The streets of Era hadn't changed much in the time he had been away, and yet, they were a sight he believed he had forlorn forever.
The faces passed by, some of them smiling and laughing, some of them stern and determined, and others simply remaining calm and serene, but they all had something in common. They were untouched by the horrors of the front lines, ignorant to the embers of conflict that were slowly rising into an inferno once more, unaware of the prospect of war. Shen couldn't blame them. That was what the armed forces of Fiore were for, after all, but it left him reflecting on what exactly it was that the Knights were fighting for. Was it to protect Fiore? Or had the skirmishes between the forces of the Council and those of Pergrande simply been a necessary sacrifice to gain political leverage, to obtain good favor with the leadership of Bellum? The young man was willing to bet that it was the latter, that much was clear, but as it was always the case, the politicians, the council, everyone would proclaim that it would be the former, and the masses, uninterested in the matters that had transpired so far from their homeland, would readily believe what was presented to them and raise little skepticism. Shen couldn't help himself but despise them all for it a little, but he quickly shelved that emotion. They couldn't be blamed. It was simply how the world worked. If there was anyone to blame, it would be himself. The young man sighed inwardly, keeping his gaze firmly affixed to the plateau not far in the distance.
Shen tried to keep his thoughts centered on the goal in his mind. He had spent considerable time and effort on returning to this place, after all, the stride that took him towards the Headquarters of the Rune Knights filled with newly found and unwavering purpose. The past few months had not only been arduous, but the grueling march back to Fiore had also been a task nigh impossible, and yet, here he stood again, alive. He had to do this. Not for himself, but for them.
The path he was treading on reminded him of the one he had walked 2 years prior, the same steps leading towards the same building he had sought out back then. It all seemed so different now. He saw the Rune Knights and the city that surrounded the HQ building in a new light, but the same could be said about the country as a whole, the Council, and himself, too. "The difference a change of perspective can make, huh?". The thought overcame him, a sense of nostalgia quickly being washed away by the sadness of tragedy. There would be no going back now.
It did not take the young Knight long to climb the stairs, an athletic feat compared to the way he had ascended the plateau the first time he had come here, of course. The feeling of nervousness that had reduced him to a mumbling mess the last time was forever lost. How he wished that he could just return to those days, when the world seemed like it was in order. Once more, he repeated the phrase inside his mind. There was no going back. Never. The only way to go was forward.
Maneuvering the familiar location was easy enough. Not much had changed, but the air here was different than on the streets. You could tell that, along with an overall increased vigilance and combat-readiness, the events that had occurred weighed heavily on the shoulders of a select few Knights, and their comrades, naturally, could tell as much. It was only understandable that such a thing would make a man question things. You could see the consequences of that time in their eyes. The glow within was gone, and wherever their gaze would fall, one felt like they would pierce right through you. Shen understood where it was coming from. His eyes, after all, were weary all the same. And yet, Shen had to respect them. They remained with their brothers and sisters in arms, which, of course, was the sole reason why Staff Sergeant Kadokawa had returned from the battlefield. That mountain pass in Pergrande had been the site of a massacre, but for the sake of the other Knights, for the sake of Fiore, there was no way he could abandon those who remained. He wouldn't make the same mistake twice. He had sworn this much to himself, which was why, even after the passing of time, even after a perilous journey, he was here once more. He knew his destination, and there was no changing it.
With a confident demeanor, he found his way inside the HQ like he had done many times before, navigating the all-too-familiar halls as if it was the most natural thing in the world, towards a certain office. He paid no mind to the few knights that stopped as he passed them along the way, two of them even whispering among each other. Had it really already been two years? So much had happened since he had stumbled in here for the first time. Briefly, he wondered if one could find humor in the way that life had treated him, but he didn't find it funny, at all. Perhaps a perspective detached from his own could find some irony in this? What a pain.
There was no doubt that the events of the past months were written on the young man's face. He appeared thinner than before, his eyes conveying a fundamental lack of rest. The only part of his original Rune Knight uniform that remained was the black winter coat he had worn back then, the rest lost to the difficulties Ishgar had put on his way here. Not to mention the fact that he had never managed to get the blood out of the shoes he had worn back then. Instead, he had gathered together an assortment of rather un-knightly clothing, a pair of jeans and a black shirt, the most striking difference perhaps being the change of his hair color, not to mention the fact that the same had gotten just a bit longer.
The echo of his footsteps rang with every motion of his body, and before long, a familiar door found its way into his field of vision. Still the same as always, hm? Just like he always did, he would wander up to that door, but this time, it was different. He wasn't anxious for the same reasons that he would usually be. Serilda's imposing aura of authority, which was paired with a gentle, almost motherly nature, would make him nervous no longer. The shadow of intimidation her light had cast upon him had been a more product of his childish imagination, as with most of the things that had made him nervous all the god-damn time, he realized. Instead, he hoped that she was here in her office at all, and if she was, what she would say. Shen hadn't exactly been off on a fishing trip, after all, and it was questionable if she would even accept his presence here, in the end. He doubted that she would send him away, but ... well, one could never be certain. He wondered how the international situation was, as well, but he figured that he could ask her later. There was no better way to find out than to try, though, Shen pooling together his resolve, clearing his throat, and knocking on the door 3 times, firmly, yet not overly so. He would wait for just a passing moment before speaking, taking the initiative.
"Field Marshal, this is Staff Sergeant Kadokawa. May I enter?".
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