyrrha giggled. "Someone's a little hungry," she noted with a tease.

"Shirou~!" called out Nora. "I'm starvin'!"

I chuckled as I pushed off from the counter. "Well, we're going to have to do some grocery shopping first."

"Grocery shopping?" gasped Nora. "That sounds like fun! Right Ren?"

"Ha," he cracked a smile. "Grocery shopping sounds nice. We can buy some other things too to last us the rest of the week," added Ren.

"Yay!" Nora was the first to hop out of the couch and was already at the door with her coat in hand. "Let's go guys! Oh~!" she gushed excitedly. "I don't know why, but this is so exciting! I've never been grocery shopping with a group before! Come on you slowpokes! Mama bear is startin' to get a little hangry!"

Ren and I both shook our heads as we made our way back to the door. Nora had already unlocked the door and waved us over to hasten our pace. However, there was one distinct person that was missing from the group.

"Pyrrha?" I looked back. She stood in the hallway's entrance with a smile that hid something.

"Oh, you three go on ahead. I'll um," her eyes shifted away and back, "I'll be staying in this time. It's been a long day and I'm starting to already feel tired as is. So, I would like to relax a bit before dinner. Is, is that okay?"

"You sure Pyrrha?" Nora poked her head back in.

"I'm sure," nodded Pyrrha.

"Would you like us to get you anything while we're there?"

The redhead shook her head. "No, please, I'll be fine with whatever you bring back. So just shop for yourselves."

"Alright Pyrrha," Nora's shoulders delated a little at now missing a member of the team. "Well rest easy, we're gonna have a nice, big homecooked meal! Ugh~! I'm so excited, I just can't hide it!" sung the girl as she went out into the hallway.

"Nora, keep your voice down!" admonished Ren as he too left.

I lingered in the doorway, still looking at her.

She must have picked up on my worry as she then closed the distance. "It's okay, I'm… I don't mind getting some peace and quiet. So," she gulped, "go and have some fun shopping with Ren and Nora. Got that Shirou?"

I couldn't hide the frown. Pyrrha refused to put the whole group in the spotlight that was unduly caused by her fame. How awful was that someone couldn't even do something as basic as grocery shopping because they would be hounded by crowds and the media? That people weren't able to respect her privacy and hold some sense of common decency.

My features softened when our eyes met.

"Alright Pyrrha, try to relax okay? I'll make sure Nora doesn't end up buying the whole store while we're there," I joked.

Pyrrha laughed a bit. A heavenly sound as a bit of the weight slid off her shoulders. "A-Alright, get going already!"

"Right," I waved to her, "see you soon."

"Yeah… see you soon Shirou."

The moment the door shut, Pyrrha walked back over to the living room and fell back onto the couch.

Now that she was all alone, she leaned her head back and stared the ceiling. She really was telling them the truth that she felt tired after today. This morning, being at the airport, was the first time she had stepped out in public in months.

Naively, she assumed that being out of the public's eye would diminish, or at least lower, her celebrity status. However, it had the complete opposite effect. The moment they caught sight of her, they flew to her like moths to a flame. All of them trying their best to bask in her presence or catch her attention. And with how many of them had their scrolls out, it undoubtedly caught the whole of social media ablaze.

Her hand tiredly rubbed at her forehead.

A headache brewing at the borders of her mind.

"Pyrrha," she muttered to herself, "how could you be so dumb…"

She was possibly endangering her teammates. Ren, Nora, and most importantly Shirou would be caught up in the circus that was the media. People would begin to question who she was with. Discuss about her teams and eventually end up conjuring wild accusations. This was why she wanted to seclude herself as much as possible. Why she wanted to avoid venturing out in public.

Knowing that she was going to be the cause of trouble for her team pained her.

"Perhaps… I should've gone with them," she wondered out loud. "Being alone with my thoughts isn't exactly doing me very well." The back of her head thumped against the soft cushions of the couch. "Maybe some television will help?"

With the television on there would be sound to keep herself busy and away from brooding in her head.

Turning it on, the sound filled the apartment. The channel was some sort of sports broadcast from Mistral. Pyrrha made a face the moment she recognized what was being displayed and immediately changed the channel. She let loose a sigh of release, it was way too early for her still to look back at her past.

Idly with her hands, she browsed through various channels. Almost taking some mild enjoyment of being able to let her mind zero out. Eventually her meandering ended up on the nightly news segment.

"From the news desk at Vale News Network. Good evening, I am Lisa Lavender."

The lavender haired woman who wore her usual simple black business suit greeted the camera. As always, she held a serious demeanor with regards to being broadcasted to innumerable televisions.

"This evening, social medias across all platforms have been set ablaze due to a development at Vale's own International Airport."

Pyrrha's heart felt like it skipped a beat. Her finger was already on the button to change the channel, but for some reason she couldn't change the channel. Something inside was holding her back.

"Pictures and videos were posted online, catching sight of the illusive four-time Mistral Regional Tournament Champion. After months of vanishing off the face of all social media platforms, Pyrrha 'The Invincible Girl' Nikos has finally resurfaced unannounced to the public."

There, plastered on the screen, was her and her team walking through the terminal. She sat there on the couch, eyes transfixed, glued to the news. Pyrrha watched herself smile and wave to the gathering crowd.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there on your screen is the champion herself wearing the distinctive uniform of our own kingdom's academy Beacon. The other three, presumably her team, walked beside her as what many assume to be their first mission. Surely, with her leading the helm, this team will reach heights unknown."

"It's not… I'm not the leader," she muttered.

They always got it wrong. They always mistakenly assumed things. She wasn't the leader of the team at all. They only assumed that because of her champion status. It would be anathema for them to think anything less would be fit for her.

Pyrrha then noticed how loud the noise crowd was. How had she not noticed? The noise they generated was deafening that it was only natural that people were drawn to it to see what was going on. It seemed like it wasn't that blaring when she was there. Had she gotten so used it that she her mind just knew how to block it all out?

"Look at the crowd cheering for our resident champion! It's not everyday that regular folks get to see a living legend walk amongst them! Although, many have also begun to speculate as to who her teammates are."

They showed snapshots of their faces captured from the cameras of people's scrolls. On the left was Ren looking a little bewildered at the intensity of the crowd. Nora stayed as closed as possible to Ren as she shared the same expression on his face. And lastly, there was Shirou himself, leading from the front with a stoic expression.

His eyes, she noted, his eyes were narrowed.

They shifted left to right, sweeping across taking in everything even as the crowd encroached.

Pyrrha knew that look anywhere. A sign that her leader was thinking a mile a minute. He was scheming and plotting away at something. And if a person like Shirou was left ample time to think, it always spelled disaster for the other party. In this case? It ended with him somehow setting off the fire alarm to incite the crowd into panic allowing them to escape in the chaos.

"Unfortunately, a fire alarm in the terminal went off causing panic in the crowd. The team lead by Miss Nikos was failed to be seen afterwards. The police and fire marshals that quickly arrived on scene investigated the cause and found that something had hit the fire alarm causing it to go off. Nonetheless, we at Vale News Network are happy to hear that there was no actual fire at the Vale International Airport."

A small smile was present as she watched the crowd disperse from their point of view. That type of chaos was definitely a trademark of Shirou's doing. He would never admit it, even if she brought it up, he would deny and deflect. That was his bread and butter when it came to avoiding talking about something.

The scene returned back to the news anchor behind her desk.

"With this return to public, some have gone and questioned her former-"

Pyrrha's thumb smashed on the power button. Shutting off the television immediately with no hesitation. Her face scrunched as a painful memory briefly resurfaced that was then ruthlessly squashed down.

Her body sunk into the cushions, wishing that it would swallow her up.

That curiousness nature of hers went and bit her in the butt. Nothing good came out of watching the media. It never failed to end with her getting hurt in some way shape or form.

"Pyrrha, you should know better…" she chastised herself.

She knew better yet still went and did it anyways.

As Pyrrha began to brood in silence once again. Muffled voices could be heard from the apartment's entrance. A soft click resounded out and the door swung open.

"Pyrrha we're baaack~!" yelled Nora.

In typical Nora fashion, she entered the apartment jostling the grocery bags in her arms.

"Nora, be careful!" cautioned Ren as he quickly pursued her in. "And take off your shoes!"

"Pyrrha! Look at all the food we bought! We are eating tonight!" exclaimed Nora as she sat the bags down on the kitchen counter. "Shirou said we're having beef tonight since it's a special celebration!"

"We're home," I greeted Pyrrha as I slid off my shoes.

It wasn't home, but it felt good to say after a long day.

"Dinner shouldn't take too long to cook. Hope we didn't take too long to go grocery shopping. The whole time Nora wanted to buy almost everything in sight," I chuckled, retelling the memory. "I don't think we should ever take her shopping when she's hungry. Bad for our wallets you know?"

Pyrrha hid her bemusement behind a hand. "Here, allow me to help."

Knowing better than to refuse her assistance, I handed her one of the brown paper bags.

"Wow," she took a peek into the bag. "You three certainly bought a lot!"

"Of course!" I grinned enthusiastically. "We're going to be having sukiyaki tonight! And that requires a fair amount of ingredients to cook."

"Sukiyaki?" Pyrrha tested the word. "What's that?"

"It's a Mistralian dish!" answered Ren. "Think of it like a… hot pot of sorts. It consists of thinly sliced beef, some broth, mushrooms, cabbage, scallion, and noodles. Mmm," he hummed cheerfully, "I haven't had a good hot pot like this in years. I'll be looking forward to seeing how yours tastes Shirou!"

"Same here, same here!" animatedly cheered Nora. "Hurry up and pack so you can get to cookin' and we can get to eatin'!"

"Yes, yes," I said with patience. "Let's all unpack and I'll get to cooking right away."

Pyrrha leaned forward on the counter, watching her leader work.

This was the first time she ever saw him cook and was eager to watch. Ever since Shirou told her that he would show her why he would be excited about a kitchen roused her curiosity. Her eyes couldn't help but admire at how attractive he looked with an apron on and his sleeves rolled up.

Shirou first began setting out all the ingredients out onto the counter and organized them neatly. The tofu, scallions, cabbages, mushrooms, noodles, shrimp, and sliced beef were all in their own little groups unprepped. When he was satisfied that everything was laid out before him was when he went to work.

He first brought out a large pot that he filled with water and set on the stove to begin boiling. Before he moved on, he slipped in several large pieces of dried kelp into the pot.

After which he began to slice the scallions diagonally. The cabbages came next in which he extracted the core and cut the leaf parts into large chunks. The small mushrooms had their base removed to separate the stems. He smiled in satisfaction once the prep work was finished and returned his attention back to the boiling pot.

Grabbing a small plate, he took out the kelp from the pot and began adding in a mixture of liquids. Some dark and some light, and sprinkled in a large pinch of salt. He then placed in the core of the cabbages and the shrimp before closing the lid.

When some time passed, he removed the lid and had a small sample of the broth. "Alright," he muttered to himself. With the rest of the ingredients, he carefully added them and returned the lid.

He glanced to the clock on the wall, watching carefully. When the big hand struck past five, he nodded and turned off the burner.

"It's ready!" announced Shirou.

"It smells so good!" Nora huffed, trying to inhale as much of it as she could.

They all gathered around the table, a portable stove brought out and set to a low flame to keep the pot warm. In a dramatic fashion, he pulled the lid away allowing the steam to slowly reveal the contents. Pyrrha found her mouth watering at the sight alone. Every single bit of it appeared delectable. The dish's aroma could not be denied as everyone's stomach growled except for Shirou.

He merely smirked at the sound. "Thank you for your patience!"

"Whoa! This looks and smells amazing Shirou!" gushed Nora.

"Indeed," a smile of satisfaction present on Ren's face. "I can already tell tonight's meal will be good."

Pyrrha was at a loss of words. She didn't really know what to say. And as always, Shirou picked up on her expression and merely smiled.

"Take your seats," he motioned before handing everyone their own bowls filled with its own goods.

As she sat down, Pyrrha began to pick up her bowl and eat.

"Wait!" Ren stopped her just before her lips could touch the broth. His finger pointed at Shirou who still carried his smile.

"A-Ah, sorry," Pyrrha failed to realize they were going to follow an old Mistralian custom.

As one, they placed their hands together and bowed, "Thank you for the food!"

"Yes! Finally!" Nora dug into her bowl with extra gusto. The dish entered her mouth, her eyes widened, "Uwahhh~!" she squealed in her seat. "So warm! So delicious!"

Ren nodded along as he ate, "Yes, indeed! The thinly sliced beef is amazing! The shrimp adds in a great flavor too! This is simply superb Shirou!"

Pyrrha took her time, tasting every bit of the broth as well as the vegetables and meats. The noodles filled in the rest allowing it to sit heavy in her stomach. "It's…" What could she say? How could she describe it? "…absolutely wonderful Shirou."

"Pyrrha… are you okay?" he asked in concern. "You're-"

"A-Ah, sorry, sorry," she apologized profusely while wiping away the tears. The emotions she experienced was overwhelming. This meal was incomparable to all the lavish meals she was afforded from all the banquets she was invited to. No amount of fancy meals or high couture cuisine could match the warm fuzzy feeling she felt with a homecooked meal.

As she ate, Pyrrha couldn't plug the emotions or wipe the smile off her face.

This was what she was looking for. This was what she had been seeking all this time. A small slice of happiness that she could share in private with good friends. The experience was precious to her, the cold feelings of loneliness deteriorated in the face of such warmth.

"Thank you… Shirou," Pyrrha smiled from the bottom of her heart.

He returned it with one of his own.

For the first time in a long time. Pyrrha briefly forgot all her troubles, all her worries, and fully enjoyed the company that could only be brought by close friends.

"Thank you…"

Author's Note:

Hi, I'm alive and safe, and I hope you are as well!

Name a more iconic duo: release dates and me missing them. I'll wait.

It's been a hot minute, but at least it didn't end up with another year long or more wait. God forbid every time I mention something about time, something goes wrong. At this point it should be a law or something. You would think I'd have more time and chapters out due to staying home, but nope. Instead I grinded my little heart out in Fate/Grand Order, played a bunch of games that's been backlogged, and binged anime.

But I digress.

I've always wanted more from stories that wrote about her plight. In the show, they always talked about Pyrrha's woes with fame, but never effectively showed it. And it always bothered me that they never really resolved her issues. They sort of just got brushed to the side or "resolved" poorly. Either way, I wrote this chapter with that in mind and helps me sets things up for the future.

I'm usually hesitant about bringing in new characters, or rather characters from different series, to fill in and bridge a gap to key plot points. The introduction of Korean characters had me debate significantly with my editor, but he felt that it wasn't overbearing or too much so hopefully you all can share his sentiments.

I recognize that I'm going… a bit off the beaten path, but do know that it's a needed one so that I could have a reason for Shirou to do his own little adventuring and eventually encounter Roman Torchwick. I didn't want to go the traditional route by following the series as I wanted to expand some things in the world. With this, I can have a somewhat more reasonable way as to why he would bother with Roman and expand on the aforementioned character. To which I'll say that I'm giddy about finally getting to write him.

With all that written, I am grateful to you, the reader, for checking up on my story and reading it! I appreciate the fact knowing that you take your time out of your day to check on this story! As always, if you are able to, please leave a review of your thoughts on the chapter or story! I value any critiques or comments that you may have. I will do my best to keep on improving as always to deliver quality product! If you'd like, feel free to send me a private message. I'll do my best to respond in a timely manner.

Remember to also check out my profile periodically as I'll try and post updates about progress on the next chapter.

Thank you for reading another update to this story!

F/GO Summer 3 ServantFest 2020 is here and I'm grinding my life away. Good luck on your rolls if you're rolling!

Word count before A/N: 12,727

Proofread/Edited by: Stiama