I own neither the Yakuza series or Rising of the Shield Hero

Claim Jumper

What… the hell..?

It hadn't been that long since Naofumi was last in Lute Village. He had on and off passed through, but for the most part it wasn't part of his usual route when travelling around. He had seen some time at the beginning of the month that they were building new defenses for the village thanks to some sort of gambling hall that Kiryu suggested. He thought it was a smart idea and a good way to draw in quick money.

But what was once Lute Village was now a complete fortress. Hardwood walls lined around the outside, looking ready for a siege. A moat had even been added to the defenses, spiked traps scattered throughout. Guard towers stood behind the walls, now armed with ballistas.

"Wow, master! The town looks so different now!" Filo exclaimed, looking up and down the walls.

"No kidding…" Naofumi muttered, brow raised as he continued to look around. This is way more than I thought they'd have built before the next Wave. What the hell kind of money has that gambling hall been making?

"How did so much change so quickly?!" Raphtalia exclaimed from the seat next to him, her mouth slightly agape.

"They must have been working day and night…" Naofumi could only guess, scratching the back of his neck.

"Amazing… How did such a modest village as Lute change so drastically?" Naofumi looked over his shoulder at their new guest. A young girl looking barely in her preteens. She wore a noble's frill purple dress and had dark blue hair with two long curving twin tails on each side held up by matching purple bows.

"Hey, Mel. Do you mind if we make a little stop here?" Naofumi asked. "I've got an associate in town I want to see before we head to the castle."

"Oh, I don't mind! We're not far, after all." Mel agreed with a curt nod.

"Associate? Don't you mean friend?" Raphtalia smiled from his side, causing Naofumi to huff.

"Ah, Shield Hero!" Naofumi looked to the front gate barring their way, one of the resident guards opening a small slot for a face window. "It's good to see you, sir! We'll let you in right away!"

"Right, thanks." Naofumi heard the guard call out for the gate to open, listening to the gears turn. "Let's go, Filo."

It took a moment to process that this was still Lute Village that Naofumi was looking at from the outside. But once inside the walls, he realized that much of the former layout remained the same. Many of the houses that had been damaged were now rebuilt. Unlike the outer perimeter, the houses looked much like they did before.

"Ah, sir Shield Hero!" Naofumi pulled Filo's reins to slow down, following the young voice that beckoned him. His face fell into his old scowl when he realized that it was a small group of knights approaching. Though upon closer inspection, one of the knights leading it had been part of the group that remained behind and helped him fight during the First Wave. Raphtalia seemed to perk up next to him, Naofumi noticing her eyes being drawn to the Demi-human among their ranks. A dog-faced girl with a mage's hat and staff.

That at least earned them some sort of acknowledgement.

"What are Melromarc Holy Knights doing in Lute Village?" Naofumi asked, hiding none of his suspicion as he spoke.

"Ah, we're here at the request of Kazuma Kiryu!" The young man announced with pride.

"Wait-from Kiryu?" Naofumi blinked. "And the King accepted?"

"Ah, we actually didn't need the King's permission to accept. In fact, we requested to be of aid to him ourselves! Our garrison is to act as the main defensive force for Lute Village between the Waves!" The bright eyed knight explained.

"Between?" Naofumi raised a brow. "Why not during? Shouldn't that be the priority?" Naofumi shook his head, sighing. "Actually, nevermind. I'll talk to Kiryu about it myself."

"Ah, I believe he should be at home or roaming around town right now! The gambling hall doesn't open until later tonight."

"Alright…" Naofumi turned back to Filo. "You heard him. Let's go."

"Yes, Master!"

"Ah, wait Sir Shield Hero! There was something we wanted to speak to you about!"

"Save it for later. I need to talk to Kiryu before anything." Naofumi bit back at the young knight, not entirely in the mood to deal with him.

"Y-Yes sir! Good luck!" The knight saluted, and Naofumi did his best to ignore it. He whipped the reins for Filo to move forward.

"That was a little cold, Master." Raphtalia complained, earning a sigh from him.

"You know we can't trust them. I'm curious as to why Kiryu accepted them in the first place." Naofumi pointed out., eyes narrowed.

"You don't trust the knights, Shield Saint?" Mel asked, popping her head out to look at him. "Wh-Why is that?"

"... Nothing for you to worry about." Naofumi doubted the child of a noble would understand. There was no point trying to explain it to her.

Naofumi didn't take long to find Kiryu and Harken's home. Like the rest of the village, it was relatively untouched as far as layout went. "Wait here." He told Mel, who quietly did as she was told and stayed in the wagon. He hopped out of his cart and rasped his knuckles against the door. It wasn't long before he got an answer, Julius Harken greeting him from the other side. "Hm? Oh, Shield Hero! Miss Raphtalia! So good to see you!"

"Good afternoon, Mister Harken." Raphtalia smiled..

"Hey, Harken. I was passing through and thought I'd drop by. Is Kiryu around?" Naofumi asked

"He's doing a little stroll through town. He should be back soon enough, though. Would you all like to come in for a moment?" Harken blinked, eyes landing on some of the bandages Raphtalia had. "Are you alright?"

"Y-Yes. It's nothing too bad."

"She was hurt by … cursed flames. I used my healing abilities the best I could but she needs a strong Holy Water to purify it completely." Naofumi explained, hesitation and guilt in his voice. "We were going to stop by the Church at the castle to get what we need."

"I… wouldn't advise that. Considering the Church of the Three Heroes has a rather skewed view of you, they will likely not be the most welcome." Harken shook his head, but smiled. "But not to worry! Kiryu had dealt with some curse damage the past month and bought several flasks of Holy Water that you can use."

"Really?! I'll take it then. How much?"

"You can work that out with Kiryu. I'm sure he won't mind if you use one right now, though. Come." Harken urged, leading them inside. He went to what looked like a new shelf stacked with potions and miscellaneous healing items, all of which Naofumi curiously analyzed. Most, if not all, were high grade healing items, higher than what he was currently capable of making. These are all the real deal… Harken is a long time potions maker though. Maybe I should ask him to give me some materials and recipes while we're here.

"Here we are! High grade Holy Water." Harken brought a beautiful flask from the top shelf and offered it to Naofumi. As described, it was indeed high grade and what he needed.

"Thanks. Though I don't feel too great about using it until we see Kiryu-"

"You don't have to worry about that now." Naofumi and Raphtalia snapped around, Kiryu standing at the door with a smile on his face. "Feel free to use what you need."

"Ah, Mister Kiryu! It's so good to see you!" Raphtalia greeted

"Kiryu…"Naofumi mumbled, a little happier than he'd like to admit to see the former yakuza. "If you don't mind, then thanks. Just tell me how much I owe you."

"I would say take it free, but I know you don't like charity." Kiryu chuckled, walking over to them. "I don't really need the money, but ten silvers will do."

"Deal." Naofumi fished into a pouch for the coin, quickly giving Kiryu the asked for amount.

"Ten silvers? You paid more than five times that to get them ma-" Kiryu gave Harken a deadpan look, the mage coughing as he caught himself. "I-i mean it seems like a good trade!"

"This stuff is worth five times that?" Naofumi blinked, but Kiryu quickly took the money from his hand. "Maybe I-"

"I already said I don't need the money. Take the deal and don't complain." Kiryu let out a small chuckle, Raphtalia giggling at Kiryu's bluntness.

Naofumi opened his mouth to complain but relented, sighing instead. "Fine. I guess it's not worth making a big deal over, especially since Raphtalia needs it."

"Good. So, what exactly-"

"PEWA!"

The four flinched when they heard the familiar chirp of Nugget outside. The door was quickly thrown open as someone entered.

"Big Bro~! You've got to see this!" Keel called out, a large grin on her lips. "That really fat Filolial outside suddenly got in a fight with Nugget and they're really going at it!"

"Geez, those two. We should-"

"Keel?" Kiryu raised a brow as he turned his attention back to Raphtalia, her eyes owlish as she stared at the young girl at the door.

Keel looked at Raphtalia, brief familiarity in her eyes. "D-Do I know you..?"

"It's me, Keel! It's Raphtalia." she said, slowly stepping toward the dog demi-human.

Keel sucked in a breath, eyes suddenly trembling as she took a step back. "Th-That's not possible… Raphtalia is dead… her and Rifana… both of them, gone…"

Kiryu shared a look with Naofumi, who looked no less confused than he did before turning their attention back to Raphtalia.

"It's really me, Keel! It's Raphtalia. I didn't die…" Raphtalia's voice quivered as she stepped closer, kneeling in front of her.

"B-But Raphtalia… she was…" Keel's body shook as she looked into the raccoon demi-human's eyes. "Is it really you? But Raphtalia was… a kid like me."

"I became the Shield Hero's slave and leveled up a lot recently." Raphtalia smiled, looking back at Naofumi who watched in neutral regard. Keel inspected him with scrutiny before turning back to Raphtalia.

"Raphtalia.. Is it really-"

*BOOM*

"PEWA~!"

"Crap, we forgot what was going on outside." Kiryu cursed, running past the two with Naofumi close behind him.

"Hah! Take that, big meanie!" Filo chirped in amusement. Nugget lay in a stack of broken wood in barrels next to the house. Filo puffed out her feathery breast out proudly.

"Filo! What did I tell you about starting fights with Nugget?!" Naofumi scolded the moment he saw her, causing the Filolial to wince at the intensity of his voice.

"He's right, Filo! There was no reason for you to attack him like that!" Melty complained from the cart, causing Filo to pout.

"B-But it wasn't my fault! He was calling me a fatty when he walked by!" Filo accused, pointing with her wing at Nugget. The black filolial shook its head briefly before a dark sparkle appeared in his eye.

"Nugget, don't-!" Kiryu started, seeing the glare from him but called out too late. Nugget hopped forward and delivered a drop kick to Filo's stomach, sending her flying back several meters. Filo rolled across the ground before quickly recovering to her feet, a furious glare burning in her eyes. Nugget stood there with a taunting cackle, pointing at her with his wing.

"I'll eat you for dinner, jerk!" Filo squaked before dashing forward. Nugget snarled as he charged to meet her. Kiryu cursed, preparing to jump between them while Naofumi prepared a spell from his shield.

"Stop!" Nugget and Filo skidded to a stop, Mel standing between them with her hands raised.

"Wha-Mel! Watch out!" Filo called out in concern. "Don't let that meanie near you!"

"That's not nice to say, Filo!" Melty turned to Nugget, smiling gently as she extended her hands out to his face. "Please calm down. I don't want to see such beautiful filolials fighting like this. Please?"

Nugget blinked, watching Mel with a tilted head. He leaned forward to further inspect the blue haired young girl. As he did, she touched his feathery face, giving a bright smile. "My, you're such a beautiful shade of black! You're a rare breed... kind of like Filo, hm?". Nugget seemed to be soothed by her touch, letting out what sounded like a low purr as he leaned his head into her hands. He slowly bent his legs so that he was kneeling in front of her, allowing Mel to get a closer look at him.

"See, Filo? He's not so bad." Mel said, smiling back at the Filolial Queen as she continued to stroke Nugget's neck. "You two should be friends!"

"Guh…" Filo's eye twitched as she watched Nugget smile at her, sticking his tongue out as he took great pleasure in receiving Mel's attention. "D-Don't only give him attention!" She whined, quickly hopping on Mel's opposite side and nuzzling her.

"Oh, Filo~!" Mel giggled, using her right hand to pet her at the same time. Filo glared at Nugget silently but didn't make any move to attack again.

"Uh… okay…" Kiryu raised a brow, completely dumbfounded. "At least that was sorted out. So who is she?"

"A noble that really likes filolials." Naofumi chuckled, mildly impressed by what he was seeing as well. "I'm transporting her to the castle since she got separated from her caravan. With the promise of payment, of course."

"I see. I'm sure you've been through a few things over the past month." Kiryu crossed his arms and smiled. "Why don't we get a drink and talk about what we've both been through?"

"I would, but I do have to get her to the castle…" Naofumi stroked his chin before looking back at Mel. "Hey. Would it be okay if we spent a day here? If you want to get to the castle now, I don't mind though."

"Oh, I'm okay with delaying one day!" Mel smiled before standing up from between the filolials. "In fact, I was interested in meeting you as well, Weaponless Hero!"

"Hm? Me?" Kiryu raised a brow as Mel walked over, Filo and Nugget trailing close behind her as they glared at one another.

"Yes! I've been hearing much about you from… from rumor!" She corrected herself smoothly, though Kiryu still felt a little suspicious of the small bit of hesitation.

"Rumor, huh? I get the feeling it wasn't all great then." Kiryu smirked, waving off his suspicion. She was just a child, after all.

"A-Ah, well, no I suppose not… But there has been much good taken from it all!" She smiled in reassurance. "Still, I am surprised. I heard you've done quite a bit for Lute Village, but I would not have imagined that the once modest village would be outfitted like a fortress. Was this your doing?"

"Well… I suppose I played a role in it." Kiryu chuckled. "I just wanted to make sure the people were geared to deal with future Waves."

"Yeah, but to get this much done in such a short time. What the heck have you been doing?" Naofumi asked this time, arms crossed over his chest.

"Well, the thing is-"

"Princess?" Kiryu and Naofumi blinked, drawing their gaze to Harken. The former royal mage stood at the front door, eyes bugged out of his head as he stared forward.

"Princess? Who…" Kiryu drew his gaze to Melty, the young girl staring at Harken as sweat dripped down her cheek. "Wait. You're…"

"What do you mean princess?" Naofumi spat, eyes narrowing as he shifted his gaze harshly to Melty. "I thought you were the daughter to some lord?"

"W-Well that's…" Mel wilted under his gaze, eyes averting.

"N-No, she's most definitely Princess Melty, second daughter of the Melromarc royal family." Harken walked over to join them, brow furrowed. "What are you doing here, your Highness?! Shouldn't you be with your mother right now?"

"I-I…" Mel looked around at the three adults surrounding her, swallowing a lump in her throat. Naofumi's ever building rage and suspicion didn't help.

"So not only did you lie to me, but you're also part of that trash family?" Naofumi snarled, teeth grit.

"I-I wasn't trying to deceive you! I was…"

"P-Please, try and calm yourself Shield Hero!" Harken took a step in front of Melty, surprising Naofumi. "I know that your experience with the King and Princess Malty was terrible, but-"

"Terrible barely begins to describe it."

"-I understand! But Princess Melty is nothing like either of them!" Harken pleaded, putting his hands together. "She's a sincere girl who takes after her mother, a stern but great ruler."

Naofumi narrowed his eyes in doubt, glaring past Harken. "I don't care if she does. To me, their entire family is trash."

"P-Please Shield Saint, I wasn't-"

"Hey." Naofumi's gaze snapped up to Kiryu. "I know you've been through a lot, but that's no reason to take it out on the kid. She's not her sister or her father."

"But how can I be sure she's not anything like them?!" Naofumi accused, pointing a finger at her. "She lied about who she was the moment I met her! Probably set that up to trick me into another one of her family's schemes!"

"Master Naofumi…" Raphtalia walked out, Keel at her side. Naofumi snapped his gaze to her, but his eyes softened. He let out a huff and shook his head.

"Sorry, but I'm not putting any more trust in that bloodline" Naofumi turned his back to Melty and the others. "Find someone else to cart you over to the castle. I'm not going to be your family's whipping boy. Filo!"

"Yes, master?"

"You're not allowed to play with Melty anymore." Naofumi said sternly.

"Wha~t?! But Mel-chan's my friend!" Filo whined, frowning.

"Not can't trust her." Naofumi declared, refusing to look back at Melty as he walked back to their wagon.

"B-But I…" Melty's hands gripped at her dress, struggling to find the words.

Kiryu looked at Melty with sympathy, eyes drifting back to Naofumi. As much as I'd like to defend her, I can't deny what he's saying. Her family has put him through a lot as is. The trauma hurt him in ways I still don't understand. I can't rush to support her when I only know what Harken has told me.

"Princess. I'll take you to the castle tomorrow." Kiryu told her, drawing the young girl's gaze. "But if you're really not here to hurt him, you need to understand that your family has hurt him in ways he hasn't fully recovered from. It's not easy to not associate you with them."

"I… I heard some of the rumors, but I didn't…" Melty's eyes fell to the ground, biting her bottom lip.

"Harken can tell you what you need to know about it. We'll work out some arrangements for you at the inn if need be." Kiryu said, walking forward toward Naofumi and putting a hand on his shoulder.

"What? I'm not going to talk to her…." Was his jaded response, eliciting a small chuckle from Kiryu.

"I was just going to say that maybe you could use that drink about now."

Naofumi looked back at him, mildly surprised. He took a short moment to think it over before relenting, "Yeah. I could go for one…"


After putting some distance between them and Melty, Naofumi seemed to calm down a bit and come a bit more out of his shell. Kiryu brought him to Melonie's tavern, the two sitting at the bar and getting an ale together. Meanwhile, Raphtalia sat at a table a small distance away with Keel, the two catching up on lost time.

"W-Wait, you're a girl?!" Raphtalia's jaw dropped in utter disbelief.

"Y-Yeah, I kinda just found out when I got here…" Keel laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of her head. "Melonie explained it to me. It bummed me out, but I'm over it now! Even knowing that, I'm still gonna try and be manly like Mister Kiryu! I'll be a manly girl!"

Raphtalia stared for a long moment before bursting out in laughter, hunching over. "Oh, Keel. That's just like you…"

"H-Hey! Don't laugh! I'm serious here!" In spite of her protests, Keel laughed as well, their eyes misting as they leaned on one another.

"Man. Talk about some good fortune." Naofumi mumbled, his eyes watching Raphtalia and Keel from the side. "Who would have thought you'd run into one of her childhood friends. And end up raising her, no less."

"Well, Julius and Melonie are doing most of the work. She just likes to follow me around and watch me fight." Kiryu smirked, eyes drifting to the girls. "Still, I'm happy that they could reunite like this. I didn't know they knew each other until now, though."

"I guess the world works out weird sometimes," Naofumi shrugged, turning back to the bar and inhaling some of his ale. "I'm… happy for her though. Seeing Raphtalia like this with an old friend. It's nice."

"Yeah. Same for Keel. Aside from Nugget, she's been having trouble making friends in the village because they're all human." Kiryu sighed, downing some of his own drink. "Hopefully this will help her come out of her shell."

"How'd you guys end up with her, anyway?"

"Slavers came through town. She was the only demi-human they had, but she was being dragged at the tail end in chains." Kiryu explained, his brow hardening. "I wasn't a fan of how they were treating her."

"Sounds like it didn't end well for them." Naofumi smirked.

"Let's just say they never came through Lute again." Kiryu chuckled, Naofumi snorting in amusement. "Well, that aside, it's been a busy month."

"I noticed. How the hell did your gambling hall bring in cash so quick?" Naofumi asked, brow raised. "I barely recognized Lute with the kind of defenses you guys built."

"Well, a couple of things factored in. What was once a gambling hall kind of evolved. A lot of games kept getting added and more people were coming day by day." Kiryu explained. "Then there's the land expansion…"

"Land expansion?"

*RING RING RING RING*

Naofumi sat up, a loud bell echoing from outside. "What's that? An alarm?"

"Yeah. Looks like they're back." Kiryu sighed, lifting his cup and downing the contents. "Guess we didn't get to drink much, today. I've got to go."

"What's going on? You make it sound like this is a regular thing." Naofumi stood up when Kiryu did, brow raised.

"It sort of is. If you want to know, follow me. I'll explain as we go." Kiryu said, walking toward the tavern doors.

"Alright, big bro! It's time to show those jerks again!" Keel cheered as she and Raphtalia joined them.

"What's going on, Keel?" Raphtalia asked as she fell in line next to Naofumi.

"When I first started the gambling hall, it ended up being more popular than I imagined." Kiryu started, the four leaving the tavern and heading for the main gates. "People started flooding in, lords and travelers alike. After a week, we had to consider expanding the land."

"After a week?! How the hell did you get that kind of attention so quick?!" Naofumi blanched in awe.

"Big bro had us goin' around from town to town fast as possible, spreadin' the word about the gambling hall!" Keel grinned ear to ear. "Nugget's really fast, so it wasn't too hard! People started floodin' into Lute Village!"

"We made our initial investment back in the first week. Originally what was meant to be a modest gambling hall turned into something close to a small casino." Kiryu continued, the four walking down the dirt path leading to the main gate. The guards and armed men of the village were scurrying toward the main gate as well. "But as it turns out, the land around Lute doesn't technically count as part of Lute. And now we have a few lords who call themselves the Land Claim Kings trying to keep us from expanding."

"Huh? What kind of clowns are they?" Naofumi asked, brow furrowing.

"Just that. Some pompous lords who don't want the other villages to take from their own profits." Kiryu sighed, shaking his head. "They tried to get me to join them as one of their 'Land Claim Kings' but that would require me paying them a fee. You can imagine what my answer was."

"I have an idea." Naofumi smirked.

"They've also made a name for themselves by subtly crushing the competition from other villages. But we gained traction out of the blue, and it became harder to crush us."

"So what's going on right now? Do they attack the village because you refused?" Raphtalia asked in concern, resting her hand on her sword.

"No. I made it clear what would happen to them if they attacked Lute Village. After the Wave, they knew my reputation and didn't risk a fight." Kiryu explained, but looked no less pleased. "Still, they were using other tactics to keep us from expanding. So now, we have to participate in a sort of game with them to gain more room for expansion without interference."

"A game? What the hell?" Naofumi blanched in disbelief.

"Ah, Sir Kiryu!" The four slowed to a stop as they reached the front gate. The young knight from before swiftly approached with his garrison close behind him.

"Hey, Marco. Are you and your men ready?" Kiryu greeted casually, taking no notice of Naofumi's scowl hardening as the young knight approached.

"Yes, sir! We're at your orders!" The now named Marco saluted Kiryu before drawing his gaze to Naofumi. "Ah, Sir Shield Hero! Will you be joining us?"

"Huh? I'm..." Naofumi hesitated for a moment, thinking he was seeing things until he focused on the spear that the knight was holding. "Hold on. Is that blunt? You need to sharpen your spear, kid."

"Ah, actually that's intentional!"

Naofumi blinked owlishly. "Huh?"

"So there is combat as part of this game, but it's agreed by all parties, including the lords, that no lethal weapons can be used. Otherwise we might as well be having a turf war." Kiryu explained, arms crossed over his chest. "The King, as terrible as he is, couldn't ignore a blatant use of force by the lords like that. So to gain the deeds to the lands around us, the lords organized these games to give the illusion of a 'fair' fight."

"I imagine they cheat, then?" Naofumi scoffed.

"They pull some underhanded moves, but as long as they don't break the 'no-killing' rule, I let it slide." Kiryu smirked. "To get the land, we have to win three out of five matches. We've won two of the Claim Jump matches, this third one will decide if we finally get to expand a bit more. Of course, they come when they feel they're ready, meaning we have to be ready at a moment's notice."

"... This whole situation just screams odd." Naofumi scratched the back of his head, looking around at the preparing knights and guards.

"Yeah, I suppose. Though I can't say this is the oddest thing to happen to me when starting a business." Kiryu shrugged casually.

"Wha-how is that even…" Naofumi trailed off before sighing. "Nevermind."

"Well, we're going to go and meet them outside the gate. Care to join us?" Kiryu asked, waving for the doors to be drawn open. "I know you didn't come here for a fight, so feel free to rest here at the village."

"We'd be honored to have you join us in battle, Sir Shield Hero!" Marco exclaimed, grinning hopefully.

Naofumi met his hopeful face with a suspicious scowl before walking over to Kiryu to whisper, "Are you sure you can trust these knights? They do work under that trashy king."

"We can trust these kids. I promise." Kiryu assured without hesitation. "In fact, there was something they wanted to ask you."

Naofumi chewed on his bottom lip, looking back at Marco from the side. "I heard. I didn't really feel like hearing him out, but… I guess if you're vouching for them…"

"Ah, they're approaching!" Marco announced,looking back at his squad. "Alright, everyone! Let's go!"

"We'll save that talk for later. You coming?" Kiryu asked as Nugget trotted up next to him. Kiryu mounted up, looking down at Naofumi. "If you want, I can pay you a fee for the service. But really, you don't have to."

Naofumi took a short moment to look at Raphtalia. Of course, she was beaming with approval.

"Let's help out, Master!" Filo chimed in, pumping her little arms at her side.

Naofumi let out a small breath before smiling up at Kiryu. "Well, I guess we're already here. Might as well help out. I won't say no to getting paid while we're at it, either."

"Master Naofumi!" Raphtalia tried to scold him, but Kiryu reassured her with a small laugh.

"Heh. Alright then. It's good to have your help." Kiryu said, waving for them to follow. "You should mount up. We're meeting them in the field a little outside of Lute."

"Got it. Filo."

"Yes, master!" Filo shifted into her poofy bird form, allowing both Naofumi and Raphtalia to mount her back. They rode side by side, Nugget and Filo doing their best to ignore the other as they rode out.

"So, since we're in this, why don't you explain to me what this 'game' is?" Naofumi asked as they moved at pace with the knights and guards who traveled by foot.

"It's pretty simple. It's basically a violent game of capture the flag." said Kiryu, causing the Shield Hero to raise a brow. "Our forces stand opposite one another about twenty yards apart. At the center is a flag that the teams have to fight over. The objective is for the teams to grab the flag and keep hold of it until time runs out."

"That sounds simple enough. But does that mean the enemy can snatch it up right at the end to claim victory?" Raphtalia asked this time.

"Yeah. As the old saying goes, it's not over until it's over." Kiryu nodded in affirmation. "The rules of the game are that no offensive magic and only non-lethal force is allowed. Of course, the Land Claim Kings still try to sneak in offensive magic and traps during the chaos. There is an impartial referee, but they're smart enough to make sure they're unable to see it."

"Still, you're two for two, right? Sounds like it hasn't been a big deal." Naofumi pointed out.

"I wish I could say it was that easy, but… the last game, we just barely won." Kiryu sighed, shaking his head. "They came up with a strong strategy that kept me distracted while they were playing keep away. I was just barely able to snatch the flag in the final few seconds. We won, but it made it clear to me that it's only going to get harder from here."

"Well, I guess you can't brute force your way through every problem." Naofumi stroked his chin in thought. "Too bad we don't have much time. I would have liked for us to devise a strategy of our own."

"Well, I often wing it. Though with how close the last game was, it might be good to strategize a little more." Kiryu admitted, stroking his chin.

"We try to support with defensive formations we can make to keep them away from Sir Kiryu, but we're still limited on exactly what we can offer." Marco explained, looking up at them in concern. "But we have more men this time around and more options! Not to mention we have you, Shield Hero! I'm sure we'll do just fine!"

"Hm. We'll see…" Naofumi muttered, unsure what kind of help he could provide for this 'game'. It wasn't long until the squad came to a stop. Naofumi could see a large troup of equal size approaching, a strange mixture of armored mercenaries along with some standard knights. He couldn't miss either some of the variety mixed in, different armors and clothing worn by a select few.

"Looks like they have a few adventurers helping them out." Naofumi whispered to Kiryu.

"Hm. I figured they might hire more help. They didn't have adventurers last time. Looks like we'll have a bit more trouble after all." Kiryu nodded, trotting ahead of the group. Naofumi saw a plump noble move forward to meet him. Unlike most he'd seen who try to mask their scumminess, this man seemed to wear it like a badge of honor.

His robes were a little zany, his collar high to his cheeks and leaving a large window for his chest. He was an odd mixture of muscle and fat, almost like someone from a strong man competition but not on the same level. His head was as bald as the day was long, with a bit of light reflecting off the hands were littered with rings and his neck adorned with gold chains. And of course, to top off his zany look was a long blond handlebar mustache.

"Hahahaha~! Looks like you've brought some new friends, Kazuma Kiryu!" The man barked with obnoxious laughter. "Smart! You might have won the previous game, but just barely! As for myself, I made sure to get my own bit of extra hands."

"So I noticed." Kiryu spared a short look around. "But they won't save you from another loss, Corval."

"Tch! Don't get cocky! I use the first two matches to analyze the strengths and weaknesses before I swipe the carpet from under them!" The now named Corval twisted the end of his moustache as he glared back at Kiryu. His eyes drifted to Naofumi briefly before causing him to blink. "Wait a sec, you look familiar… Ah, you're the Shield Hero!"

"Should I be flattered that you recognized me? Most people don't know my face." Naofumi crossed his arms over his chest.

"Of course I do! I was among the spectators who watched that hilarious display by the king and the princess!" Corval laughed, Naofumi's expression darkening at the mention. "Quite an embarrassing affair for all involved! I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you're helping out Kazuma Kiryu after that affair, then. You were too weak to stand up for your own slave, after all."

"How dare you speak of Master Naofumi like that!" Raphtalia snapped, glaring at Corval.

"A slave should only speak when spoken to." Corval retorted, causing Raphtalia to grind her teeth.

"Hey. Are we going to start this game or what?" Kiryu barked in irritation, eyes narrowed. "We're not here to reminisce with you."

"Hehe, if you want to rush into your first loss then be my guest! Try not to get blindsided by any wind magic this time, eh?" Corval continued to laugh, turning his riding dragon around to move back to his troops. "Prepare for utter destruction!"

"Well, color me motivated to see this guy eat shit." Naofumi spat, looking at Kiryu from the side.

"We'll make him pay for what he's said!" Raphtalia gripped her hilt tightly, eyes narrowed.

"Yeah, he makes it easy to get pumped up. Remember, no lethal weapons, Raphtalia. Someone get her a blunt blade." Kiryu turned Nugget around to face the troops and guards. "Alright, everyone! Let's give it our all!"

"YEAH!" They answered with thunderous cheer, raising their weapons and rattling their shields. Kiryu led them over to an open field off to the side. There was nothing remarkable about the field, but it had been painted and sized similar to a football or soccer field. A five foot red flag sat at the dead center of it.

Their troupe gathered at one end of the field while Corval's men sat at the other end. A single man in traditional garbs stood at the center of the field hands raised up with a small checkered flag in hand.

"So, you usually take the lead, right?" Naofumi asked,

"Yeah. I ride ahead with Nugget and grab the flag. Once that's done, I get it back to the knights and we try to defend it from there." Kiryu nodded.

"Looks like they've got a few riding dragons and filolials on their side." Marco pointed out, eyes focused on their opponent. "Marcie, get your speed enhancement spell ready for Sir Kiryu!"

"Of course!" The dog-faced demi-human mage nodded, holding her staff in front of her and focusing her magic.

"Hold on." Naofumi said, causing them to pause and turn to Naofumi. "How about letting me take the lead?"

Kiryu's brow raised in surprise. "Are you sure? I usually take the lead because their frontal force always comes on strong."

"That's fine. I think that for a game like this, you want your best defender to go ahead and snag the flag first. Plus, I'm confident in Filo's speed."

"Yeah! I'll move way faster than that jerk!" Filo puffed out her chest confidently, causing Nugget to scoff.

"Besides, I have an advantage with defensive magic that most don't have." Naofumi held up his shield. "Just leave it to me and Filo.

"Well… admittedly, she is pretty special." Kiryu stroked his chin. "If you really want to take the lead, then be my guest. I'll act as your back up."

"Alright then. You and Raphtalia can take any threats you think might get past my defenses. I'll play defense." Naofumi drew Filo's reins up, getting her ready to run forward.

"The Claim Jump is about to begin!" The official announced, holding his flags up. After several seconds, he waved them both. "GO!"

"I beckon thee, winds, that you grant this man great speed!" Marcie cast her spell upon Filo. And like a speeding bullet, she soared forward, leaving a cloud of dust in her wake. But with their own speed boost, Naofumi could see several of the hired adventurers attempting to match his pace as they were on a collision course with the flag.

"Wind Shield!" But they lacked Naofumi's potential for magic. Before they could get any closer to the flag, the magical shields manifested in their path. The adventurers crashed hard into them, and Naofumi was free to take the flag from the center.

"Back to the knights, Filo!"

"Yes, master!" Filo turned on a dime, quickly dashing back toward safety.

"Hey, he's getting away!" One of the adventurers cried out, several more running around the Wind Shields and giving chase after him.

"Quite a lot of people they got." Naofumi smirked as he looked back. Turning forward, he watched as Kiryu zipped in the opposite direction toward their opponents.

"Good grab, Naofumi!" He said as they passed by, quickly pulling on Nugget's reins. Nugget hopped in the air, folding its legs before blasting the closest enemy's chest with a drop kick, sending him flying off his mount's back.

"H-Hey! What the hell are you all doing?!" Corval said from the sidelines, panic written all over his face. "What am I paying you idiots for?!"

"Not so weak now, huh?" Naofumi sent him a shit eating grin, causing Corval to grind his teeth in frustration.

Little did Corval know, this game was practically perfect for the Shield Hero.


"H-How could we have lost..?"

It hadn't even been close. Naofumi's defensive magic and shield spam, combined with the knights' formations and Kiryu (as well as Raphtalia's constant assault on any enemy that got what would have been considered close), just completely tipped the game in their favor. By the end of the game, more than half of Corval's team had been left limping and bruised up from the beatings they took.

"Fair's fair, Corval. You lost." Kiryu smirked, arms crossed as he stood with Naofumi, Marco and Raphtalia as they waited triumphantly. "The deed to the land is ours. And you have to provide your financial support for getting that area built on for the gambling hall."

"Tch…" Corval looked away, sweat trailing down his brow. "Y-You were cheating! The Shield Hero-"

"Only uses defensive magic." Naofumi cut him off, grinning smugly. "Don't try and wiggle your way out of this, asshole. You're the ones who wanted to settle this in a dumb game of capture the flag."

"Why you…" Corval cursed, glaring at Naofumi.

"Well, they are right about the agreement." The official said, holding out the deed to Kiryu. "This land belongs to you now."

"Thanks. We'll-"

"GRAAGH!" Corval barrelled into the official shoulder first, knocking him over and stealing the deed from his hands. "You think I'm gonna give up that land just like that?!"

"Tch. So you're resorting to this kind of thing, after all. I should have figured." Kiryu huffed, getting into a fighting stance.

"I'm not about to lose to you brats! I've been building up my village and businesses for years!" Corval snarled, ripping off his shirt to reveal the hidden muscle beneath. With the unnecessarily tight clothes clinging to his upper body, Corval showed a more toned physique. "I'll rip you apart with my own bare hands if I have to-"

"ORAH!"

Corval was cut short when Kiryu slammed his fist square into Corval's nose, and Naofumi could swear he heard several bones crack before Kiryu sent him tumbling to the ground. It was clear that Corval's muscles were for show, Kiryu's punch sprawling him out on the ground with just one shot.

"Ow…" Corval whimpered as he lay there, nose bent in an odd direction.

"L-Lord Corval!" One of his guards cried out, the ten of them forming a circle around Kiryu and Naofumi as they shakingly pointed their spears.

"Huh. And here I thought that might last a little longer." Naofumi scoffed as he looked down on Corval. "That was pretty pathetic."

"He really was all show." Kiryu snatched the deed from his hands, looking at Corval's personal guard. "If you want your boss to leave with whatever remaining pride he has, I'd suggest picking him up and taking him home rather than getting beaten like he was."

The guards looked at one another, clear worry in their expressions. None looked in a hurry to rush at Kiryu or Naofumi, slowly lowering their spears before picking up Corval and carting him off. Kiryu shared a small laugh with Naofumi, before turning to the knights and guards under their regiment. Kiryu held the deed up for all to see. "We've done it! Lute will continue to expand!"

"YEAH~!" Their answer was thunderous, swords and shields being raised as they all celebrated their victory.

"Talk about being overly excited. This seems like a little-h-hey!" Naofumi was interrupted as the knights and guards picked both him and Kiryu up off the ground.

"Three cheers for the Shield Hero and Kiryu for leading us to victory!" Marco proclaimed. "Hip hip-"

"HOORAY!"

"Pu-put me down-"

"Hip hip HOORAY!"

"I didn't want to be thrown up in the-"

"Hip hip HOORAY!"

Naofumi groaned as he was caught after being thrown three times. The knights and guards laughed merrily, Raphtalia and Filo giggling as they watched their master find his legs again. Naofumi sighed as he watched them before his eyes drifted to Kiryu. "Is it always like this?!"

"Just when we win." Kiryu smiled, clapping a hand on his shoulder. "Really, though. Thanks for the help. You made that a lot easier than it had to be."

Naofumi opened his mouth to give a cynical response, but the comforting presence of Kiryu made his defenses relax somewhat. He released a short sigh before smiling back at him. "Glad I could help."

"You were really amazing out there, Sir Shield Hero! Really!" Naofumi turned his attention to Marco, the starry eyed night ginning his praise. "You've improved even more since Lute Village, we were all truly impressed!"

Naofumi felt some of his distrust surface, but quickly reminded himself of Kiryu's words. Not to mention their help during the Claim Jump. There were only brief moments in which Naofumi had left himself open, but the knights had quickly covered for any holes he might have left. They had moved without hesitation and supported him.

"... Thanks." Naofumi finally managed to say. "I guess Kiryu was right. You guys aren't so bad, I suppose."

"We're so happy to hear that!" Marco grinned wider, Marcie and several other nights flocking to his side. "After today though, it only furthers our motivation to ask this!"

"Hm? Ask what?"

"We'd like to aid you during the Waves!" Naofumi's eyes widened in shock. "We were impressed with you during the previous Wave and planned to ask you before, and today only solidified our decision! Please let us join you in fighting off the Waves!"

Marco bowed his head, with Marcie then the rest following suit. Naofumi stared in disbelief, shocked by their determination to join him.

"H-Hey, stop that. I'm…" Naofumi clicked his tongue, turning to a smirking Kiryu. "You knew about this, didn't you?"

"They clued me in the first time around." Kiryu answered, arms crossing over his chest. "I used it as a chance to make sure they were trustworthy. And I can say without a doubt that they are. You should take their help."

Naofumi stared in wonder, unsure how to answer at first.

"I think they made it clear that they have good intentions, Master Naofumi." He drew his gaze back to Raphtalia, who smiled earnestly. "We should let them join us!"

"I think it's a good idea, master! Let's do it!" Filo hopped up and down in approval.

"Not you two as well…" Naofumi sighed, massaging the bridge of his nose. He looked back at the knights, the young and hopeful men and women awaiting his response eagerly. Naofumi clenched his jaw, looking for an excuse. But the more he thought about it, the less he saw a reason to reject them.

And that's when an idea popped into mind.

"Alright, I think you've done enough to prove you're trustworthy. For now," Marco and the knights slowly began to smile. "But, I do have one condition for all of you joining my squad."

"Wh-What is it?! If it's within our power, we'll do it!" Marco nodded vigorously.

Naofumi smiled, raising his index finger.

Before pointing it directly at Kiryu.

"Convince Kazuma Kiryu over here to join us, and I'll allow you guys into the squad."

Kiryu blinked, eyes bulging out of his head. "Huh?"

To be continued…

Man, finally got this one done! It was odd jumping back and forth between what stories I wanted to work on next, but Shield's Dragon ended up taking the lead between itself and Gunslinger.

But yeah, that was a funny chapter to write. I figured that, knowing Kiryu's luck, he would get involved in ANOTHER big side story type deal involving land expansion for Lute. It only made sense that he was getting up to his own troubles like this while Naofumi was off doing his own thing XD

But anyways, that's it for this chapter. I hope you enjoyed it after such a long time since last updating! Be sure to leave a review, a follow and a favorite if you'd be so kind! Oh and since I deleted the Ptreon-ko-fi note from my previous post, I'll be sure to put the details here at the end of the chapter! Please support it if you're willing!

Hey there, everyone! I wanted to inform you guys that I've started a Ptreon page! The is specifically dedicated to getting art and comic panels drawn up for three of my stories: Thieves Can Be Heroes!, The Shield's Dragon, and The Gunslinger! I really want to get comics drawn up for these three stories but it doesn't come cheap. So if you guys feel the same as me, please go and donate to them! If we get enough support, I'm going to get comics drawn up of either iconic moments in each story or even have entire chapters illustrated!

I can't post links here, but you can find the link to my on my twitter, just find MN0Luffy and it'll be pinned!

Oh, on top of that, I also got a ko-fi! If you guys could show your support by giving me a little tip like that, I would definitely appreciate that as well! That one's more dedicated to personal art and myself, but it would definitely mean a lot to me to get tips, however small, as a show of thanks for the stories! You can find the link to my ko-fi in my twitter profile as well!