Kalance plains was a vast expanse stretching a good several miles near the border of the Empire's boreal region. Grass and floodplains predominated the area with small streams and creaks branching off before converging back together into a river's mouth.
It simplistic, and without needless landmarks or vegetation. A perfect place for an open confrontation if it were the olden days of swords, shields, and cavalry.
Akame was the first to arrive on scene a good week ahead of Calla and its forces, having no need to consider the logistics in moving in a large group and heading off on her own. Considering that she'd only left only a tiny note on Najenda's desk explaining here whereabouts and pre-emptive arrival, Akame was fairly sure she was touting a fine line between insubordination and impulsiveness.
Grunting, she tried not to think about it for now. She already knew that Nejenda, Lubbock, and the rest were going to come. What difference did it make if she came early on her own? Plenty actually because she fully intended to stop this farce if possible.
Just like Calla, the Empire and the Revolutionaries would need to take time to amass and deploy their forces. In this window of opportunity, she hoped to make Shirou see reason and call this formal declaration off as a farce. It still wasn't too late.
Even now, Akame could see workers that Chouri had pulled in setting the grounds for a traditional war. Hills and other such obstacles were dug out, uprooted, then leveled for easier mobility, but she hardly cared for their preparation.
If she had her way, none of this would be necessary.
Narrowing her eyes, Akame soon noticed one of her primary targets upon entering Kalance plains.
There she was. Hell, she was even assisting with preparations by using her enhanced strength from her Teigu to carry supplies and materials too and fro. Selka was with Leone, helping out with logistics by hefting a full load of armour and supplies on each arm. As for Sheele, well Akame imagined she wasn't anywhere around because she was a clutz outside of combat.
The two looked like they were joking with each other up until Akame abruptly stepped through the tall grass and glared with a type of silently and seething outrage; her mobility and subtleness allowing her to bypass Chouri's common workers.
"Leone," Akame hissed almost darkly.
Leone flinched at the tone, but like she already explained to Selka who had easily gone along with it after knowing it was Shirou's idea, Leone held firm.
"Hey, Akame. Ugh, you're here early," Leone tried. "Want to help?"
Akame wasn't having it. She was normally a reserved person, but everyone may get more talkative when motivated by emotion.
"How could you have gone along with this? You know as well as I how stupid open warfare can be. It's like putting meat through a grinder especially with how open this place is. A formal war? Really? Whose idea was this? No one ever does things like this anymore."
"And that's why it has meaning…" Leone whispered while trailing off.
"What did you say?
"I said that's why it has meaning, alright."
"Are you crazy?!"
"Maybe I am," Leone almost scoffed, but by the end, her features softened, the cat ears procured to her through her Teigu drooping over her head. "Listen Akame, I saw something in that light that made me want to believe even if just this once that there's justice in this world, that righteousness, and virtue exist. That there's good in people, and not just the bad we've all grown so used to."
Akame couldn't understand. Not simply because the explanation was too convoluted or vague, but because it went entirely over her head. "What light?" She asked while pursing her lips/
Leone's features tugged upward before she shook her head.
"You wouldn't understand. It's not something that can just be explained."
"No, you don't seem to understand the situation," Akame wasn't a strategist of any sort, but she'd been briefed about warfare in her training in an elusive Empire Assassin program. "Formal wars died the moment firearms were invented!" she stressed again before looking to Selka to back her up. However, Selka didn't respond as intended.
Akame could see things clearly.
Selka was too easy.
Akame could picture Leone using Shirou as an excuse and Selka would lap it all up. Unless Shirou was in presently in danger, she wasn't going to be of any help.
"We adapt. That's all it is," Leone put down the items she was carrying, crossed her arms, then answered. "Chouri says he's thinking of ways to figure it out, and he can be just as sly as any politician. Word is that Chouri's contacts in the Empire had spread word to the Child Emperor about a cousin."
Akame didn't take long to connect the dots as to why Leone's statement was significant. "You think that the Child Emperor will come?" She asked.
"Chouri seems to think so, and with the Child Emperor around, he'll limit Honest's actions if only for Honest to maintain his trustworthy image and reputation. At the very least, they won't shoot in the Child Emperor's sight even if we stand as an army. We shouldn't have to worry about underhanded means, and on an open field, it would be blatantly obvious if they sent assassins or enforcers of any kind."
"And you believe that Honest wouldn't resort to such things?" Akame mulled despite being skeptical. This was leaving a lot to chance, and the assumption of a man too crooked to try and properly gage.
Akame shook her head at Leone's optimisms in disbelief. It was so new, so foreign to the Leone that Akame was used to dealing with. The Leone she knew was snarky, cheerful, but untrustful of others. What had changed?
"Where's Shirou?" Akame decided to change the subject. There was no point in trying to convince Leone.
"Unavailable." Leone seemed to see right through Akame's thoughts and thinned her lips. "Chouri needs him for recruitment campaigning, so they're off visiting old allies."
"When will they be back?" Frowning, Akame asked.
"Likely when all the forces arrive at the designated date. They don't do much good waiting here, so they'll spend every minute trying to recruit allies."
Akame simply nodded before trying to leave, but Leone was a step ahead of her and placed a hand on each of her shoulders, keeping her in place.
"Don't bother trying Akame. I know what you're thinking. Now, look me in the eyes." Leone turned Akame to face her, the two scoffing at each other, one solemn, the other frustrated. "Listen, there's no way you can persuade Shirou out of this when you can't even dissuade me with your efforts."
"Is it working?"
"No." Leone deadpanned, yet emotion soon bled into her tone. "Akame, please just consider it alright. T-This could be it! Change! Shirou is…he's not someone who comes every year. Maybe only once in a millennium, and this is the turning point."
If Leone was this invested, then convincing Shirou would be impossible.
Akame had never seen Leone this worked up, and she didn't know why. Something had obviously happened on her journey with Shirou to the Capital, yet this kind of impact on Leone was surreal.
Thinking back to the words Leone had expressed before, there was only one thing that stood out.
"Were you that affected by whatever light you saw?" Akame questioned.
Leone froze in vapid silence, a shudder travelling down her back.
The short answer then came, leaving Akame without any room for argument.
"Yes," Leone said with a distant look in her eyes.
"What did you see?"
A week passed by fairly quickly all things considered, but not without a certain level of Akame brooding while grudgingly helping Leone and the others prepare.
Soon enough, much of Kalance plain's tall grass had been trimmed, and any hills or rocks that had existed in the space, moved and flattened. It was a completely open space for as far as the eye could see up until the forest lines and the walls of the Empire's capital.
Everything was set to the specification Chouri had laid out so that none may be able to misconstrue reality from lies.
At the dawn of the week, soldiers and armed units started to pool into Kalance Plains by the dozens.
Calla's forces arrived first, mostly due to Elaine's urgency and the understanding that if the Empire or Revolutionary forces arrived before they did and saw Shirou with only a paltry army, he'd be collapsed on.
Najenda and her branch of Night Raid arrived in full with Elaine alongside Calla's forces. Lubbock was buckling under the weight of the combined luggage of Najenda which he happily carried. However, Mine's added belongings were practically killing him in their excessiveness.
Bulat had it easy with his strong frame and the fact that he was helping to act as a convoy guard using his experience in the military.
In any case, what predictably happened the moment that Calla's forces arrived was the presence of a blur shooting past Calla's army to reach whatever chain of command had devised such a suicidal move.
Elaine. Was. Not. Pleased.
However, she knew that she couldn't raise a fuss and cause internal discord either.
Mere minutes after Calla's forces arrived, so too did the Revolutionaries, and the Empire Legions. They were massive, entire brigades of hardened killers, tacticians, and generals all appearing in this same opening battle sequence.
The Empire's forces were east of Calla's and the Revolutionaries were north of the Empire's, forming a tense triangle: A tripartite standoff.
Calla's forces and the few tribes from Wakoku that had made the journey appeared insignificantly small in this moment. Despite Calla flourishing and an influx of new migrants, against the population of the Empire, it paled in comparison. It was no surprise that the difference in personnel was huge which was why Elaine had desperately opted to use covert means to bridge the gap. This, coupled with Shirou's legitimate right to the throne through his bloodline was the sure way to go…and then this happened!
Many times, Elaine felt like pulling at her hair in a mixture of frustration, panic, and regret.
I should have come. I should have come along!
She thought that Leone going with Shirou would make everything sensible, but the result dumbfounded her instead.
Shirou showed no signs of thinking up anything anywhere near this, and Leone wouldn't have been the one to suggest this. No, this was the work of someone else giving Shirou dumb ideas without knowing that Shirou was dumb/idealistic enough to see idiocy through.
With a little thought, it didn't take a genius to know who could have possibly come up with this idea.
Wisely, no one chose to impede Elaine as she dashed towards Chouri's command center, only to find it empty.
"This bastard, where are you!?"
Chouri felt a shudder travel down his back for reason he didn't know. Presently, he'd left his command tent to meet with a scout relaying messages between the gathered armies. This needed his personal intervention due to the sensitivity of the matter, and Shirou's lack of political experience to see through ploys.
"The Revolutionaries are requesting contact with delegations about a possible alliance?" The scout relayed to Chouri. "How should I reply, sir?"
"Ignore it. It's a ploy." Chouri shook his head dismissively. "Sure, on the short-term an alliance may prove beneficial, but it ruins the whole point of this endeavor."
"Why though? Comparing our forces to the Empire's, we look like we could use any help we can get."
Chouri stroked at his beard in thought before grimacing. "We cannot allow ourselves to be associated with either the Empire's existing army, or the Revolutionaries who would stop at nothing to see the fruition of their goals."
"Then what would you have us do?"
"The Empire wishes to broker a meeting, yes? By all accounts, the fact that Honest hasn't just given the order to start shooting means that the Child Emperor is present."
"We're going to take advantage of this?"
"Naturally," Chouri's lips tugged upwards before he called an aide to let Shirou know to agree to the meeting with the Empire. "Honest has worked too hard to obtain he Emperor's trust in his image and wisdom. He won't risk it all with the emperor all excited about the prospect of family. If Shirou can convince the Child Emperor to abdicate without strife, then all the better."
"And if he can't?"
Chouri didn't appear nearly as effected by such an outcome. Instead, he grew solemn.
"Follow his lead," was all Chouri said.
Pacing back and forth, it was practically a miracle in and of itself that Elaine managed to restrain herself enough not to tackle Shirou, yell at him, and then proceed to try and pry apart his brain for agreeing to this madness. Instead, she sucked in a breath and 'calmly' strode up to him, stopping him in his tracks.
It was either fortunate or unfortunate that Elaine spotted Shirou before Chouri, because she had a lot of grievances at this moment.
She crossed her arms, gave him the silent accusatory look, and waited for him to admit his wrong so she could try to find a way to bail him out. Sadly, he didn't even appear to realize the gravity of what he'd done and continued on to mount a horse.
"What do you think you're doing?" Elaine's tone was frigid.
Shirou blinked in response, but he answered soon enough anyway. "I'm riding out to meet the Empire's armies with our own," he replied.
"No. No you're not," Elaine bit the nail of her thumb in thought before assessing the meeting zone the Empire was setting up. Her features hardened. "It's a trap. It has to be. You and everyone will be a sitting duck out there, no cover, no defence from artillery," she surmised before leveling her stare back up at Shirou. "You're going to pull back out of here and plan a new strategy to obtain the throne."
"Good, I knew you'd see things my- what did you just say?" Elaine did a double take.
"I said no."
"You don't understand Elaine, just because you're right, doesn't mean that your solution is the best one. We were going about things the wrong way from the start, and Chouri made things abundantly clear for what must be done."
"Chouri…I knew it was him. He'll be called 'Charred' when I'm done with him," Elaine murmured, seething, features darkening, spectacles glinting ominously.
However, Elaine knew that she had little time to convince Shirou before he did something impulsive again. "I don't know what Chouri told you, but surely you understand how many lives are at stake with this method? My way is the way with the least causalities and the most efficiency! The Imperial bloodline runs through your veins, and we even have Chouri's political support. No one has to die, and you'll eventually be seated on the throne and in a position to change the Empire for the better," she argued. "Can't you see? My way will work."
"But's its also the method this country's people hate the most," Shirou shut his eyes with a long sigh.
Elaine was being perfectly reasonable, and most people would agree, and yet the complete admiration of the people could never be obtained with such a means. Policies will only work through the willingness of others to follow.
A leader must lead from the front.
Shirou pulled on the reins of his horse, and urged it to trot forward, forcing Elaine to mount her own horse in a bid to chase after.
"This is suicide!" Elaine grew frantic.
Shirou didn't listen and simply continued on unabated before Elaine was forced to stop her horse when Chouri's involuntarily men carrying wooden planks fortifications got in her way. It was another unreasonable strike against Chouri.
Brow twitching, Elaine had no choice but to try calling out once more.
"Shirou!" she called out. "Please! I can't understand what's going on through your head anymore!"
"Elaine," Shirou's voice called back, echoing in her ears. "Trust me," was all he asked.
When Shirou put it like that, Elaine had the urge to comply, and yet she'd always been a rational person, logic dictating she try to stop this madness.
"Someone, help me talk reason to him!"
Elaine glowered at all the idle people behind her, even Akame, Selka, and Najenda weren't spared the imploring stare when Elaine noticed them. However, they chose not to move, some grudgingly, others in a type of vapid silence.
Elaine may not have been able to see it due to her emotional state and bias as Shirou's childhood friend, but everyone else could see a certain change in Shirou. It was in the way he acted and the way he now carried himself. He had a goal, and he was a man set on doing it.
Bulat, a former militarist, was the one most respectable of Shirou's change.
A man with purpose, is a man that can't be stopped.
One by one, instead of heeding Elain's request to dissuade Shirou, many opted to follow him either on horseback or on foot. Bulat had a wide easy-going grin on his face while resting his spear over his shoulders while walking off.
Others followed in admiration and solemness, the first of which was Leone followed by Akame and Selka.
"What are you all doing?!" Elaine couldn't understand how things were devolving to this point. "Why are you following and not trying to stop him?!"
"Well," Leone was the first to speak up while activating her Teigu and cracking her knuckles in preparation for combat. "Have a little faith maybe?"
Elaine growled. She had the most faith in Shirou from the start since they'd known each other.
"Okay, fine," Leone placated. "I know it's not the most logical thing to say, but I used to be scared of Shirou, but when I see him now, I see hope. It's funny really, you'd think that little fuzzy feeling in your chest buried by all the darkness and atrocities committed by these hands or witnessed by these eyes could smother that feeling down into ashes. However, it's still there. No matter how small or repressed, that feeling has never been allayed. I'm not sure for everyone else, but at least to me, there's a voice telling me that 'this is it.' That this will change everything, and it's enough for me to act. Sorry, but that's the best I can explain it."
Elaine opened and closed her mouth, unable to get a word out. She'd always taken Leone to be a reasonable and learned woman, but this sort of explanation wasn't something Elaine could accept.
"Akame, Selka!" She tried one last time.
"…" Akame was grudgingly silent. Oh, she'd tried to dissuade Shirou prior, but like with Leone, it was impossible. Between arguing with Shirou, or coming along to try and keep him safe, she already knew her choice.
Selka's motivations were simpler. "I follow where Shirou goes."
Elaine couldn't believe what was going on anymore, and that was when she spotted even Najenda getting ready to march. "Ms. Najenda, surely you would think this through?"
"I did," Najenda tested Pumpkin's sights after having only reacquainting herself with it recently. Nodding in satisfaction, she holstered it on her back. "And that's why we're not going to follow Shirou, but blend in with the soldiers instead. Night Raid will be keeping watch around the perimeter to counter against any other covert forces or gunfire. Staying putt would only leave us out in the open and make us easily discernible, a disadvantage for any assassin. Lubbock, take point. Mine, let's go."
No. This couldn't be happening.
Feeling like everything was going out of control, Elaine felt nausea assail her. There were no certainties in this, nor predictable outcomes. Hell, no one was even planning for the worst as if they were entirely assured of victory!
"All of you, wait! At the very least, leave a cohort behind on the left and right flanks, and a single cavalry to act as support for any formation breach in case of an emergency!"
"A sound plan," a new voice complimented her, but it might as well have been mockery from how audible the sound of her teeth gnashing was. Elaine was making choking gestures with her hands unnoticed by the old man who made himself known. "But it's too bad that's not the type of battle this is. Every solider must be assured in victory, leaving nothing to contingency for all of this to be meaningful."
Chouri took this moment to ride up beside Elaine, having returned from his talk with the messengers. The two shared a small greeting, but Elaine was heatedly glaring daggers, lips pursed, and Chouri's name repeatedly cursed under her breath. If they weren't on horseback, it could be imagined that Elaine would be trying to vindictively grind her heel into Chouri's toes.
She knew full well now that this was all Chouri's fault that Shirou was going along with this farce.
"I hope you're happy…" she grumbled irritably. "I just don't understand, why? Why are they being so stupid?"
Damned old man. Y-You ruined everything.
Chouri took Elaine's varying expressions of contempt in stride.
"Child, shall I tell you why they act this way? You're quite intelligent and proactive for your age, more so than anyone I've ever seen, but there's one thing that you lack that even the simplest minded of individuals know by heart. Take this wisdom from a senior, and listen well. It's-"
"Don't patronize me. I'm already in a bad enough mood."
"Humour me then."
"…No. I don't like you." Dammit, she was both sounding and coming off as petulant, but it didn't make the statement any less truthful.
"Fine then." Chouri's lips tugged slightly upward, reminded of his own daughter's rebellious years as if it was just yesterday before shaking his head. He knew that pushing any further would be to no one's benefit. "This old man will just mind his own business, but for what it's worth, the feeling isn't mutual. I hope you'll come to understand me in time, and the necessity of all this. Perhaps then you may even aid me in playing matchmaker with my daughter," he joked, but really he wasn't joking.
The Child Emperor's palanquin could be seen from the outside of a dividing line marking the bounds between one army and the other. Further in was a small open area where a set number of representative and delegates would meet for discussion and formal acknowledgment before battle.
This was a common formality and tradition of the past between opposing armies often aimed at inciting voluntary surrender or to reach an agreement before arms were put into play. In this case, in this dividing line where a designated area was set in the center, Shirou walked into it without hesitation. At his side were Selka, Akame, Leone, Bulat, and around a dozen or so capable individuals, two of which included Tatsumi and Iyasu who had proved themselves with Heiwa's Hunters.
Sayo, the third member of the village Tatsumi and Iyasu had come from called bullshit that she wasn't included, but it was kind of her fault that every time she was silently assessed, she was snacking on food. Out of depression, she binged on even more food despite Tatsumi and Iyasu knowing that she was just as capable as them. A tragedy really, since she was delegated to hanging back with the main army.
In any case, Shirou glanced off to the side where the members of the Revolutionary Army were stationed. Their numbers were just as large as the Empire's, though in hindsight, their forces would have to be substantial to have lasted this long against the country as a whole. Divided into a primary left and right wing, the center formation consisted of armed shield bearers and Teigu users mixed in. At the head was a man with bison horns, apricot skin, blue hair and eyes, and red-lined white robes secured by a black obi sash.
Watching the Child Emperor broker a successful meeting with Shirou, the Revolutionaries were somewhat resentful. However, they remained in place.
The Revolutionaries were content to sit on the side and observe for the time being. To them, there was no way Shirou and the Child Emperor's discussion would be anything remotely civil. One sought to rightfully usurp the throne while the other must have been adamant to keep it. Conflict was inevitable, and when that conflict occurred and causalities mounted on both sides, then and only then would an ideal opportunity arrive.
For Shirou, he was fine with this status quo. He was strong, but his reserves of magical energy were limited to what he could carry. Right now, that meant several bone ornaments in the form of necklaces, anklets, and bracelets worn over hunting leathers.
He looked like a Hunter of Heiwa aside from their minimal ware, but Selka looked the proudest at his attire, beaming with pride the entire time on the way the Empire-Calla meeting point.
A moderately sized tent was erected on the neutral ground marked by hammered stakes to emphasize a perimeter.
Inside the tent and standing with several rows of guards at the front, the Child Emperor stood waiting. His green shoulder-length hair was braided on the sides, and a purple outfit was worn beneath a regal blue mantle. A large pope-like headdress was adorned over his head, and a scepter held in his right hand.
The Child Emperor was staring eagerly at the new arrival as if this wasn't some sort of war setting. His features were naively optimistic and earnest, a boy simply wanting the best for his Empire, yet hopeful for connection.
Looking at Shirou at the lead of his procession, the Child Emperor could no longer contain himself.
"Cousin! Ugh, you are my cousin, right?"
The voice was the high pitch of a youth before the age of puberty, and it carried a remarkable amount of emotion able to be used to discern the emperor's character.
"If this thing was any indication than I guess so." Shirou shrugged. Taking out the emblem of the Imperial Family and holding it firmly in hand, he tossed it forward.
It was immediately intercepted and caught by one of the Child Emperor's guards as a precaution, but an intense burst of heat scalded the man's palm, forcing him to drop the emblem.
The Child Emperor's young eyes brightened before he moved to the emblem and took it in his grip. He looked from Shirou's hand to his own again and back while holding onto the Imperial Seal.
"I-I have family," the Child Emperor said after a moment, young face contorting with barely concealed emotion. "I-I thought I was the last one. A happy day it is!"
"Now hold on, my Lord. What did I say about jumping to conclusions?" A voice interjected all too quickly.
A rather jolly and rotund man with a long grey full beard made his appearance known. He was elderly, with light skin, dark yellow eyes, and wearing boots, a belt, a dark green shirt, and a gray overcoat on top.
Almost immediately, everyone that had accompanied Shirou bristled in alarm and rage aside from Selka who remained indifferent.
"Mr. Honest," the Child Emperor greeted before frowning and thinking for an answer to the question. "Ah, right. You said that I shouldn't be quick to assume anything, but isn't this proof enough?"
The Child Emperor giddily brandished the imperial emblem before tossing it back to Shirou who caught it and held it without complication.
"See? Isn't this enough?" The Child Emperor remarked with glee before pursing his lips at Honest. "…Unless you doubt the authenticity of my family's own crest and seal."
"Of course, not my Lord," Honest quickly denied before showing 'apprehension' with a toothy disarming grin. "What I truly fear is that your dear cousin is being misled, manipulated at the machinations of corrupt men and women."
Pot, meet kettle.
Akame and many of the people present to accompany him gnashed their teeth at this display of shamelessness and hypocrisy.
Kill him. They should just kill him now. There would no other opportunity like this again where Honest was outside the safety of the Empire's Royal Palace, nor this close. However, if they know this, then Honest would obviously know this as well.
This was to say, why did he still choose to come?
It was likely that Honest had no choice, as no one but him had the right to advise the Child Emperor. If he risked the Child Emperor going alone only to be captured or persuaded, then he'd be a fool in which he was not.
Further to the side and nearest to Honest was a contingency of people cloaked and discernable features obscured.
Officially, they were dubbed as the Emperor's Honour Guard, but everyone aside from the Child Emperor knew who they were really present for. They were the elites of the elites, likely the strongest personnel the Empire could presently offer. Many, including Night Raid and its assassins would find themselves hard pressed against them.
In which case, many eyes turned to a single figure and the profoundness of his means.
Only Shirou himself could likely make a move and get away with it, but there were two reasons he was unable to. The first was simple and in line with Chouri's former reasoning of a just ascension to the throne. The other, more subtle in the pressure Shirou could feel emanating from one of the cloaked figures observing him intently near Honest's side.
This particular person stood farther than the rest, and there was a sort of predatory feel around her almost like anticipation.
It was discreet, but it felt as if the temperature of the air was dropping the longer that he stared at the person. Oddly, there was this odd sensation of tension he couldn't describe. It almost felt like arousal, but was more akin to excitement.
He focused on his ears, and was somewhat unnerved to hear panting and elevated breath.
He gave a strained smile for the sake of diplomacy, and for a moment, everything just froze. The way he was being looked at now was like someone was ticking off checks on a specific list, and his actions had only made it worse.
This one was dangerous; a monster; a beast in disguise.
"Ahem," Shirou coughed if only to bring his focus back on the matter at hand, his guard rising. "Whether I'm being pushed into something or not, it is my intention to take up leadership and guide the Empire's people. I will do so rightfully, and justly. My only fear are those who would resort to underhanded means."
The barb was lost to the Child Emperor, but Shirou made it a point to stare directly into Honest's eyes.
In case it wasn't already clear, if Akame and the rest could potentially attack Honest, then Honest's forces could potentially attack him as well. This was a narrow balancing act on a tight rope, and he'd prefer it if the innocent were left out.
For all of the Child Emperor's ill reputation across the masses in the Empire, the child was just that, a child. More specifically, this was his biological cousin who seemed incredibly relieved and euphoric at even the concept of having more family.
The way Honest stood behind the Child Emperor with his grubby hands on the little Emperor's shoulders like a kind grandfather just seemed so wrong.
"Do you see now, your Majesty? Your cousin is clouded in the bias of these rebels! Look at the way he looks at us!"
"Why was he staring at you though?" The Child Emperor grew confused.
"Ill bred rumours I assure you. There aren't many in my position, and they blame me for everything despite trying my best in my endeavors."
"To choke the life out the Empire, right?" Shirou spoke up with a glare. He then shifted his focus onto the Child Emperor and let his features soften. "Cousin, you are being misled."
"Misled? What do you mean? The Empire's supposed to be at the height of its prosperity. I've been assured of such since my reign-"
"Do not listen to his blasphemy. He is merely attempting to deceive you of your authority over the Empire!" Honest was quick to steer the direction of the conversation away using accusatory means.
They worked by shifting the Child Emperor's thoughts before anyone else could get a word in.
"I-Is that so?" The Child Emperor stammered. Honest was his wise teacher, and surely the one he looked up to wouldn't blatantly lie to him. Still, the Child Emperor tried to reason out what he'd just heard. "Even if you're right Mr. Honest, I feel my cousin has been quite forthright and honest with me. He's older than I, and may be able to lead better. If he wants the throne, he can have it so long as the Empire prospers."
This obviously wasn't what Honest wanted to hear. "Your Highness, have some decorum and pride in your station. You've done much for the Empire in your rule to just have someone inexperienced to take over."
"Wouldn't I still be around though? It doesn't matter either way then. Now more importantly, do I have any other cousins?"
The Child Emperor dismissed Honest's concerns and stared at Shirou all too eagerly, much to Honest's ire.
"Yes. Two," Shirou slowly nodded, not missing the way Honest's eyes narrowed and the Child Emperor's innocently brightened.
It felt to Shirou like he'd made a mistake, but the genuineness of the Child Emperor's reaction spoke volumes of a lonely kid. Besides, Artus and Anna would be safe so long as he remained alive. Even on the premise that Artus and Anna were killed, it wouldn't help Honest at all since Shirou would be alive to contest the throne. The only use his siblings would have were as hostages, and even then, this was on the premise that Calla's defences could be easily breached- which they wouldn't be as he'd tighten them.
"When do you think we could all meet up?"
"When this is all over and the Empire is safe, probably."
"Oh, uhm, do you need the throne first?"
"Your majesty, please conduct yourself!" Honest was done with this meeting. "I believe it's time we withdraw. Don't you have to call off the army if you're deciding to abdicate?"
It was like a light had lit above the Child Emperor's head at the reminder.
"You're right as always Mr. Honest. We need to stop this war right away! Lead the way."
Faces of alarm quickly grew aghast as Honest stepped closer to the Child Emperor.
"No, wait it's a-"
Honest wasted no time putting strength into his grip and hastily leading himself and the Child Emperor back onto his palanquin and as far away from Shirou as possible. The Honour Guard followed just as quickly, leaving only the Empire Army's generals nearby, one of which Honest sent a single imperative towards.
Anyone who tried to intervene was intercepted by raised firearms and weapons.
"Kill them all," Honest whispered discreetly, fully intent on reporting the 'tragedy' to the Child Emperor in due time and wording it as a 'miss-order' in military ranks.
All too quickly, the situation escalated.
Shirou and the rest were forced back to their side of the Empire-Calla divide, while the Empire forces under Honest styed their hand if only because the Child Emperor was still in earshot.
This changed nothing though.
Soon, Honest had taken the Child Emperor back behind Empire army lines and away from the battlefield entirely. The emperor felt that Honest had already indulged his request to meet his cousin, so he was fully intent on returning to the capital and drafting an official cease and desist order on Honest's suggestion. It was all a ruse to prevent him from seeing the events of the battlefield.
Left behind, the disparity in Calla's numbers against the Empire's army was an appalling ten to one. More importantly, the left and right flanks of the Empire's army had opted to circle around Calla's forces in an encirclement during the discussion talks.
It was dirty.
It was underhanded.
"It was a trap," someone blatantly pointed out. "We're surrounded."
"Of course, it was a trap! I told you all it would be!"
Shirou could already picture Elaine fuming and admonishing him out of concern; the sound of her venting on Chouri could be heard even from where he and many others stood, causing them to wince in sympathy for the old man.
The winds started to blow at the face of adversity, blowing back tresses of hair and fabric to accentuate the growing chill clutching at the heart.
The flag of Calla billowed in the breeze, flapping and echoing in the solemn silence.
The Empire Army stood before what might as well have been the equivalent of a single troop. Fire arms were leveled forward, weapons were drawn, and several armed combatants wielded abilities beyond mortal means and instead leaned towards the supernatural.
To anyone else, this was hopeless, no way about it.
Yet, had her odds been any different when she rose up for the sake of her country, duty, obligations and oaths?
Saber- no. Arturia had remained firm.
Emulate the King you knew, and inspire those who stand behind you…in the end, a King rules alone for the sake of his people.
Outnumbered, disadvantaged, they would have to win this battle and prove themselves regardless just like the legends and vaunted fables of old.
Chouri had been right.
He must show the world, its discouraged citizens, the strength of courage, the mettle of righteousness, and the valour of selflessness.
O Sacred Sword, show me of the end guided by your light.
The sword unassumingly strapped at his side, hummed in response, urging him to draw it forth.
A country's strength is not solely dependent on the will of a ruler, but in the combined will of all. The legend of the sword in the stone was at its core not a divisive measure, but one of unification and qualification.
'He who wields this sword, is the true king of the land.'
Slowly, carefully, his fingers clasped over Caliburn's hilt and drew it forth with his right hand.
'For his will equals the will of all who adore him.'
"Sacred Sword," he murmured solemnly, motes of light flowing all around. "Represent their hopes."
A keening ting of metal resounded crisply in the tension. Vibrant golden aura suffused the blade from its base to its tip, pulsating with a gentle warmth.
That sword shone in the dark, a guiding light in the chaos; a beacon rallying and rousing the courage and mettle of all who gazed upon it.
"Follow me. Believe in me."
It seemed to whisper and promise.
Akame and many others who were witnessing this splendor for the first time unlike Leone, Chouri, Sheele, and Spear felt their breaths leave them. Even Elaine's shouting had died along with the indifference of the Revolutionary Army. It was indescribable; the intangible weight of what was known as hope, a concept differing from dreams.
Awashed in the glow of golden light, Calla's small army in the face of the Empire's forces grew almost ceremonious.
"I-It feels like home."
"What is this feeling?"
"Yeah, that's right…wasn't this what we were fighting for all along?"
"Kurome…" Tears spilled down Akame's eyes from buried memories and simpler times. She shuddered, arms pressing tight as she resolutely drew her blade in preparation for combat. Had this been what Leone had experienced? What was the miracle Leone had seen in this glow so different from the darkness Akame had once witnessed?
All eyes were staring on one figure alone.
Shirou stood with the bearings of an Emperor, the regality of a king, but most of all the compassion of a true leader. The First Emperor wasn't the best ruler, but it was as if his legacy lived on in his descendant. Swap out the clothes, and they were practically identical in stature and presence.
Wherever he stood, so too would the Empire.
The True Heir, a rightful heir.
This notion unnerved Honest's supporters like nothing else. Many in the Revolutionaries fighting for less than noble means felt the same way. Under the glow of the golden light, the wicked were exposed, the vilest taint of the Empire rendered panic stricken.
The command was given without a care. Those with firearms on the Empire's army heeded the order, and a rain of bullets and projectiles fell like rain.
"I told them that traditional means won't work! Out on the field, there's nothing to even hide behind! Sure, you can repel a few, but the majority will take a chunk of our people." Elaine slumped from where she stood mounted next to Chouri. "This is it. It's over you senile old man. How are we supposed to block all that?"
Panic swept through Calla's ranks, yet in the face of it all, the wielder of that sword of light gave reassurance. If one arm held a sword, then the other was now shown to hold a shield.
Seven violet iridescent petals bloomed, unfurling with the shield at the center to encompass the front of Calla's forces.
The petaled shield of the Hero Aias, carrying the durability of seven fortress walls would not be breached.
Sword and shield in hand, Shirou appeared invincible to his enemies, yet a source of confidence for his allies. When he moved, the shield moved with him, a literal wall in answer to the Empire's guns, and Caliburn providing the means to end it all.
Civility was over. There was only a single goal set to accomplish.
Harden your heart.
His countenance grew cold, resolved to do that which was necessary.
The command was given.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to my newest patrons: Necrosis 1203 and Pocket Rat!
Next update: Fate Hero and Sword I believe.
P a treon. com (slash) Parcasious
The Lonely Peak
New Book: Out on Amazon (Remove dash on link)
Survivor's Log Reflection: Amazon.c-om/dp/B08VDDGN7Z?