Pre A/N: Originally was going to be posted last month, but I underestimated how large the meeting would be.
*Cough* 20k words *Cough*
Beta: Worldbringer of Joseun
Akihabara was stirring.
Adventurers roamed the roads, yet none even gave each other a single glance. Confusion filled the thoughts of all who laid their eyes upon the crowd of adventurers, walking with utmost confidence, in the center of the roads. Their presence commanded the denizens of the city to gaze upon them in both shock and awe.
The adventurers of Akihabara were confused, bewildered even. Questions roamed within them, all of which urged to unravel the sight before them.
The Guild Leaders were out and about.
The Black Sword Knights.
The West Wind Brigade.
The top raid guilds of the city. These people were their leaders. Ever since the Apocalypse, they became an unparalleled power. These respected individuals were making their way towards the Guild Building with a retinue of trusted advisers at their side.
That only begged the question.
For what purpose are they gathering?
The winds of change were in the air, and you need not be an adventurer to sense it.
"Are you prepared, Einzbern?"
Illya took a deep breath from where she stood, high above the common rabble and peering at the masses below. This balcony view was great, yet it did nothing to dissuade the unease she felt.
"Yes, as much as I can be," Illya replied.
"It's time, isn't it?" Taiga muttered from beside her. She was slovenly leaning on some stone railings. "Do you think they'll be okay, Illya-chan?"
"They better be," Waver muttered. "The outcome of today rides upon them as much as it does us."
She knew that. Absolute victory was the only acceptable outcome of today. No draws or concessions, as they would only prolong the problem. Today was the day where everything would either end or begin.
The end of a city or the beginning of Akihabara?
Whichever the case, it rode on their success.
"It'll be fine," Illya reassured the Clock Tower lord. His unease was understandable.
He didn't know a thing about the magi in the Emiya Family, and it was only recently that he started to trust them. A mythical feat considering he knew more than anyone how hard trust was to obtain as a magus. The only one he truly trusted seemed to be her brother's former guardian, and that was only because of the month they spent traveling to this city.
That was fine.
Illya turned away from the gossiping masses and towards the dimly lit hall. "I trust my family."
She'd show him that they wouldn't keel over. They were all too far in to surrender to their fears.
Today marks the day that the Emiya Family comes out of the shadows.
And into the light.
Thirteen seats, all of which were filled.
To Shiroe, this was a good sign.
He had been agonizing over the possibility that none of these larger guilds would have shown up. If that had happened, then he would've looked like an absolute fool. His allies would have lost faith in him and he would no longer have any influence over the affairs of this city.
Shiroe stood at the head of the table, and carefully, he marked where each and every person had sat. Counter-clockwise from himself was Marielle of the Crescent Moon Alliance, followed by Woodstock of Grandeur, and Ichimonjinosuke of Radio Market. Alongside Log Horizon, they represented the smaller guilds of the city.
Then there was Michitaka of the Marine Organization, Roderick of the Roderick Firm, and Calasin of Shopping District 8. The merchant guilds of Akihabara.
Following them, the raid guilds. Krusty of D.D.D., Isaac of the Black Sword Knights, Eins of Honesty, William Massachusetts of Silver Sword, and Soujirou of the West Wind Brigade. They were the big players of today's meeting, and had they not appeared, all signs of legitimacy would've faded along with them.
And last but certainly not least… The Emiya Family.
Shiroe's eyes trailed Illya's lithe form, a player who he had only recalled mentioned in passing back when they were in their world. Supposedly a hulking giant, now she appeared as a silver-haired beaut. However, he could akin that situation to his experience with Akatsuki a month prior, so it was but a passing interest.
What interested him more was the possibility of the other guilds reacting negatively to them. They were a smaller guild, far smaller than even the small-guild representatives. Should that be the case, then he would worry.
For whoever got on their bad side, that is.
Shiroe sighed inwardly before standing from his seat. The stage had been set, therefore there was no time to dilly dally. Not to mention his… other plans involving a certain heinous guild.
A calming breath later, and Shiroe was ready to begin.
"Thank you all for taking time off your schedule to come today," he greeted. "I am Shiroe, of the guild Log Horizon."
"You can keep the introductions short," the black knight interrupted. "Shiroe of the Tea Party."
A sign of impatience, of irritation, and of an uncaring nature towards formality. While he had no trouble with that, to do so now while he was making an impression would greatly lessen the impact of his words.
He lowered his head in appeasement. For now, he could put it aside. "Thank you, Isaac. I'm honored that you remember me."
Isaac smugly smiled to himself. "How could I ever forget?"
A second of silence passed, and Shiroe was ready to continue.
"Well?" However, a second interruption from William Massachusetts stole his thunder. His tone both lackadaisical and writhing with mild irritation. "Why are we here, exactly?"
This meeting was likely going to follow this trend. A trend of countless interruptions from incredibly prideful individuals. Silver Sword, the Black Sword Knights, and perhaps even D.D.D., had all come to this meeting out of curiosity. As such, they had little reason to stay. It was up to Shiroe to convince them.
As he had convinced everyone else.
"I've brought you all here today for input and aid, concerning Akihabara's present state," Shirou started whilst he hoped that there would be no further interruptions. "As you know, ever since the Apocalypse, we've been trapped in this world. There's no way to know if we'll be able to return. Given the circumstances, I'd like to keep the situation in Akihabara from getting any worse."
William sighed. "That's a lot to ask."
True, especially since these were people who spent most of their lives at a computer monitor, strategizing and agonizing over drop tables. To suddenly be asked to manage and monitor the entirety of Akihabara, a whole city, was a task they weren't suited for. Shiroe highly doubted there was anyone suited to it.
In addition, the people gathered here were no stranger to the atmosphere in the city. It was like being submerged with an unseen timer ticking away just out of reach. An uneasy feeling that was quickly followed by dread.
"Are you thinking of something similar to the failed attempt to form alliances of the smaller guilds?"
Shiroe let himself nod at the questioner, Krusty of D.D.D., "Similar, yes. However, I've heard that plan was halted for reasons yet unknown to me."
A sullen frown came from Ichimonjinosuke, taking it as his cue to explain. "That plan had many problems," he informed the meeting. "It was an attempt at uniting the smaller guilds to compete with the larger ones. There were too many conflicts of interest. We couldn't agree on anything."
"In other words, they wanted to protect their own interests," Woodstock W said. "They were only concerned with themselves."
If you considered such a group– people only vying for what would best benefit them and their guild, without offering anything in return, then it was obvious that it'd fail from the beginning. It violated the basic idea of equivalent exchange, an idea that's a given in discussions and meetings.
"Then-" Eins of Honesty interjected with a raised tone. "-is your goal today to gather the major powers in Akihabara? To prevent the collision of interests?"
In a way, that was true, yet Shiroe did not reply.
William snorted derisively. "That won't happen, not in a million years."
"Of course it won't," a young girl's voice echoed out. "To repeat past mistakes, do you truly believe that Shiroe of Log Horizon would fall for that?"
Shiroe prevented himself from reacting but gave a near-unperceivable nod towards his ally. He appreciated the subtle aid.
"Of course not," William swiftly denied. "I just fail to see the purpose of it all. What goal does he have in mind for accomplishing this?"
"My only goal here is to improve the situation in Akihabara," Shiroe answered.
One final derisive snort and William was on his feet.
"Then I'll be on my way. We are a raid guild, we have no interest in the city itself," The present assembly of players merely raised their brows as he turned his back on them all. "This place is merely where we go to sell our items. In other words, it isn't a bad idea, but the city's condition doesn't matter to us."
Shiroe withheld a sigh.
… There goes one.
That was fine. There were still four other combat guilds here.
However, just as everyone remained silent to allow his exit, he caught the mischievous glint in Illya's eye. Shiroe re-positioned his glasses and gave a resigned sigh, for his ally had an idea. He'd see if it'd pay off shortly.
"It's where you go to sell our items, you say?" her immature tone grew with a soft chuckle. "Then, I suppose purchasing and repairing your items is of no concern."
William's elven ears twitched as he glared at the interloper. "Of course not. A raid guild needs to stock up materials to raid. The more players, the more materials required."
Shiroe had a feeling that William was looking down on the, admittedly harmless-looking, girl. This was a given when you considered that everyone in the room already knew that.
"Then that's all the more reason to care about this city's condition," she teased. "Should this city degrade any further, then those services would no longer be available to you. We would be looking at a second Susukino."
"What does the northern city have to do with this?" Eins honestly asked.
At first, Shiroe had thought he didn't see it as an issue, but on further thought, the other players in Akihabara wouldn't know of what happened in the northern city. The ignorance could be forgiven, so long as it was rectified. Such information could turn the tide to their favor.
"She is referring to how all the shops and services of the city were put to a grounding halt," Woodstock W confirmed. "I had heard rumors of other players taking over the city and enslaving the populace."
"There's no way something like that would be true," Isaac dismissed.
"On the contrary," Marielle began sternly, to which he was subtly surprised. Shiroe had thought she would nervously remain quiet while he did all the talking. "One of my guild members had been at Susukino and she only got back recently. What is happening at Susukino is no rumor. It is as bad as the rumors say it is. Even Shiroe can attest to it, he's actually been there."
A nod of admission was all he could give.
"And?" William sneered. "How does that matter?"
"If things keep going as it is, you will have no place to sell your items," Illya said. "Nobody would be willing to deal with other adventurers if this keeps up. I'm sure you've found it hard to sell items nowadays, haven't you?"
William's subsequent silence was telling. It was then that Shiroe realized what ploy she was trying.
A sly silver tongue goaded Silver Sword's guild leader and made it almost as if it was an insult to his intelligence. To leave now would only wound his pride– and as denizens of an online age, nobody liked to lose an argument.
At the same time, she implied that he was the type of person that wouldn't care if his inaction caused tragedy, as he was clearly not. Just the fact that he was angered at the insinuation confirmed it.
However, Shiroe also knew the guild leader wouldn't be able to turn his situation around, not without making himself out to be an indecisive fool.
And so, an olive branch.
"William Massachusetts," Shiroe called out. "I will not bar you from leaving, but I truly believe this meeting will yield some worth to you, those in your guild, and to all in Akihabara."
One more derisive sigh left the elven guild master. He took a few more steps…
And returned to his seat.
… Perhaps this meeting would go better than he expected.
"I still believe this is a waste of time," he commented. "However, if you're foolish enough to believe otherwise, then I'll have to see where your foolishness comes from."
Shiroe nodded. Both as an acknowledgment of William's words and as thanks to Illya for speaking up. However, having him back here just meant that there was an actively denying member, even if he apparently didn't disagree with the meaning behind it.
He'd deny each action and purpose, propose reasons why that wouldn't work, and how foolish of an idea it was. In short, he was playing devil's advocate.
"I'll continue. I've gathered you all here to help create a council to discuss Akihabara's problems. A Round Table conference, if you will," he explained. At the lack of objections, Shiroe continued. "Our immediate goal will be to improve the city's atmosphere and safety. Long term, I'd like us to be capable of addressing different types of problems."
That was the crux of why they were called. And by airing it out, he was inviting them to ask questions.
"Before we get to that," Krusty interrupted. "Can you tell us how you chose those you invited today?"
Although Shiroe had to admit, he didn't expect that one quite yet. However, he supposed the sooner they got that out of the way, the better.
"Yes," William muttered as he glared at the woman seated beside the Villain-in-Glasses. "Preferably, why there's a player barely level seventy here. Are we scraping the bottom of the barrel?"
Shiroe withheld any reaction and was glad to see that Illya had taken the insult fairly well. The mocking smile on her face continued unimpeded, much to William's irritation, but he was likely also intrigued to find out where her confidence was coming from.
"In contrast, I believe I've gathered the best of the best," Shiroe refuted politely. "First, the Black Sword Knights, Honesty, Silver Sword, D.D.D., and the West Wind Brigade. They were chosen as the largest or most notable of the combat guilds. Marine Organization, Roderick Firm, and Shopping District 8 were chosen to represent the crafting guilds. The Crescent Moon Alliance, Grandeur, and Radio Market, represent the smaller guilds as well as players who aren't in any."
Eins mused with a nod. "True, if we added all the number of players in the guilds gathered here, that is six thousand players we represent."
"And nine thousand players that are in smaller, or don't belong to any guild," Woodstock added. "In a way, this encompasses every player in Akihabara."
"And you?" Krusty pressed with a patient smile.
"I am here as the host, and the one who came up with the proposal," Shiroe explained. It was the only reason he was allowed to even be in this room filled with illustrious and well-known players.
"And her?" William pressed with an impatient grimace. "What purpose does she serve? Who does she represent?"
He saw his ally perk up at being referred to. Most likely out of confusion.
If he had just lumped her in with the other smaller guild representatives, then they could've avoided this entirely. However, Shiroe knew that it was an idea that – while both easier and safer – yielded close to no benefits for him or Akihabara.
Should he let them remain unknown, they could always return to the shadows and control the city, and future coalition, that way. He supposed his current decision was out of caution, for he scarcely trusted them. A few meetings would not change that.
This way, Shiroe would be shackling them and enabling their 'discoveries' to aid Akihabara in the future.
Shiroe suppressed a smirk as he answered.
… it wasn't like they'd be opposed to it.
"Illya, and her guild– The Emiya Family, will be representing the Landers of Akihabara in their entirety."
Lord El-Melloi II mused to himself at the back.
"Not bad," he muttered.
"In what way?" Taiga muttered back, hoping not to draw any attention to them. Luckily, she didn't.
"He trapped us into dealing with the Landers," Waver said. "To refute his words here, would be to derail this meeting. Or rather, make this whole event out as a sham."
It would've started a chain reaction.
First, Illya would deny. Then William would question why she was so confident. Followed closely by the other guild leaders wondering what was going on.
"Although, this is fine," Waver added after he let out a puff of his smoking rod. "In the first place, asking to be a part of this meeting was reckless, as we had little reason to even join. At least this way, we have some form of legitimacy."
She raised a brow. "Then why do you look so grumpy?"
He didn't reply, merely musing in his thoughts.
'How are things on your end, Shirou?' Rin sent via message.
Several seconds later, she got her reply. 'None of the Landers outside are making a move towards the guild building, but they seem to be retreating into the Lander district. Are you sure that I shouldn't try and get in closer?'
Rin considered it for a short second before sending a refusal. It was still early in the day, and Shirou didn't have anything to conceal his presence. He wasn't one of those Assassin class adventurers, so that skill was lost on him. Maybe there was something in his Reality Marble, but that was just wasted mana.
'Don't risk it. Let the ghost handle it,' she replied. Illya had lent them her ghost, who she denied being a familiar but they all knew that's what he was. 'He should be able to get in undetected. No need to overexert ourselves.'
The ghost didn't have a menu with Message like they did, but Rin solved that issue by providing a gem that conveyed sound waves. It worked both ways, so they could only talk with each other via Message, lest the Landers caught on to a few eavesdroppers. Krentelfal himself could hide in plain sight, which included the stone, but he had to whisper or risk getting caught.
He also had another stone to convey images directly to another, basing it off the principles of– never mind, they weren't relevant as of yet. The point is that they had a clear visual.
Unfortunately, she couldn't make a runic-array like last time, due to spacing constraints and that an array of such size would alert the Landers no matter what. The view was tainted by a ruby red veil, but she could work on improvements later.
Shirou sent his affirmation, clearing Rin of her inner musing, and thus their long wait began.
At the present, everything was going according to plan.
While Illya handled everything that went on in the guild building, the rest of them were tasked with dealing with the rest of the Landers. It seemed like a gargantuan task for three people to deal with – rather, it was a gargantuan task – but Rin had no room to complain. She might've been raised for politicking, but she had no desire to partake of it so soon.
And damn the idea of Illya being there to help convince the Landers. That girl, while Rin deferred to her leadership due to her familiarity in this world, was not an ideal peacemaker. Mostly because her idea of 'peace' was by holding a gun to everyone's forehead.
Not exactly the best idea for a tense situation such as this one. The rest of the family was probably happier to have Illya too busy with her own meeting to deal with this one.
Still, their current task was no laughing matter.
The chances of a Lander listening to what they had to say was close to zero. Even the weeks of Sakura making a good impression, and of Shirou helping where he could in the crafting district, did little to improve the overall city. Other districts had to deal with lazy louts and thus had a negative opinion of them.
Three no-name adventurers weren't going to change that.
However, they weren't exactly no-named adventurers.
Shirou's name was well-known throughout the districts, her interactions with the elven Artificer told her that much. He knew that the other store clerks admired Sakura to the extent that they'd take her word with some consideration.
Rin, however, was an enigma to them all. She supposed that holing herself up in a study didn't do much to dissuade that idea, but she didn't regret doing that. She realized that she appeared haughty at first glance, so a more mellow and tame approach was required.
Thus, Shirou and Sakura, the golden geese of their endeavors.
Everything they had been doing up 'til now was to boost their efforts today. With enough luck, some Landers would recognize them as examples of 'good adventurers' and convince others of the idea that the other adventurers could change.
However, their timing had to be perfect. If they entered during an inopportune time, then the situation could go south very quickly. Hence why Krentelfal was there to keep tabs on things. They were to find an opening and exploit it. If that proved too much of a task– and the Landers chose to go with a more combative route, then they were to delay them until Illya's meeting was over.
Of course, just entering without an invitation would also set a bad example. Thus, the plan was to have Melhia and Meltraus let them in, with Krentelfal notifying them. The old smith was a large authority figure for the city's Landers, and thus they'd take what they had to say with some consideration.
It wasn't perfect, but it was the best that Shirou and Sakura had to work with.
'Settle down! I know that these are–'
And so, it begins.
"Settle down!" Called the shipyard master, Sen.
They were all within a building, deep within the Lander district. Their previous meeting place was out in the open, with only a tent to muffle their voices. However, with better preparation, they managed to secure a building.
It was the shipyard master's recently purchased personal villa. He had made considerable wealth these past few months, and after prior events, he had decided to put it to good use. From within these halls, no one could disturb them, and a civil discussion could take place without interruptions.
And Krentelfal knew this due to the fact he had studied on every notable name in the city. A task bequeathed to him by Lady Illya, which was vital for his current role.
He supposed that it could've been performed by either the blacksmiths or Lady Ferlna, yet it would put undue scrutiny upon them if they were caught. It was best not to take that chance.
"I know that these are trying times," he continued. "But let us maintain a civil mindset. Speaker Ashe, if you will."
The head of Eve-Marrow Inn nodded and made his way to the podium.
"I'm sure you all have heard the merchant rumors," he began. "It is truly unfortunate what became of Susukino. Our condolences to any who have friends and family in that city."
Silence followed, and Krentelfal could feel the somber atmosphere. To them, their friends and family that were merely living their lives within the snowy city's walls could very well be dead.
Not a single Lander knew what an adventurer who would attack Landers looked like. Throughout Krentelfal's existence, he had only known of them as protectors, warriors who came to them in their time of need. To see such a heel-turn shocked them all.
"This is just the beginning," Egburd, a well-known voice of the Akihabara Lander community, added. "What happened at Susukino could happen here. Or rather, it might have already started."
"It certainly does appear that they are preparing for war," agreed Edgar, the merchant of the southern district. "My caravans are already out of stock, and this is the second time I've had to restock this month."
Considering he sold only to adventurers, that was a lot of money he had made, but it was worrying for the rest of them.
"And what of the gathering they are having?" another voice added on. "They could be preparing to take over as we speak!"
Worried whispers echoed from all over. A worried crease managed to make its way onto the ghost's weary features.
"And we won't let that happen," Kazhak the dwarf bellowed. "If what they're gathering for is about taking us over, that is."
"What are you saying?" Egburd balked. "What else could it be? Stocking up on supplies and gathering their leaders in one room… Certainly sounds like war, doesn't it?"
"What's to say that this isn't one of them dungeon expeditions that adventurers usually go on?" Kazhak retorted. "Remember what that Capital girl said. These are childish brats, not the immortal protectors we used to know."
"Brats that could kill us all if they sneeze funny," Egburd scoffed but conceded. "Fine, but on the off chance that they aren't, we raise arms."
Murmurs of agreement and refusal filled the room.
They were split, which was a good thing. However, Krentelfal knew this was not from goodwill, but from fear. They talked about attacking adventurers only a few weeks ago, yet when push came to shove, they cowered at the idea.
At times like these, they only had to remember what they could lose if they fought. It was not just their lives, but the lives of friends and family on the line. One wrong move could end it all. As much as they hated their situation, they didn't want to lose them.
It still isn't time for them to step in… Krentelfal mused.
"Any word from the capital?" Flandel, an elven artificer, asked. "I presume they would have taken action, especially after Susukino."
"Not at all," the young merchant named Tom-Tom replied. "My connections haven't yielded any information. I assume the same can be said of the north and south?"
Both Drudgel of the north and Edgar of the south merely nodded.
"That means we're alone, aren't we?" Kazhak muttered, loud enough for everyone to hear. "Bloody fence-sitters, they're probably waiting to see if we croak before taking up arms."
"Why are they even waiting?" Flandel asked once more. "They have them, do they not? Surely they could help us against this predicament."
A few more nods went around, seemingly in agreement.
"What happened to that capital girl?" A random stray asked. "Wouldn't the lass know more about it?"
"Lady Ferlna is preoccupied and has not been able to make it to the meeting," the officiator– Sen, replied. "However, she has informed us beforehand that she would be arriving at a later time."
"Specifically?" Egburd asked, irate.
"She did not say," he replied with a sigh.
A few grumbles later and the Landers were back to debating.
And thus, the wait continued.
That is, until a rising commotion from outside their meeting place dragged their attention.
Krusty, the long-standing leader of D.D.D. blinked. His mouth opened to regale them with words of wisdom.
Well, that was a little underwhelming.
"The Landers?" Isaac questioned with a mocking sneer. "I thought this meeting was about the situation of Akihabara, what do they have to do with anything?"
"Did you think that the Landers would happily serve adventurers until their dying breath?" Illya lightly teased. However, deep down, she felt conflicted.
This was a new role thrust upon them. She hadn't heard anything about it from the Villain-in-Glasses– but upon reminiscing, she recalled that all their talks had only been about Landers. At the time, he had a calculating look in his eye. This was planned.
A shackle that abandoning would impart the ill will of Akihabara, and thus, ruin a lot of connections her guild had made these past few weeks.
It was oh so devious, so much that it'd make any regular magus pleased. However, it also irritated her. To think she could be caught off guard like this, but she supposed that this 'shackle' meant little to them. It was merely a loose thread, one that her guild could easily sever should they please.
But she knew that certain elements within her guild would heavily object if they did.
She could address this issue with the Villain-in-Glasses later, perhaps when this pivotal meeting was over. For now, an uphill battle awaited her. "How boorish of you, Isaac."
Isaac seemed flustered for a moment at being called out but stood his ground. "NPC's are just there to serve us. They craft our items, buy our loot, and sell us materials. If they can't do that then what's the point of them?"
"It sounds more like we're reliant on them, doesn't it?" Illya mused. "Everything we might– and can do, is dependent on the Landers. Your raids won't happen as quickly, and might even fail, all because these Landers denied you service."
He snorted. "Then what's stopping us from forcing them to do what we say?"
Was he stupid, or was this a legitimate act he was putting on?
His comment was made in stride, merely a musing comment in his eyes, yet he had no idea of the consequences should he be taken seriously. Despite the irritating comment, Illya smiled as she had done throughout the meeting so far. "Again, I take it that you wouldn't mind a second Susukino?"
Bringing up the northern city again was repetitive, but it served to emphasize her point. The point being, Susukino was not a desirable outcome for them, not even remotely. Although, the reason for that would be up for interpretation.
One could look at Susukino and see the chaos that could be wrought just from adventurers going wild and doing their own thing, without a hint of regard towards the locals like they were ants ready to be crushed. That was a bad thing, obviously.
However, to Illya, that wasn't the case. She saw Susukino as a bad thing, that was the same, yet that was more because of missed potential. If the rumors of the place were anything to go by, the ruling adventurer guild missed a fundamental part about occupying and managing a territory.
Ensure that a possible rebellion would be least likely to happen.
At the rate that Susukino was going, it would implode within a year, a month at the earliest. A starving dog would rip your throat out if you constantly beat it, but if you fed it occasionally then it'd at least try and put up with it.
A morbid analogy, but one that Illya felt best suited it. The world wasn't kind, and Illya knew that better than most.
That, and she hated dogs. She hadn't forgotten the wolves that nearly killed her in the Einzbern forests, but she could at least tolerate Sakura's own mutt. For better or for worse.
"Again with that city…" William berated as he repeated her thoughts, but he raised a single brow at his fellow. He was likely smart enough to realize how brutally idiotic that suggestion was. "However, Isaac, the woman makes a point."
Isaac frowned. "Oy oy, weren't you against this whole thing?"
"I said it before, and after this, I won't repeat myself. I said that this meeting wasn't a bad idea, but it feels like a waste of time. I have yet to be proved wrong," he sneered before turning his eyes back to her. "The fact that that woman represents the Landers means that the Villain-in-Glasses sees Landers as equals in some form, am I right?"
Illya raised a brow. Truthfully, she was surprised at the fact he agreed but nodded gracefully.
"In a way, they are just as much people as we are," Illya said. It was ironic that she was the one saying it, seeing as she had held the same view as the black knight a mere month ago. Then again, she still saw everyone other than her family as expendable. So nothing changed there. "It could be argued that they are even more so. They are weak, whereas we are beings who can tackle great monsters from beneath the depths of the earth. We might as well be demigods."
"Still not seeing how we can't just force them to follow us," Issac added. "If we're 'demigods', then Landers are 'mortals' in this comparison, right?"
"Because demigods can still fall," Illya said. "Even the greatest Greek hero, Herakles, died. The reason for his death was a mortal woman. If you aren't careful, those 'mortals' could cause us unending problems."
"So we're a history class now?" He muttered. "Alright professor, I'll play your game. How could the NPCs actually be a threat?"
He was challenging her again, but the smile on her face had yet to fade. Her pride as a magus wouldn't allow this boorish upstart even a hint of satisfaction. As far as she was concerned, this was like talking to a mangy mutt.
"I assume that you are hard of hearing, for you seem to not have heard the reasons we have already laid out," she calmly began. Illya could see the irritation in him but didn't let up. "However, I can understand that it is a hard concept to grasp, especially if you haven't opened your eyes and paid attention."
She could feel Shiroe's warning gaze on her to not go too far and alienate the guild leader. Okay, she could lighten up on the spite, but he needn't worry. Illya knew the purpose of the meeting– and what was riding upon it. She wasn't going to let idiocy impede her.
But she was still put on the spot by that four-eyed nerd, so just to spite him in particular, she'd play a card she kept in reserve.
"How many Landers are in this world? Even if we took half– or even a quarter, of our world's population, then they still outnumber every player without question. If they collectively decided that players aren't worth keeping around, we would no longer be allowed to be here."
"And they can force us out?" Krusty asked as he raised a brow out of genuine curiosity. "How?"
"That demigod metaphor is backfiring on you," Isaac mused as he smirked.
Then, she silenced them.
"The Knights of Izumo," she began. "Or rather, the Ancients of Theldesia."
Just those words brought pause to them all.
All players of Japan knew of the Izumo Knights. They were Landers that were even stronger than players– by astronomical levels. Even if they were the same level, these Landers could overpower and defeat adventurers without question, thus becoming Ancients.
They were the trump card that the Lander Kingdoms had behind them. There was usually at least one on every continent. Japan, or Yamato in this world, was no exception. They were the lore-reason as to why adventurers and their ilk didn't just conquer the world.
It theoretically took an entire raid guild to take out one of them– and that was with considerable losses. An entire coalition of them, like the Izumo Knights, was just too much to even consider facing. However, if all players in Akihabara cooperated, then it might just be possible.
However, what was stopping more Ancients from being born?
The way they are birthed is a mystery, even in Theldesian lore. However, it is mostly accepted that they were either born among regular Landers and ascend in strength in some way or form, or they were just created from the world itself.
In Illya's mind, they could be this world's form of Counter Guardian, or perhaps Heroic Spirits, at a much weaker but permanent scale.
What was stopping a regular Lander, after witnessing adventurers attack them, from somehow transforming into an Ancient like the Izumo Knights? What was stopping them from being born from the constant strife that'd be present?
Not much. Even by asking the old ghost, he had more than enough tales of Ancients being born, and a few he knew of were still around to this day. Naturally, the Emiya Family had countermeasures for them, but they were placeholders until they had a grasp of what they were dealing with.
Not a single book in the Arcadia accurately described their capabilities, and Illya certainly blamed the complacent scholars of this world. For once, she shared in Rin's frustrations.
"There's no way that could happen… but, I wouldn't put it past the damn devs to put something in like that for the new update," Isaac sucked through his teeth and frowned. "Fine, you have a point. Being attacked by those guys forever would be a pain."
"Not to mention, harrowing," Eins added. "There are only a few times where they had come into play, but those only occur when we, the players, failed, and let great numbers of monsters run rampant. A handful of Ancients could clean up what several hundred thousand players could not do. What could we do to stop that?"
Illya smiled. The man's cowardly yet cautious nature was playing into her favor.
"So we have to make buddy with these chumps?" Isaac muttered. "That's a lot to ask. I haven't even talked with one in ages."
"Probably because of something you did," Woodstock W muttered back.
"Hoh? Why don't you say that to my face?"
Illya's smile faded as she recalled his history with her former guild master. More specifically, Woodstock W was a former member of the Black Sword Knights, which he left due to disagreements about player treatment and level discrimination.
Great, another minefield to maneuver.
"Please maintain a civil mindset and do not bring personal grudges to the table," Shiroe tried placating. It only worked a bit, but that was good enough. "As you can see, this is the reason as to why we have Illya as one of the representing guilds here. Any more questions before we move on?"
With enough luck, he could steer this meeting back on track.
All eyes turned to William, who had his eyes narrowed in contemplation.
"This isn't like you, Villain-in-Glasses. You always prepared for tangible threats, things we can prepare for. The way Ancients are spawned is just myth, from tall tales, and speculations from the player base. There is no way to prove they can multiply or spawn as this woman suggests. All we need to do is kill the ones on this continent, and we'll be fine."
Especially since we were technically immortal.
"On the contrary, there is," Illya replied. Even Shiroe raised his brow at her, likely not expecting that reply, or for her to answer for him. Nevertheless, he nodded and let her continue. "I've already had a member of my guild look up ancient archives in regards to this world's society."
"Ah yes, a member of your guild," he sneered. "Your relatively unknown guild. A small guild with a reputation that's dubious at best. The Villain-in-Glasses' guild might be as small, yet even he has more reputable clout than you."
Laying it thick, isn't he?
"True. My guild is fairly recent," she replied with confidence.
"Probably not strong either, otherwise you'd be with us, the raid guilds. You're level sixty-nine, right?" Isaac muttered, trying to snipe a jab at her from being belittled. Petty, but Illya found it a bit funny that he'd even try. "The rest of your guild must be full of newbies, or casuals."
He said that last part as he took a glance at her retinue. His eyes bugged a bit at the level ninety ConquerorsAdvisor but he immediately disregarded him. He must have labeled the Lord of the Clock Tower as a veteran, one who was content with merely being in a group rather than moving up in ranks. He completely disregarded Taiga though, which was probably better than taking note of her.
Illya sighed inwardly. It appears that she'd have to address these before moving on, lest they disregard everything she'd say moving forward.
"Yes, I suppose there's some truth to that statement, especially considering that most of them started just last month," Illya admitted without even losing her confidant smile.
It was sort of satisfying to see everyone, including the escorts around them, turn to look at her with almost comically wide eyes. This reminded her a lot of scenes where the main character did something unfathomable, did that make her the MC?
"How the–" Isaac gaped like a fish before growling. "Damn it. Resting-bitch-face has a point. Why the hell are you even here?"
While William chewed his supposed 'ally' out for belittling him, Illya noted Shiroe's wary gaze. She supposed some worry was warranted. After all, she was demeaning her purpose in the meeting, which could easily lead to questioning Shiroe's own judgment.
"The reason I am here is that no other guild can achieve what my guild can do," she replied.
"And that is?" Krusty poked, more out of curiosity than anything. "What can your guild– composed of people who started just a month ago as you said, do that we– the largest guilds in this city, cannot?
That was the question, wasn't it?
"We made contact with the local Landers and created positive ties," she began. "My members do not have the common perceptions a player would have about NPCs. They made strong first impressions, proceeded to create ties, and secured a mutually beneficial relationship. Our guild has more experience in this field than any other here, even among the crafting guilds I'd wager."
"Is that a challenge, young missy?" Michitaka, of the Marine Organization, teased with a confidant smirk. "My guild has been making a ton of deals with the Landers. We even bought them out several times."
"A strong claim, but it is a mere working relation," she replied with her dismissal. "What my guild has is far more. We know that their grandmaster smith holds much political sway within the city. We know what the Landers think of us as a whole. We even know more about how Landers conjure spells by studying alongside one of their magical researchers. This one is especially important, for it allowed us to realize that they have been studying how Ancients are birthed. In that particular subject, they've made some headway."
And by some, she meant close to none.
There were fringe researchers that challenged the norm, of which Ferlna was a part of, yet nothing conclusive came from their research as of yet. Illya was sure that could change in the future, should the rest of the Landers find the motivation to attempt such a thing.
But they didn't know that. A little white lie went a long way.
"We are so far entrenched into their echelons that we know exactly what their community leaders are thinking," Illya continued with a smile. "That is why we have been chosen to represent the Landers. Even now, we know exactly what's going on with them, and how to deal with it."
Rin had no idea what was going on in that discussion.
She had a vague idea of what to expect when she took up this task. Talks about adventurers, minor rants about their actions, guesses, and hypothesis on whether or not they'd get better with time. Logical topics like that are what she believed they'd begin and end with.
She didn't expect them to go on a full-blown rant about each other of all things.
Terms like sympathizer and war-dog were thrown like it was just a normal Tuesday – was it even a Tuesday? Honestly, it just reminded her that, even in a different world, people would be idiots. She hadn't kept track of the days now that she thought about it. At least she figured out who these Landers were referring to in their plans.
The Izumo Knights.
She had read about them in history books, Illya had even taken her fair share of material to study them, and Rin could see why they'd be cause for concern. However, she didn't expect them to be this heavy of a presence among the Landers.
It was almost as if they both feared and revered them. It was a situation not so dissimilar to adventurers, yet Rin knew them to be stronger. It was like having your E-rank Servant become a liability and you sought to replace them with an A-rank one, if owning multiple Servants was possible anyway.
Before she got distracted, Rin took heavy note of a sudden commotion.
A capital merchant, one that was sent months ago if what they were whispering was true, came with news.
"The Izumo Knights have gone missing!"
Those words nearly caused a storm of panic to arise within them all.
From within their midst, Meltraus found himself drowned in unabated confusion.
"That's impossible!" Halfas, his old elven friend, shouted in uncharacteristic bafflement. "The capital has them under tight surveillance! What do you mean they're missing!?"
"Calm yourselves!" Sen shouted once more, yet his voice had long since gotten lost among the sea of confusion and worry. He was doing an admirable job, yet the panic of a crowd was not easy to tame.
Knowing that he had no choice, Meltraus stilled as he took a deep breath.
"SHUT YOUR MOUTHS!"
His voice echoed like thunder within the flustered halls. He was taller than them all, and thus an eye-catching sight. He had their attention and he wasn't going to squander it.
"Panicking isn't going to do us anything," he grunted loudly. "Get back to your seats. We will discuss this like Landers, as Landers, not headless sheep."
His berating went unchallenged as they did as he said.
"Thank you for your assistance, grandmaster Meltraus," the shipyard master thanked before turning to the capital merchant who nearly caused a city-wide panic. "Now, what do you mean when you say that the knights are missing? And be crystal clear."
"O-Of course," he stuttered, likely out of embarrassment. "It took a bit of– or rather a substantial amount, of bribing, to get a straight answer. However, the noblemen at the capital have been strengthening their militia as precautions. Susukino has not gone unnoticed, and the king is aiming to provide aid… However, they cannot do so without sufficient strength."
"This ties into the missing knights of Izumo?" Edgar mused, nervously toying with his mustache. "It would make sense. Without a sufficient combative force, it would only result in a loss. That is not something the Capital would endorse."
"What caused them to have gone missing?" Halfas urgently asked. "Has there been any word of that?"
The capital merchant frowned. "Only whispers. Rumors of abandoning Eastal due to our actions and of divine intervention, yet only one fact remains consistent. They disappeared during the fourth of May."
In their minds, only one event could be tied to it, and Meltraus dreaded the crawling suspicions that had risen.
The May Incident.
"You mean to tell us–" Egburd swiftly interjected. "–that the knights disappeared, around the same time that the adventurers started acting up?"
He received a nod from the merchant, but Meltraus hastily added to it. "Do not draw any foolhardy conclusions. There is still much to discuss."
"Come now," Egburd growled. "You mean to tell me that these adventurers didn't have something to do with this? Those immortals knew that the only people that could beat them are the Izumo Knights! They struck before any of us realized what was wrong!"
"It's impossible," Halfas denied. "In my long years of life, not once has an adventurer been able to even contend with an Ancient. They would be defeated without question. You would claim that adventurers – as powerful and immortal as they are – could defeat even one eternal Ancient?"
"With enough cuts, a giant could bleed a river," Kazhak replied with a frown. "I am not denying you, Halfas. However, the man raises a point. It's too convenient to just be a coincidence."
"If they've disappeared, and it wasn't adventurers…" Tom-Tom mused not-so silently. "Then what could've taken them away? Or worse, slain them?"
"That's the question. Isn't it?"
… It's almost time.
Shiroe had to admit, he wasn't expecting anything related to the Ancients. He had considered them a threat, but thought that if he acted fast enough then they could be avoided.
He supposed that, in his haste, he neglected the thought that it was a good driving factor for the coalition. An outside force, a third enemy, had always brought people together in solidarity, as morbid as that reality was to behold.
But he should save such thoughts for after, perhaps for when Illya would inevitably drag him aside for a little chat.
"I suppose there are no more questions in regards to the Emiya Family and their qualifications for being in this meeting?" Shiroe prompted. At the silent reply of nothing, he nodded to himself. "Very well, let us proceed."
"Is her role just because of these Ancients?" William suddenly asked. Shiroe didn't have it in him to be angry at the man's delay in asking. The elf probably needed time to gather his thoughts. "Is that what you mean when you say she represents the Landers?"
Shirou nodded slightly. "Partly. The idea of Ancients being a threat had crossed my mind, but they were never the main driving force behind having a representative for the Landers, at least for me. No, something else concerns me."
"Then what is it?" Isaac asked from his seat. "What does the Villain-in-Glasses fear more than something that can literally wipe us off the map?"
His question brought up more possible questions to be asked, but Shiroe would accept them all the same.
"In a way, I see Landers as the true inhabitants of this world, in which we are only unwilling visitors," he led off. "While we know of this world, we do not know its history. This isn't the Elder Tale that we knew. We have not lived and toiled the soils of labor, and yet we are profiting from it. It is from the benevolence of our hosts that we can live here, in cities dedicated to us alone. If things are left as they are, then relations with them will be beyond repair."
"In what way?" Krusty asked. "I do not see how this world is different from the Elder Tale we know. True, we can fight with our own bodies and feel the world as if it were alive, but we are here in our player avatars. Not to mention the fact that the world and locations are largely the same. These are undeniable facts. How is it not the same world?"
"Those facts are proof of otherwise," Shiroe stressed. "This familiarity is a shackle that prevents us from realizing how different this world truly is. It is familiar, and thus we cling to the familiarity while forgoing any attempt to reconcile with the other facts that exist– Facts that contradict the idea."
"Such facts are?" William pushed. Strangely, he was not as forceful in his queries as he was with Illya. His eyes were more focused on… something unseen.
It seemed the talk of Ancients was pushing him to be convinced… yet he wasn't there yet. That was fine. The fact he was even here was a blessing.
"Such facts will be explained in due time. They tie into my primary reasons for hosting this meeting in the first place," he explained.
Eins tilted his head with a frown. "And the primary reasons are?"
"One of them is restoring life to the people here, as well as protect them from outside forces," Shiroe replied. "I'm certain that you realize the current atmosphere of the city– and that you already have an idea of what outside forces exist."
The boredom in the city. The threat that the Landers pose– or rather, that of the Ancients. Both of these are ticking time bombs waiting to happen. One of which, already imploded– an example being Susukino. What about the other cities? What was going on outside of Yamato, in the wider world? Have worse things already occurred? Have cities fallen and wars waged?
Are they prepared? Are the players of Akihabara prepared?
No, not in the slightest.
That was the biggest worry Shiroe felt, the crux of it all, and he didn't even want to think about what would happen if the Izumo Knights got involved with them now.
However… the discussion was spiraling out of control. The participants had questions upon questions. Most of which he had wanted to answer after he had made his gambit. He supposed that having William, a vocal dissenter that required hard evidence, was a factor in the spiral.
Never mind. He can make his gamble afterwords. He was putting the carriage before the horse, but in this case, it mattered very little.
"In order to do so, I've prepared a suitable solution," Shiroe commented. "Marielle, if you would."
A swift nod later, she stood and coughed into her fist. "As I believe some of you are aware, we've been running a restaurant called Crescent Moon. The secret behind its popularity, the secret of how we make food with actual flavor, I shall now reveal it."
"So the Villain was tied to it after all…" William muttered.
"This is the trick," Marielle began. "You must have normal ingredients and cook them with normal methods. The cook must have their subclass set to Chef. If their cooking skill isn't high enough, they'll fail. That's all. The trick is that there is no trick."
"So you cook it yourself, instead of via the menu?" Woodstock asked for clarification.
"That's all?" Ichimonjinosuke also asked.
At her nod, Shiroe gestured for her to sit down before turning back to the table. "I believe this discovery has several implications. Without it, I never would have even thought to gather you all here. Michitaka?"
The leader of the Marine Organization flustered for a bit before nodding.
"In conjecture with the Roderick Firm, and Shopping District 8, our guild has successfully created a steam engine."
Shiroe suppressed a smile– and cue shocked reactions.
"A prototype, to be precise," Roderick commented.
"It still has many flaws, but it's a proof of concept. Give us enough time, and we can create a way to generate steam, and thus energy– which also means electricity. All of which, comes from without the use of magic."
Michitaka snorted with a goofy smile. "It barely took us twelve hours of toiling, but we got it done. Impressive, right?"
"Wait…" Isaac said out of exasperation. He was certainly lively when it came to the Landers, but when it came to the merchant guilds, he was a fish out of water. To a degree, they all were. "What does this all mean, exactly?"
"It means that this subclass secret is not limited to cooking, but to the other subclasses as well," Shiroe explained. "In Elder Tale, the game had no steam engines, so creating one should be an impossibility. Yet it stands before us as a possibility. The fact is that any player with a suitable subclass can create something with this world's materials, without the use of the menu – but with their own two hands. This fact means that we can invent things that weren't originally a part of this world."
"With this discovery," Roderick commented. "There will be a rush to invent things."
"And that means a demand for new products," Michitaka added.
"And purchasing them will require earning money," Calasin continued. "In other words, an economy. A flow of money that will greatly benefit us merchant guilds."
"In other words," Michitaka finalized. "We, the major adventurer crafting guilds, support the creation of the Round Table."
Shiroe eyed the raid guilds.
By now, the raid guilds were beginning to see that everything was connected to him. The merchant guilds, Crescent Moon, and even the Emiya Family, they had all come together under his words and orders.
The merchant guilds would support him due to the economical and commercial growth that would surely arise. Capitalism at its finest. Crescent Moon was by his designs from the very beginning. The Emiya Family was backed by him.
It was likely that they realized this meeting was less of a way to convince everyone to join with his plans, but a way to convince the raid guilds of his plan.
Shiroe smiled at the notification he received from his guildmates. They were finally in place. All he had to do was wait until they, Tohya and Minori, were free from Hamelin's clutches.
"Cornering us like that…" Krusty mused with a smile. "Not bad."
"You've certainly given this a lot of thought," William commented. "It makes sense. If we can do things like this, then this really isn't the Elder Tale we know–" Suddenly, he widened his eyes and opened his menu. They couldn't see his menu, but they knew he opened it.
A deep set frown appeared on his face as he glared at the head of the table. "Oi, Villain. Was this a part of your plans too?"
In a flash, an item appeared on the table.
An item called Archer's EXP Potion.
His smile faded.
Krentelfal withheld the yawn he felt crawling up his rear end. Or was it not a yawn but something more gaseous in nature? Whichever the case, the old ghost was feeling much more bored than he was in the last few minutes.
The reason for this?
Once the initial shock over the disappearance of the Izumo Knights had faded– the strongest group of Ancients that existed among the Yamato isles since he was but a young lad– the people of the land finally gathered themselves enough to initiate proper discourse. Krentelfal could even classify them into two sides.
The suggestion of rehabilitating the adventurers, rather than waiting for them to pull them themselves together, was considered yet left largely untouched. This was mostly due to how many wouldn't even dare approach them now, erring more on the side of caution than they had done weeks prior.
Then there were the plans of attack, more hypothetical and one-off suggestions rather than anything concrete. Nevertheless, the idea of going after the Kunie clan themselves and having them join their hypothetical resistance, was considered but not dismissed.
However, Krentelfal doubted they would be able to achieve it. If old age taught him anything, it was that the Kunie clan would never breach their long-standing contract with the adventurers, not unless they breached it first… On second thought, the possibility of that wasn't zero, for even adventurers could be foolish as the worst of them.
All in all, the meeting was peaceful.
Many of those who were pro-rehab discussed ideas for it. It was making much more headway than the plans of attack. As the meeting was, Krentelfal did not doubt that young Meltraus would be able to finagle his way into letting the Emiya Family in. It was only a matter of time.
However… his senses as a warrior were screaming at him to not be complacent. There was danger eerily close by, yet he could not figure out what it was.
He eyed the more aggressive faction of Landers, they seemed more disorganized as they couldn't decide among themselves what the ideal course would be. No, they weren't the source of his worry. He glanced back at Meltraus' ilk and noted that they were much more silent, merely listening and only offering advice should they hear something particularly egregious.
If the source wasn't from either of them… then perhaps–
"The adventurers are making a ruckus outside," a messenger said as he was let inside the building. "I've seen them apprehending other adventurers. It could be akin to infighting."
"Or culling the weakness in their ranks," Egburd scoffed. "Any word from the Kunie clan? Do they know what these… 'guild leaders' are gathering for?"
Sending spies? Into the meeting? Krentelfal hadn't expected that.
"No word," the messenger lamented. "The clan has opted to maintain their neutrality."
"I had hoped we'd do things more smoothly," Egburd lamented. "Should the worst come to pass, we try to convince them one last time. Otherwise, we go after the Cathedral instead."
"Why?" Tom-Tom asked. "Even if we convince the local priests, what could we possibly do to the place that could aid us?"
"Smash it up, maybe?" Edgar suggested wildly. "We have yet to see if the Cathedrals could be destroyed, nor has it been attempted in the centuries that adventurers roamed our lands. It couldn't hurt to give it a shot if the situation turns dire."
"Edgar!" Drudgel exclaimed. "I had thought you better than this! The priests of the Cathedral have done nothing but help us! To even suggest such a thing–"
"And arming ourselves to lay siege upon the adventurers is not?" He scoffed. "Calm yourself. 'Twas merely a suggestion should our protectors finally snap."
As the discussion raged further, Krentelfal twitched as he noticed the doors open once more. It was not a messenger that graced these halls, but the terse stride of one of his fellows.
"Ah, Lady Ferlna," the shipyard master greeted. "I see you have finally made it. What unfortunate circumstance managed to ensnare thee?"
The lady smiled and shook her head at his theatrics. "A few discrepancies in my accounting. They needed to be corrected before the next week."
"A rarity that someone as diligent as you would allow that to happen," he noted.
"A sleepless night or two can dull even the sharpest minds," she replied before getting straight to the point. "How goes the meeting?"
"Stale to a degree," he commented. "Even as a mere overseer, I can say that we are getting nowhere. Far too much panic and worry in their hearts."
"And you are above such emotions?"
"Heavens no, I'm merely well-versed in concealing them," he denied before narrowing his eyes. "Lady Ferlna, I assume you haven't heard about the latest development."
"The adventurers having a meeting?" she took a gander. To which he shook his head. "Then I am at a loss."
"The Izumo Knights, my dear," he relayed. "They have gone missing. None of the Capital's scouts could determine their whereabouts. It is quite a frightening prospect."
Krentelfal could attest to that. Adventures had protected them for centuries, but it was the knights of Izumo that protected them for centuries prior. Their only fault was their lack of numbers, which the adventurers handily supplemented. It was through that joint effort that the Yamato islands of the present could have its tacit peace.
Lady Ferlna merely nodded in understanding. "This is troubling."
"I'm surprised you haven't heard," he commented. "Are you not well-connected with the capital yourself?"
She gave a veiled smile. "Coming here to Akihabara has forced me to sever more than a fair share of connections. I was as blind as you all were."
As Ferlna was about to bid her farewell and join the others in debate, the door behind them quivered.
The rapid sound of a fist upon wood drew the attention of all. An attendant swiftly opened the door but was hastily pushed aside as a young lander collapsed in a panic before them.
If sirens weren't ringing in their heads before, then they were echoing louder than ever now.
"What's the meaning of this!" Shipyard master Sen shouted, enraged at the intrusion into his villa. "What happened to the lookout!?"
Truthfully, Krentelfal was feeling much of the same confusion. He recognized the boy as a mere employee – perhaps even an apprentice – under Edgar of the South, a forgettable face at a point of interest.
Lady Ferlna, not being one to dawdle, hastily appeared by his side.
"What is the matter?"
"S-Stop them, please…!" The sheer urgency and panic in his voice drenched them all in dread. "They're going to kill us all…!"
Ferlna narrowed her eyes.
The employee coughed out his answer.
"Egburd… Egburd's ilk are on their way to attack the Cathedral!"
And then the panic arose. Senseless and furious like a wildfire, it lashed around until the hall was a cacophony of curses. All eyes focused on Egburd, the unfortunate source of their ire, who looked around in wide and confused eyes.
"Wait! I didn't tell them to do anything!"
"Liar! You're the one who wanted to make the adventurers pay the most!"
"I knew he was acting off! He's doomed us all!"
"We're going to die. We're actually going to die," a lone Lander said. "We can't fight back, not without the Knights of Izumo. The Royal Guards won't even do anything because they only stop adventurers from fighting each other!"
"Those bastards don't even know the Izumo Knights are gone, do they?" Kazhak muttered. "This is a disaster."
"How close are they to the Cathedral?" Meltraus hastily asked. "If we hurry, we can stop them in time–"
"I'd wager that it would be a little too late for that."
Amid the panic, a lone voice subsumed the halls. The door, having been left open by the panicked young lander, revealed a figure in almost torn red robes. Another stood beside it, this time in a mellow pink robe, but paired with a Foxtail's ears and tail.
Adorned with a calm smile, they walked into the meeting hall.
There was no mistaking it.
It was innocuous how the potion just sat on the table. It stood there, a testament to how late he had been in his realizations of an enemy, and there was nothing he could do about it.
In is musings, Shiroe failed to hide his swift flash of recognition, which only served to further enrage the elven archer. "So this is the favor that you planned for me– for us all? To join this coalition?"
Krusty's own eyes flashed in surprise before taking out another EXP potion. A Berserker's EXP Potion. "I'm surprised. I knew that you had the merchant guilds, and perhaps even the smaller guilds, dancing in your hand. But to think we were also waltzing along…"
Isaac gaped and took out another potion. A Saber's EXP Potion. "You guys got one too!? I thought I had a sweet deal going on with that damn bird!"
Soujirou sheepishly took out an Assassin's EXP Potion, and even Eins took out a Caster's EXP Potion.
"Such diversity… an alchemist?" Eins mused. "I see, not even the developers would have allowed the manual creation of EXP Potions. Is this the true power of the subclass secret?"
The raid guilds– except the West Wind Brigade, sent wary glances his way. In some people's cases, thinly narrowed glares. They treated him with contempt, as if it was all his fault. It wasn't, not that the current raid guilds realized it. He already laid out his plans with Marielle and the merchant guilds, and even they were surprised at what they were seeing.
"Oi, Harem-bastard," Isaac called. "You're buddy-buddy with that four-eyed villain. I bet you knew this all along? Didn't you? That's why you were keeping your mouth shut this entire time! Huh!?"
Soujirou grimaced in what could be naively interpreted as a pout. "I have done no such thing. There's a reason for these potions existing."
Isaac twitched. "Oh, I see! Do you mind enlightening the dimwits in this room!?"
Oh dear, the situation had gotten a tad bit hostile.
The guild leaders had been caught off guard and were facing, what was known as, a mental breakdown. They just considered the fact that, due to the existence of the potions and their reliance on them until they're fully leveled, they would be following the Villain-in-Glasses orders, lest they lose their chance at a ready supply of potions.
In their minds, it was either they joined this coalition, or they'll lose their supplies and fall behind the other raid guilds. This meeting was being seen as a sham, a way for him to lord over them.
This wasn't good.
Well, Shiroe intended for them to join, but from their own free will. He would've let Silver Sword leave the meeting were it not for Illya's intervention, which turned out to make things harder for them. Had William left, Shiroe would've had concrete proof to show that their choice mattered. That they weren't pawns to be used
If things were left as they were, then they'd still join. However, they'd feel forced to, and only bitter feelings would develop from such an event. These feelings would be left to fester and grow as time went on until the coalition imploded on itself.
The only way out of this would be…
"I see that misconceptions need to be cleared before the meeting devolves even further."
… Yes, this would be it.
Despite that, Illya continued. "There is an answer as to why you have those potions."
"Meeting, yeah that's what this is…" Isaac muttered with contempt. "Sure, clear them up why don't you?"
"Sure," Illya simply agreed.
She placed a potion on the table. A quick look at the label showed it to be named Lancer's EXP Potion.
"Another potion…" William grumbled. "What is this supposed to prove?"
And then she took out another one.
She stopped once there were at least seven unique EXP potions in front of her, all the while she smiled at them all, almost as if a vaguely entertaining joke had amused her.
To Shiroe, there might as well have been one.
"The chances of someone other than Shiroe of Log Horizon to discover the subclass secret is not completely zero," she said. "A week ago, due to Crescent Moon's appearance and an accident in which a guild member of mine suffered, we also discovered it. It only took us a few days to also discover that reverse engineering an EXP potion was possible. Mostly through the efforts of our dear alchemist here."
The alchemist in question merely nodded his head from behind her.
"How the–" Isaac blurted. "But what–?"
"So that bird wasn't from him," Eins unintentionally interrupted. "–but from you and your guild?"
"Yes, that is correct," Illya confirmed."At the time, I had not known about this coalition and distributed the potions in hopes of currying favor. My end goal was, ultimately, something closely resembling what Shiroe had planned. A safer Akihabara– a home. However, where he focused on enriching the experience of the players, my guild had simply sought to quell the dissent."
"Dissent?" William interrupted. "That would imply someone having something to dissent about. I think players are too apathetic at the moment to try anything."
"She's not talking about players."
Krusty turned away from Shiroe – which was nice because he was already being glared at by William. Instead, he focused on Illya and awaited her nod to continue with his speculations.
"As I was saying, this isn't about the players. It is the Landers that you were talking about, weren't you?" Her nod of confirmation was all Krusty needed before pushing his glasses back up with a smile. "You planned to use us to force the Landers, and even other players, to calm down should they object to what you were planning."
"Oh? Well done," Illya mused as she slowly clapped her hands. "Impressive. I didn't expect you to realize that much."
"Illya…" Woodstock muttered out of shock, perhaps a little bit of betrayal as well. His former guild member, one who he took in and trusted with his way of thinking, appears with a complete heel-turn. Or perhaps, she had never ascribed to it in the first place. "… That plan– that's not any different from subjugation!"
This much Shiroe realized upon their first meeting together, back at that fateful night, and he was glad that he managed to convince her of a better alternative.
"I thought you were against a second Susukino!" Ichimonjinosuke berated as he stood from his seat. "This does nothing but–"
"Spare me the dribble," Illya interrupted dismissively. "I've already been told everything wrong with the idea before. Why do you think I'm in this meeting and not playing puppet master?"
"I can take a gander at that," Krusty answered with a smile. "I suppose we have you to 'thank' for this, Villain-in-Glasses?"
Shiroe, who had been silent up until now, nodded in response with a smile. "Guilty as charged. Although, their existence only came to my attention after Soujirou showed me the unique EXP potion."
"I'm glad to be of service to you, Shiroe-senpai," Soujirou said with a smile.
"A blunder on my part," Illya admitted, and they all realized why. "However, I cannot deny that it has led me this far. A splendid outcome if I do say so myself."
The small smile on her face was suddenly more condescending.
"Smug little runt…" Isaac complained, but it was easily ignored.
"I see," William grunted out. "The Villain-in-Glasses didn't assign you as representative of the Landers because you were the best suited, but because you and your guild are too dangerous to be left unchecked."
"Flattery will get you everywhere," Illya teased.
"If flattery means calling a no-name guild who we've never heard of before and thus has dubious intentions, dangerous, then I'm writing a fucking love letter," was his swift retort. A dismissive grunt later, he continued. "I thought there would be one villain here, but to think that there would be two."
The silence he was met with was deafening, especially when they realized that, while half of the current participants were strung along by a puppet master, the other half– the raid guilds, were dolls for a girl to toy with.
Somehow, Shiroe could tell that his ally was reveling in this idea.
"Hey, prof," Taiga whispered. "Why's everyone looking our way?"
Waver simply let out another tasteless puff of smoke. He eyed the room and noted the guild leaders eyeing their own. Even the surrounding retinue focused on her, but occasionally flickering to them. It was annoying, but he was used to worse. "Considering the impression we've currently made, we've cemented ourselves as a force not to be trifled with."
"How?" She continued to loudly whisper. Frustrating woman. "We just told everyone who we were. Doesn't that go against the whole 'secrecy' thing that you guys are fond of? Won't they go after us now?"
That, or do nothing. These people weren't magi. The only fellows that felt like they had a vague idea behind politicking were the Villain-in-Glasses and that Krusty fellow.
It might just be the glasses. Yes, probably that.
"The chance of that exists, but we are sufficiently prepared to deter it," he reassured. "On the contrary, by revealing our hand now, we are making two statements. First, we are not the Villain-in-Glasses' underling, but a partner cooperating for a mutual goal. This makes us seem as equals, and thus provokes caution from everyone else. Second, we are the reason you have those potions. In other words, do not touch us or else."
Naturally, this didn't need to be said, but some people – like the person standing right beside him – wouldn't be able to realize the nuances at play. While giving up the secrecy they had was a shame, it was a fine trade for what else they'd obtain.
Secrecy, in this world without a group of ruthless magi, had its role. However, in a meeting such as this where their goal was a better city overall, transparency was key. Trust was the real currency to obtain, but if that wasn't attainable, then a credible reputation was the next best thing. They can trust that reputation instead of them.
The Emiya Family was an unknown to all of them and the guild leaders wanted to quickly gain a grasp of what they were like. Rather than having them hound their every step to sniff that information out, Illya threw them a bone and let them know exactly what she wanted them to, all the while intimidating them from digging further.
A sly ploy, one that he didn't expect from the more straight forward Einzbern heir, whose main ideal plan was to throw enough power around until something stuck– if what the Tohsaka heir said was true about her Servant in the Holy Grail War, the Berserker-class Herakles.
The Lord of the Clock Tower suppressed a shudder, for he was glad that the Berserker of his war was a black knight instead.
"So we traded secrecy for rep?" Taiga asked once more. "Seems kind of… fair. Too fair for what you said you guys usually do."
"Thinly veiled malice masked by civility is the norm for magi, but that doesn't mean civility itself doesn't exist among us," he berated. "That being said, it is a rare occurrence. To even find a batch of magi not inherently after each other's research is equivalent to a pot of gold. Incredibly frustrating."
"Really?" Taiga raised a brow. "If it frustrates you, then why did you stick with it for so long?"
"With extraneous circumstances popping up now and again, even you'll find it hard-pressed to avoid lest you lose something of value," Waver warned before continuing. "The result of these statements cannot be ignored, for it means one thing. We are confident enough in revealing our hand because we know you cannot do anything about it."
"Real~ arrogant, don't you think?" She chuckled out a bit.
Because it was true.
The most painful strikes when it came to politics was the truth. It was hard to refute and infinitely harder to swing your way once it is twisted to your foe's favor. At this moment, every raid guild knows that they were untouchable.
Not that they were the only untouchable party here. He did not let the glint in his fellow enchanter's eyes escape his sight.
Waver suppressed a sigh and focused. "Enough. The meeting is far from over. Pay attention."
"Cheapskate," Taiga complained, but heeded his words and paid attention.
Just as he was about to immerse himself in blissful silence once more, an ungodly ping echoed out from within his mind. Fortunately, Waver didn't react as he received the message from his guild member, the Tohsaka heiress.
The contents of the message didn't matter. Everything was proceeding smoothly.
Shirou watched the setting sun, idly wondering if it would be the last that a peaceful Akihabara would see, before burying that thought under the coarse dirt of his reality marble and leaping onto another building.
The streets were too crowded right now, for there were adventurers still standing around and waiting for the results of whatever meeting was going on inside. They were bored, so of course they'd wait for the only source of entertainment in this city. Shirou could understand it.
Unfortunately, this meant a lot of the back alleys were blocked by adventurers merely waiting at the entrances. It took him a while, alongside a bit of reinforcement to strengthen himself, enough to leap onto a building and make a beeline towards the Cathedral.
The fact that thousands of adventurers were gathered near the guild building was also a good thing, since it meant nobody noticed the Landers about to attack their only point of respawn.
Shirou didn't know what would happen if it was destroyed or damaged in any way, but he wasn't willing to find out.
Illya's plan, Sakura's efforts, and Rin's research, he wouldn't let it all go to waste. Not when they were so close. He found the current events to be abysmally unlucky for them, but deep down he knew it was inevitable.
No matter the faction, there would always be extremists. It happened in their old world with terrorist factions. You couldn't stop it and you could only stem their development.
Shirou bounded over another building, admittedly missing his landing and having to skate across a rail to another building, but he didn't lose any time.
He apologized to Rin before running off, but knowing her, she'd already have considered his actions and acted accordingly. The Landers in the meeting were in a panic, no doubt, but he knew that his mannerisms and general code of action wouldn't help there.
The place he was best suited on was the battlefield, protecting those dearest to him.
The moment he saw a group of Landers running along an alleyway, with hammers and axes in hand – along with several bags full of fire-stones, which he knew would yield disastrous consequences if struck wrong with a hammer. Explosive consequences.
He wasted no time. Shirou traced a black bow, ignoring the out of place feeling of nostalgia it brought, and shot a regular arrow in front of them. Unlike when he would use swords, his body didn't automatically try and give him hints on how to fight.
It was likely that his adventurer class wasn't meant to equip a bow, so it would make sense that it would offer no assistance in using it. However, it did mean that it was possible to use other weapons outside of your class with enough training and effort.
The thwack of the arrow brought pause to the running Landers, who scrambled to stop in their tracks. It also served to refocus Shirou's wandering mind
Before they could even react, Shirou landed in front of them, with his hands spread out and wide.
"I can't let you pass," he declared.
Angry shouts came from the front of the group, which prompted those in the back to turn tail and run. However, since Shirou knew they were the ones with the explosives, he had traced a row of large tower shields behind them, securing them in place with a sturdy scaffold of swords from behind. This way, his blades wouldn't be able to harm them accidentally and barred any attempt at escape.
"I can't let you leave either."
"Then bloody pick one and stick with it!" shouted a particularly angry Lander, who ran full speed towards him. Shirou did not dodge, but he did stop him by grabbing his extended arm and bending it behind him. A classic restraining method.
"Let go of him!"
Shirou felt particularly irritated that these were the people who were going to ruin all of their hard work, who were endangering the lives of his friends, and shoved the Lander he was holding away to intercept a second running towards him.
It was these people who were going to ruin everything. They were going to damn everyone for what they believed to be the right path. The correct route, one they'd run straight towards without hesitation, with nothing but the best intentions.
That frustrated him. Above all, it infuriated him.
However, the Lander he had pushed away latched onto him like a tenacious sloth. "I've got him! Get to the Cathedral!"
Before they could even comply with his request, Shirou did the same thing behind him. A wall of tower shields with swords reinforcing them. Now, they were boxed in. The buildings to the side didn't have windows and there were no doors in sight.
It was just them and Shirou.
"Blow a hole!" One of them shouted from far back, who was throwing fire-stones towards the wall of shields.
Shirou twisted his body. The Lander's grapple was clumsy and showed a lack of training, so it was easy to get loose and run towards the pile of fire-stones.
Before an igniting blow could be struck, Shiroe threw a Black Key, a disgusting memory of Kirei Kotomine's favored weapon, and locked the Lander in place. The sacred dagger struck his shadow, halting the Lander from even moving an inch more.
Before any of the other Landers could react, Shirou locked them in place as well. The Black Keys proved very useful in peacefully subduing his foes, even when they were used by a not-so-peaceful priest.
Ten daggers, ten shadows.
Just like that, it was over.
"D-Damn it!" One shouted. "Where the hell are the Royal Guards!?"
"Since the Royal Guards only attack those who are adventurers attacking others, they won't respond to people of the land such as yourselves," Shirou explained. "And even if they did, I didn't hurt any of you. My blades never touched you, but your shadows are absolutely free."
"Adventurer magic…" one lamented. "Damn it! We were so close!"
"Close?" Shirou muttered as something was welling up within him. "Close to what?"
"Close to being rid of your asses!"
"Even if we die," a Lander croaked out. "At least the Izumo Knights will take you–"
"Those knights went missing," Shirou denied. He didn't react when their eyes widened in shock and just continued. "If you weren't so hasty for an attack, you would have known. You were close alright, close to destroying all you know and love, that's what!"
This wasn't anger that had welled up within him. No, it was something purer than anger.
It was fury.
"What would happen even if you succeeded? Did the thought never cross your mind!?"
Shirou knew he wasn't thinking straight, but just thinking about the lives that could have been lost, the ceaseless fighting that would have ensued, and the struggles his family would have gone through… it wrought a burning fury within him. A fury that dwarfed any similar feeling he had since coming to this world.
"If the Cathedral was destroyed, then all the other adventurers would attack all of you!" Shirou berated. "They'd attack your friends and family, kill your sons and daughters, then no one would be safe! All for what!? Getting back at adventurers!?"
His fists clenched as he stared hard at each and every one of them.
"This isn't the right path! There's no one that this would save!"
Absolutely no one.
He paused as he heard a choking stifle.
"Then what are we supposed to do?" the Lander whispered to no one. "If we can't do anything, then what do we do?"
The feeling of the powerless, striking at those they saw as their oppressors. Just as it existed in their world, it was prevalent here– or rather, just by existing, the adventurers brought it along with them. This was a world in a tenuous peace, shattered on the advent of conscious adventurers. These people didn't know how to act, or how to proceed.
"If you don't know what to do," Shirou murmured. "Then trust in me and my guild."
"More adventurers…" A mocking cry left a second Lander's throat.
"Yes, adventurers," he replied. "Adventurers who want peace, adventurers who want to coexist, and adventurers who want to live life to the fullest. Not too different from Landers."
Shirou let his black keys disperse. He could already feel their lack of fighting spirit. Their hammers and tools were left off to the side, easily obtainable, yet they do not reach for them, for there was no point in doing so, not when Shirou was here.
He sat down beside them.
The urge to run back to his family was there, but right now he saw people in despair, wanting someone to save them.
He had abandoned that hopeless ideal, all to save one woman in front of him. He condemned the world to destruction for his selfish ideals. In a way, he was similar to Archer, the one who gave him his new arm.
No, he knew they were similar. The memories that bled through once in a while were more than enough proof for that. Even his current abilities, they were an exact copy of Archer's. The exact copy of a man who 'abandoned' his ideals, yet continued to save others in front of him.
Just as Shirou abandoned his borrowed ideals, he would continue to save those before him.
Because he was Emiya Shirou.
It was time to be a hero for others once more, just as she would've wanted.
Shiroe couldn't stop the subtle smile on his face. Tohya and Minori had escaped, and while he missed one player from Hamelin, it was quickly and discreetly taken care of. The assembly barely noticed him, but that was likely because they were too focused on the reality of this meeting.
"We've established that we have two villains in this room," William rudely commented after a harsh exhale. "Obviously, there's no hero to save us from either of their tyrannical claws."
"I suppose that means you'll have to join us then?" Illya mused.
"What choice do we have?" Isaac muttered. "You have the potions we need anyway."
"I did say that the favor was to listen, not to join," Illya corrected.
"That makes it different how, exactly?" William sneered.
"Free will, I'd wager," Krusty mused. "I presume this means that, even if we refuse, you will still sell us the potions?"
"You're all good piggy banks," the woman simply stated. "I see no reason to deprive myself of free gold."
"Why?" Eins honestly asked. "You could force us in and have this entire coalition guaranteed, and yet you choose not to?"
"Do you people honestly believe that a coalition formed on begrudging acceptance, rather than wholehearted support, will last any longer than a week?" Ichimonjinosuke, who had been silent to internalize the information, responded. "No, when everything is said and done, those who didn't want to be there will be the first to jump ship. Once you all hit the max level, you'd leave the coalition, wouldn't you?"
"I can't deny that," Krusty answered for them all. "I see. This was why you'd rather have us freely accept?"
"It is the reason, yes," Illya replied. "The Emiya Family might not be a crafting guild, but we do have contingencies for when you outgrow our supplies."
"Not a crafting guild my ass," Isaac muttered before suddenly smirking. "Oi, Michitaka. You mad that the girl got a head start over you?"
"Already having my guild members try and figure out how to make them," he replied as if dismissing a menu. "We have our fair share of alchemists, around twenty at max leveled. It shouldn't take us long to find it out. A week, maybe even less."
Illya simply smiled. "I sincerely hope you figure it out. Although, you might find it hard to do so."
"I think you know how I take challenges, little missy," the Marine Organization owner smiled. "Tell you what, if my guild can't find a way to replicate these potions in a week, then I'll donate a few warehouses!"
"Seems awfully like a bad deal," Calasin mused. "You don't even get anything if you win."
"Getting that potion is a victory!" Michitaka boldly declared before settling down. "Not to mention, it removes the monopoly that this girl has over the market, and I do mean a monopoly, don't think I haven't noticed those Hamelin weirdos running around in a panic. You've taken their golden geese and they're not happy about it."
The 'golden geese' in question were currently doing their best to look inconspicuous. It didn't work.
"Whatever could you mean?" Illya said with a smile. "By the way, it's a deal Michitaka-san. No backing out now."
Ah… why did Shiroe feel that Michitaka might've gotten the wrong end of the deal from that? No, Michitaka definitely got the wrong end of the deal. Shiroe knew that the Emiya Family were unique, if the familiars and potions they had on speed dial were anything to go by.
"If you crafting guilds are done," William grunted out. "We can move on. If we have to freely accept to be in this coalition, then you'll have to be convincing, Villain-in-Glasses. At this rate, I'm barely convinced."
"But you are somewhat convinced," Illya pointed out.
The elven archer sucked in his teeth and looked away from her. "There are still issues and questions that exist before I can fully accept that this coalition is worth even trying."
"For instance," Krusty interjected. "How would we convince other players to treat Landers as people? We are highly respected individuals within the city, but that does not mean people will listen to us."
"We'll have to keep the peace, eh?" Isaac muttered. "That sounds like a whole lot of trouble."
"To manage all these players, we'd need to be unconditionally followed," Eins commented. "We are not the prime minister, and we do not have the law on our side. The rules in this world do not favor us."
"And what rules are you speaking of?" Illya prompted.
"Obviously he means the safe areas," Isaac mocked. "You can't fight other players in them, otherwise–"
"Yes, yes. The Royal Guards show up and slap you around a bit," Illya bemoaned. "However, that isn't a rule. Try again."
"Ha?" he grunted. "The hell do you mean by that!?"
"Clarification on the meaning of rules should be in order," Shiroe hastily cut in. For once, he frowned at his ally for her blase attitude. "A rule is something that is made to be followed to keep order and can be changed depending on the situation. What you're describing, Isaac-san, is a phenomenon. Something that occurs without a clear origin or reason why."
"There's an origin! The game developers made–" just as the words left his mouth, he paused and shut himself down.
"Realized it?" Illya continued off. "We already clarified that this world isn't the game we all know and love. So who put in these safe areas? Who or what is enforcing it? The answer is that we don't know, hence it is a phenomenon."
"… So there are no rules? No laws to be followed?" Eins summarized. "That is quite a harrowing idea."
Just as the reality of the situation sunk into them, Krusty nodded to himself with realization. "I see… this was the reason you gathered all the 'superpowers' of the city. There will be more credibility to our words should we choose to create rules for people to follow."
"A city council," William surmised. "Or in other words, a Round Table. Not very subtle, aren't you?"
Ah, there was the jab at his naming sense he expected. It came later than he thought.
"But–" Krusty pointed out. "–even if we stressed the dangers of our current situation. There will still be dissenters, people who refuse to acknowledge the reality of the situation and prefer to live in their safe little bubbles. Eins brings up a point. If we cannot unconditionally control the players, as a government would a country, then this is a fruitless endeavor."
"In the first place, a government works because people are afraid of going to jail, and the social stigma that follows it," Ichimonjinosuke added. "We do not have that power here. Even if we harass players to get out of the city as punishment, an exile, it would be detrimental to the city's atmosphere."
"How?" Isaac continued. As expected, politics was not his strong suit, but he was willing to listen at the very least. "If we get rid of the bad apples, we'll have a good thing going for ourselves."
"Even if it would be for good intentions, people will still draw the wrong conclusions and act out accordingly," Illya explained. "Not to mention, the people we exile could always form their own coalition and strike back at us. The peaceful Akihabara we'd be seeking would fade away."
Shiroe nodded. Inwardly, he was happy that his ally recognized this fact, one of the biggest flaws in their old solution. He was also glad that the raid guilds didn't immediately turn around and make demands like he thought they would. Perhaps the knowledge they gained throughout the meeting made them reconsider such thoughts.
"If that happens, we'd end up fighting," William grimaced. "You can't even kill them, so they'll keep going at it as long as their grudge lasts."
"Even then, such a solution doesn't stop guilds like us, or even ourselves, from rising up and doing what they wanted," Krusty emphasized. "Although, there is a deterrent for us…" he said as he focused on the silver-haired guardian.
"Yes, that is true," Illya said. "At the same time, it doesn't stop all non-raid guilds from going berserk. My potions only have a limited reach."
Isaac sighed and rubbed his head in frustration. "Ah, everything's going over my head. So the gist of it is that this damn coalition won't work, even if we're all aboard?" He tried simplifying. "What a sick joke. We need a damn gun to everyone's heads to make this work, and not just the guilds like ours."
"That is why I have a solution," Shiroe said. "One that would solve all these problems, act as a suitable punishment for would-be criminals, and a deterrent for everyone else. This includes the members of the Round Table, should they feel inclined to act against the interests of Akihabara."
"Enlighten us, oh wise Villain-in-Glasses," William asked dismissively. "What exactly can solve all these problems?"
Shiroe suppressed his laughter as he saw Illya snicker to herself.
"As of two days ago, approximately thirty-two hours ago, I've purchased the guild building's zone."
All according to plan.
This wasn't according to plan.
Sakura felt her Foxtail ears urging to fold in on themselves in submission. However, it was quite easy to fight it back. What wasn't quite so easy to fight back, were the looks of both fear and dread she and her sister were being shot with.
This wasn't the plan at all.
They were supposed to find a good moment to walk in, with Meltraus and Melhia introducing them to provide a solution. Then, they'd explain that the adventurers are merely meeting to govern themselves, but not in the way Susukino would end up being!
They were meant to absolve their fears. Not be the cause of them!
The second that Krentelfal's crystal relayed what occurred, her dear Shirou sprinted off towards the Cathedral without hesitation. She would have gone with him, but she knew that she would only drag him down. He was on his way to calm down– even possibly combat, the Landers.
They did nothing wrong except for acting in what they thought was best for their people. They couldn't be blamed for that!
But at the same time, they would ruin the peaceful haven that she and her family were seeking. They needed to be punished for that.
It was an unfortunate development, but because of this, their original plan had to go down the drain. Melhia and Meltraus stood awkwardly among the panicked Landers, unsure of what to do, even more so when they noticed that Shirou wasn't there to assuage their worries.
It was just her and her sister.
What an unfortunate combination.
"Now we really are dead…" the lone Lander said once more. "The adventurers know. We can't do anything now."
"Calm yourselves…" Shipyard master Sen loudly said. However, it did nothing to hide the rising panic he had stored up inside of him. "… Madam adventurers, what brings you to my humble abode?"
"The raving and screaming of a man who looks like the world is about to end, I think," Rin bluntly stated. "It was such a shocking sight that I, a good Samaritan, had no choice but to investigate further."
Sakura wasn't even sure the Landers knew what a good Samaritan was, but didn't interrupt her dear sister's lies. And she knew that they were lies.
They were both caught unaware and needed to at least look like they were confident. Appearances mattered, or so the proper magi in their guild would say. Sakura wouldn't know, her own magus 'training' consisted of worms going in and out of her body endlessly.
She took a calming breath, knowing that the stress of the situation was getting to her. It wouldn't do for her to have a breakdown here and now.
Especially when the peaceful life that they sought was threatened.
"Forgive my sister's bluntness," Sakura piped up, seeing a lull in the conversation. "She's been buried in both stress and books recently."
"Sakura, I appreciate you trying to help, but these guys are obviously too scared to think straight," Rin uttered. "Pretenses, fake smiles, none of it is going to make them lighten up. At this point, the brutal truth and unrelenting honesty is the best shot we got."
"Shot?" Egburd, who had a spacious area around him where the crowd avoided. "What shot are you taking? A shot to kill us all in one fell swoop!?"
"A shot to avoid a pointless massacre," Rin berated. "Like many of you, there are adventurers who'd like to peacefully coexist. The method in which we are taking to achieve it is already underway."
"… I assume you are talking about the meeting currently ongoing within the Kunie Clan's halls," Sen uttered. "If you are truly here to craft civil relations, then surely you can take the time to explain to us what is going on there."
"Shouldn't we be worrying about the Cathedral right about now!?" Drudgel berated. "Even if Egburd had no idea what was going on, we have a bunch of self-righteous extremists on their way to kill us all!"
"Don't worry about it," Rin offered. "When we heard of that, we sent a guild member of ours to go and intercept them. As you are aware, adventurers are more physically capable than the average Lander, and will be able to catch up to them easily."
"So he can kill them!?" Egburd started. "Just like any other monster, always willing to kill–"
"If that idiot actually killed them, I'd kill him myself," Rin spat out. "My guildmate knows how to control himself. I guarantee he can talk them out of their decision. At worst, he can take your friends out without killing them. This, I guarantee."
"I assume you speak of Emiya Shirou?" a lanky elf spoke from beside the shipmaster.
Rin merely nodded. "Yes, Flandel. I am certain that almost half of the people in this meeting hall have already met him."
Meltraus didn't need to nod, but the glances he was getting from his colleagues and compatriots were telling. They knew who Shirou was. A passing rumor. The adventurer who chose to work under a Lander as an apprentice and sharpen his skills with his own two hands.
But more importantly, the adventurer that would approach them and treat them as normal as any other person. A person who cared not for who they are, but how they act.
Sakura smiled as she noticed the impact his name had on the people in the room. Just like how he impacted her life, he was impacting theirs, albeit in small and minute ways.
"And of course, you all know Sakura," Rin continued, eyeing the people watching her in the room. "She has helped you all these past few weeks in whatever menial task you had. Am I wrong?"
The Foxtail in question bowed in acknowledgment.
A round of nods filled the hall and people were noticeably at ease.
However, there were still those who were wary. A good half of the room kept their distance from the adventurers, both physically and emotionally. They were likely from the other parts of the city, where Sakura and Shirou scarcely met with others.
It was an oversight on their part, but it mattered little in the long run, or at least that's what Sakura thought. She did feel good at seeing the trusting gaze of a few of the Landers, Ashe of the Eve-marrow inn being the most notable.
"So you're friendly, that doesn't mean the other adventurers are," Kazhak muttered.
"But they will be," Rin explained. "You see, our guild has long since recognized the volatile situation Akihabara has found itself in. Thus, we sought to rectify this. The meeting at the guildhall, of which our guild master is one of the participants, has nothing but the best intentions in mind."
"Flowery promises," Edgar dismissed. "There is no substance to your claims. What is to say that you are not deceiving us, and that you would not lay waste to us like the vagabonds in Susukino."
They waited. The truth in the merchant's words drew attention to himself, yet at the same time, it focused on Rin. No one dared to utter a sound, ready to fully discredit anything she had to say.
It meant they would listen.
"Absolutely nothing," she said. "There's nothing to stop you from assuming that we mean ill."
Murmurs of confusion arose.
"At the same time," she continued, raising her voice above the murmurs and quieting them. "Nothing is stopping you from assuming otherwise. It is the word of a single adventurer versus the collective consensus of the Landers. One option is obviously more trustworthy in your eyes, is it not?"
At the lack of response, she crossed her legs and sat down on the polished wooden floor. Her act surprised many, who took it as an act of humbleness.
"I am not trustworthy in your eyes," she reiterated. "I am not like my sister here, who has worked alongside you all through these tumultuous times. Nor am I like Shirou, who toiled at the forge alongside the many smiths in this hall. Compared to them, my word means nothing."
They said nothing, for there was nothing false about what she said.
And so, Tohsaka Rin continued.
"However, there is one thing they have not done. One thing that I can guarantee I have done more than any other adventurer in this city," she said. "I searched for a solution. I have been searching ever since we all found ourselves in your world. I have not stopped, and I doubt I will, not while such troubling times exist here, in the city we've chosen to reside in."
She placed a gentle palm atop her chest and bowed her head. Landers widened their eyes and took hesitant breaths. It was a gesture that only Nobles of the land would perform to make a vow, one that signifies the honor they held, and dictates their willingness to die to uphold it.
A sacred rite, performed by an adventurer.
And one that Rin had been taught by a certain Lander.
"All I ask is to wait a week. Collaborate with our guild towards a brighter future."
She looked to the smiths. "A future where weapons of war would not be made in vain."
To the merchants at the side. "A future where you will be treated equally."
Finally, to the wavering crowd at the center of it all. "And to a future where your children won't have to live in fear."
She raised her head, back tall and proud, with a hand extended towards them. Not the one who hosted the meeting, nor to Ferlna who she had interacted the most with, but to the men and women who raged and feared for the wellbeing of their family, as all men and women should.
"Will you trust us? The choice is yours."
Illya smiled at the shock and awe that Shiroe of Log Horizon managed to instill within the guilds.
His secret was revealed. Despite that, the guilds started to realize how much more credible the Round Table plan was when he had power over every person's bank accounts. Even if people were going to rebel, they would be locked out of their items and would have to travel to a whole new guild building to make a withdrawal.
Deviously evil. Not to mention, the crux of how the Round Table was to be structured. The main punishment. The jail of Theldesia. An amusing thought, wasn't it?
Illya turned back to Lord El-Melloi II, noticing his nod, and returned with a smile.
It was a success.
Both the adventurer meeting and the Lander meetings went well. They bought themselves the week to begin the restructuring of Akihabara. Shiroe was already going over the laws that he thought would work best. A few others gave pointers and revisions were made.
Everything had gone perfectly smooth.
Illya's eyes darkened, but not a single soul at the table noticed.
The Arcadia girl had played her part well. Sneaking a charm into the pockets of certain Landers and causing them to radicalize, perfectly executed. The best part was it was untraceable. The Landers, with exception of elves, would not notice the mana signature that influenced them. Not to mention that the charms were set to destroy themselves in a day.
As far as those 'radical' Landers knew, their actions were their own. They were the sole reason to blame. Outside interference would not even be considered.
It was the perfect ploy.
Get the Landers to listen to them? Why would they debase themselves like that? It was better to make them indebted to their guild instead. Appear as saviors in their time of need, then they would be much more willing to listen to them.
Honestly, not everyone in the guild would have agreed to the idea. Sakura would've objected, Taiga would've lectured, and Shirou would've outright refused to participate.
That was why only the magi– Rin, sir Velvet, and Illya herself, were privy to the information. Ferlna was told, but that was only because they needed someone to get their hands dirty. She was vital for it too, because Illya knew that such an underhanded tactic would've turned Krentelfal away from even attempting to do it.
That old ghost was a knight through and through, and while reconnaissance was acceptable, falsifying a scenario and making himself out to be a phony hero was too much.
Only those who would do whatever it takes would've gone with the plan, and Illya knew this very well.
… Of course, Shiroe of Log Horizon was none the wiser. Illya was probably not going to tell him any time soon, at least until he fully trusted them. Shiroe likely knew that, by slapping them with the title of 'Lander representative, he would earn their deserved ire.
However, the act itself was a test. Shiroe probably needed to see how much trust he can put in them, if at all. A short day or two of talking with each other wouldn't immediately earn each others' full support. That was just unrealistic. Only a fool would trust someone like that.
With the success of their current mission, however, they may have earned it.
And if the Villain-in-Glasses completed his bargain, and successfully eliminated Hamelin from the city, he had earned hers.
There was still much to do, such as having meetings with the Landers in the coming days, create laws that they could find acceptable, and give them a voice so they could be heard. Let them know that the city of Akihabara would be a city of Landers and Adventurers.
A rocky road ahead, true, but it was better than the warring future that could've come to pass.
As all participants stood to formally declare their acceptance of the Round Table Coalition, Illya followed suit with her eyes closed off to the world.
Finally, peace was at hand.
Finally, it was over.
Finally, Illya could sleep without worry.
… if it weren't for this blasted headache.
It was never easy, was it?
Next Chapter: October
A/N: And we're done. Mega chapter over. You can go read something else.
20k words is harder to type out than it sounds alright? I could've stopped halfway but I wanted the entire meeting, both of them, to be in the same chapter because I didn't want to leave you guys on a cliffhanger.
Not to mention... other, circumstances.
Not gonna lie, haven't read many reviews in the past few months, so I have no idea what's going on in it until I open up a tab to browse through it. I used to be up to date, but with assignments and deadlines existing, its been tough to even get this chapter out. I'm still not sure I got all the possible grammar mistakes in this mega chapter.
I'm just tired man. Some classes just don't translate well into an online format.
Enough about that. Let's focus on the story, or more specifically, the next chapter. It'll mostly be an introduction to the next arc, a much more political arc. Blyatt, I'll have to freehand most of the politics there but I really want to do it because Nobles and etc blah blah. I'll think more about it when I write it.
Also, MIA might be delayed because of prior mentioned assignments. I'm actually really close to failing a class, and I'm 90% I've failed one class already. It was a mac-only class that was mentioned nowhere in the syllabus when I took it, so fuck that.
Not gonna lie, I'm just typing mindlessly right now so I'll end the A/N there. If you can, PM me if you see a grammar mistake or a continuity error that I need to address. I'll try get to them... some day. Probably not this month though. I won't ask you to leave a review, because honestly, I haven't had the urge to read them ever since MIA's prior chapter.
I'll probably turn back on email notifications though, because I should get back into reading those.
Probably wont, because there's a lottery event and I gotta get 100 boxes or die trying. Degen time bois.
Anyways, until next time,