Biggest thanks for Ace-Triad helping me with SPAG edit. Also thanks to Angel Wraith for reading my rough draft and provide important feedbacks.
The Adventurer's Guild receptionist Micah is the insert character for my fellow writer Fluffball13, who give me a lot of ideas (which I completely butchered) for this story in addition to writing the only one who wrote a crossover story with Naruto as the main character I actually enjoyed writing. Considering my incandescent hatred for the pretentious little shit, that's a great achievement.
While Sir Crepe has long grown out of her direct influence, she was an OC first inspired by the portrayal of Elena from the story The New Spear by Elusith.
More author note at the end for people who are interested to see me blabber some more.
The Incubation of Heroes - Bow
The king easily barrels right past Mald like the man is made of paper.
The knight is wearing a full set of steel plate armor, and weighs like a baby horse with his muscular build. He himself only has half of Mald's mass and wears chain lined monster leather. He isn't optimistic about the outcome of a head on collision between him and the Stormwind king. That's why he immediately throws himself to the side, and fires an arrow at the charging tyrant.
Despite wearing heavy armor, King Varian spins on his toe like a graceful dancer. The arrow sails right past the king's head. The Stormwind king charges towards him with raised blades before he has a chance to get back and fire another arrow. "You missed!"
He rolls on the marble floor to avoid being chopped in three pieces, a smirk on his lips. "Actually, I didn't."
"What?" King Varian stumbles onto the ground. He blinks once and tries to climb up, only to fall back again. "What foul sorcery is this?!"
"I can't stop you with a single hit because of your high level. But by hitting you on your shadow, I activated bow weapon art [Shadow Sew]. It causes [Dizziness] and [Confusion] to you. With your heavy armor, I figured it will stop you dead in your tracks. Guess I was right."
Mald tramples his way over while he gives his explanation. The brutish knight puts Varian onto the floor again with a heavy kick to the king's temple.
Welst, the mage of their group, quickly brings forth some magic enhanced ropes to tie the downed tyrant. The knight only scoffs at this. "Why waste time tying the scum up? I say we put him to the sword now."
"No, we aren't here to give vigilante justice." A sense of pride swells in his chest. Not only has he gone against someone almost twice his level and won, he also saved the people of a small kingdom from tyranny. But more importantly, he has to finish this the right way. He wants to live up to the heroism of Shining Man. Not some random Esper who uses their super power for selfish gains and wreaks havoc. "No. Mald, Welst, bring the tyrant with us. Let the people of Stormwind decide the tyrant's fate, and witness justice being served."
"I still say we are wasting time." The fat cheeks of Mald seem to shake under his helm as he spits on the deposed king. "A trial is too good for this scum."
A hard glare stops the knight from further complaint. The knight is both knowledgeable about the world, and helpful in battle, but his overzealous nature is a constant source of headache. Honestly, Mald fits the role of a villain's stooge more than the ally of a hero. But without the big man, he would both be lost in this world, and without a sturdy frontline fighter...
"You are making a foolish mistake, boy." The tyrant looks up and glares at him with hatred. "You think killing me will make the lives of Stormwind people better? You are only condemning them..."
"Shut you trap, scum! You are speaking to the Bow Hero! " Mald rams Varian's head into the wall hard.
Itsuki is brought out of his memory when the string of his bow smacks hard on his arm. "OW!"
"This is why you need the practice, sonny." Baron Elric shakes his head as he stands up from the tree stump he's been sitting on. "You never miss your shot. But accuracy is no good if your bow string cripples yourself in a pitch. You need practice and practice, till drawing and firing becomes a second nature."
The Bow Hero looks down at his arm, the leather practice bracer is almost shredded through by the string of his chimera bow. "Maybe I should have used a lower leveled bow for practice."
"It'll make things easier. But a high leveled bow is harder to use. Better get used to it when you don't have some howling monsters running at you, ready to bite your face off." The down to earth baron walks over and strips the ruined bracer off. The self-made noble pulls Itsuki's sleeve up and applies some salves over his reddened skin and wraps some bandages over. "Rest for today. Your mind is somewhere else, and let your arm heal."
"That obvious, huh?" The young man stares at the much older archer for a few pauses. He shrugs his shoulders, walks over to the tree stump and sits down. He takes a carving knife and a piece of wood out of his bow storage.
It's not working on his plastic models back home, but wood carving is the closest thing he can get to his hobby in this world. It's a far cry from all the plastic models and board game pieces, but he already made wooden pieces for himself, and his three fellow heroes.
But before working on his latest piece, he looks up at the war veteran. "So... you fought in the Great War?"
"Nothing great about it, sonny. Bunch of pompous asses killing each other, burning down farms and fields." The baron scoffs at the mention. "Shot more people dead in one year, than rabbit pill stealing turnip my whole life. What a waste. If you want some 'glorious' war stories, you are asking the wrong guy, sonny."
"Nothing like that." The Bow Hero looks down at the piece of half carved wood piece in his hand. It was originally meant to be Mald, his right hand. But when he looks down in his hand, the piece looks more like the Stormwind king he brought down... if he squints really hard. "The king of Stormwind. You fought together with him?"
"Is this about you deposing King Varian?" Baron Elric slowly turns towards him. The older archer walks over and sits down beside him and slams a hand on his shoulder. "Look, I'm not one for all the talk about honor, and nobility. I'm a farmer through and through. They only made me a baron because I was Melromarc's best archer. Talking about my experience... The only thing us farmers worry about is we have a full belly going to bed. We don't care which ass with a bigger name than their dick calls themselves king, or lord."
He does not feel absolved despite the older man's words.
"I'm not some wise master giving life advice. Just a farmer who shoots my arrows straighter than most. You are talking to the wrong person if you want good advice." Baron Elric shakes his head as he begins walking away. "Try to live your life without regret, sonny. That's what I've been doing for the past forty years. Worked well for me, maybe it'll work out for you."
Living his life without regrets, huh... there are too many to count. Before his summon, he's too weak to change anything in a world with super powered villains, and heroes who aren't heroic. Now he is a hero and has power, he found both are easily abused. And he can make others suffer easier than he can help them.
" ...Gale upon the welkin high, send an arrow wind to smite my foes! [Deadshot]" About twenty paces from them, a green colored spinning blade completely demolishes a target made of dry hay bundles.
"Good job! We'll make a mage out of you yet!" The purple haired mage pats her hands on Rishia's shoulder, nearly knocking the other girl over. Even after all her weight carrying 'training', the noble girl from Stormwind is very much on the fragile side of build. Both the former party member of Motoyasu, and their party's residential mage are teaching magic to the timid girl.
"Th, thank you, Miss Macaroon." the quartermaster nearly buries her face into her collar with embarrassment. She gives a quick side glance to Welst. "I can only cast basic level spells..."
"Don't sell yourself short, Rishia. Without a magical orb, most people take at least a month to grasp even the basics." The other wizard gives a nod to the girl, about as encouraging as he would act.
"Yeah, I bet she'll be a real help in the 3rd wave, taking pot shot with her basic level spells behind our back." Mald grumbles a complaint while he carries another bundle of hay over. The knight sets it down and wipes a handful of sweat off his head. Despite his muscular build, he clearly isn't used to doing manual labor. And he's clearly not happy with his assigned punishment of being the party's laborer.
"Have you not heard the phrase: if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all?" Sir Crepe, the blue haired knight hisses back at Mald. She hasn't been officially invited to his party yet, but after the incident with the Faubley inquisitor, she has been working together with him. Probably for some misguided sense of gratitude after him saving her life. "You'd think all the manual labor Lord Itsuki made you do would have taught you some humility."
Not any different from Rishia.
"SHUT UP, recruit!" The muscular knight's face turns purple as he barks right back at the young woman. "It'll be a long time till you can scold your seniors!"
It's Sir Crepe's turn to change the color of her face now. "Big talk for someone who misinformed the Bow Hero and got punished."
"There, there's no need to fight. I know I still have a long way to improve..." Rishia starts wheezing for breath again when both Mald and Crepe give her a death glare.
"EVERYBODY CALMS DOWN!" Macaroon hops on her feet and screeches on top of her lung, which is very piercingly loud with the girl's high pitched voice. "Why is everyone so cranky? Is it because you are all hungry? I know a good place is not far, let's go get something to eat! My treat!"
Itsuki doubts the displeasure between Mald and Crepe is caused by hunger, but he feels his stomach rumble as he rubs his belly. Some food does seem like a good idea. Maybe it'll help calm everyone down. "What do you have in mind, Miss Macaroon?"
"It's 'Maroon' to my friends!" The mage girl waves her overly long sleeve at him. "And I'm going to take you all to the best bakery in all of Melromarc... NO! All of Medea!"
"Really, bread." Mald gives one more grunt, but he follows them all the same.
The shop itself doesn't have anything to stand out. A two floors brick building on the corner of the capital's main street, with a ban shaped wooden cut-out outside. But Itsuki can smell the sweet scent of mashed fruit and newly baked wheat before he even steps into the door of the 'best bakery in all of Medea'. His mouth begins to water.
"Welcome to Pierre's Bakery..." The young baker/cashier behind the counter clearly isn't ready when a missile in the shape of a hyperactive little girl tackles into her. But her response afterwards shows familiarity with her assailant. "Maroon?"
"I brought you some new customers, Rye-Rye~!" Despite her long robe, Macaroon shows incredible athletic skill as she jumps over both the counter, and spins around the neck of the girl around her age as she lands behind the counter. "TA-DA! Bow Hero~! That's my twin-sister Rino! And she works here as an apprentice baker."
"What a dump this is." Mald turns his nose as he looks through the bakery. "I at least expected Pantasia when you said the best bakery."
"Have a little courtesy. Wait outside if you don't like it." The Bow Hero doesn't have to turn back to know who is voicing her displeasure.
"Who's going to make me? You?"
"You are at the Bow Hero's party?" Rino doesn't seem to mind the words of the brutish knight. She doesn't seem to have heard him when she crinkles nose at Macaroon, one of her eyebrows becomes crooked. But the young baker girl doesn't say anything beyond it.
"Well, no. Used to be in Spear Hero's party. But we ditched him." The energetic mage picks a wicker basket, and begins to gather an assortment of different breads. She hop her way around the shelves and placed the basket onto the counter. She furiously waves her sleeve at everyone. "What are you all waiting for? Dig in!"
Itsuki looks over at Rino. Once again, the young baker isn't paying any attention to anyone but her twin sister. "You left the Spear Hero's party...?"
"Yeah. I mean, being in his party is kind of nice. The guy just charges ahead and let us sit back. Hmm... So GOOD!" Macaroon picks what looks like a cinnamon ban and takes a big bite. More than half of the bread disappears, and her cheeks are stuffed like a squirrel.
Itsuki looks at Rino again, she still isn't objecting to Macaroon's action so the young boy assumes she doesn't object to her sister's invitation. He takes a bread and slowly brings it up to his mouth, the others in their group follow his example.
"Someone paid me a bag full of gold coins to leave him, so I did." Macaroon gulps down her food, and tosses the rest into her mouth. She manages to slip through some information between her munching.
Itsuki nearly drops his bread onto the floor at this revelation. He assumed Sir Crepe and her friends left Motoyasu because they got tired of his quirks. But it sounds like someone sabotaged his first party? Could this be the same guys behind Naofumi's trial? "Someone paid you to leave Motoyasu's party? Do you remember what they look like?"
"He's in a cloak the whole time, gruff voice, speaks like one of them slum thugs." Macaroon shrugs her shoulders, clearly not interested in remembering important details.
"You left the Spear Hero's party, because someone paid you..." The Bow Hero looks down at Rino's hand, her knuckles are turning white with how hard she is gripping at her own apron.
"YEAH! Haven't dad told you? It's a lot of money! Enough for you to quit Pierre's Bakery and start our own like we always wanted!" Macaroon turns around and wraps her arms around Rino's neck. "Isn't it great?!"
Welst takes a small bite of the bread. The wizard comments at Macaroon's choice of career with his usual soft voice. "Strange choice to apprentice under a wizard, if you wanted to open a bakery."
"Well, shooting fireballs is nice, I guess. It's like in Spear Hero's party. But I've wanted to be a baker since I'm a wee girl. It's actually Rye-Rye who wanted to be an adventurer and travel with the heroes." The mage girl who wanted to be a baker pulls her sister close, to the point their cheeks squish together. "Daddy mixed up our application, and it was a bad year so he can't pay for two adventurer's guild apprenticeships. So here we are, me as a mage and Rye-Rye as a baker. But now we are flush again, we can both bake to our heart's content. Isn't it great, Rye-Rye?!"
"It's not GREAT! Why are you the one who got everything!" With a loud screech, Rino pushes Macaroon onto the floor with a loud thud. The baker girl glares daggers at her stunned sister sprawling on the floor. "I'm stuck here, kneading flour and squashing fruits everyday! While you are living my dream , saving the world with heroes from legend! And you don't even APPRECIATE it! Now, now you get to live your dream, and I'm stuck in yours!"
"Rye-Rye, I..." Macaroon slowly crawls back up. She slowly walks towards her sobbing sister and gently wraps her arms around Rino's trembling shoulders. "I'm so sorry, Rye-Rye. I didn't mean to act ungrateful. I only pushed myself through my apprentice training because I have your freshly baked bread to look forward to. I didn't know you hated baking so much."
"It's... it's alright, Maroon. I don't hate baking. I - I just wanted to do something exciting in my life. Travel and see the wonders of the world together with some famous adventurer or a hero, help save it." Rino hugs her sister back between tears. "I'm happy at least one of us gets to live our dream."
"Those are really good." Itsuki finally takes a bite of the bread in his hand, feeling the scent of grain and fruit dancing in his mouth. He briefly considers offering a spot in his party for Rino, but it probably won't go well for the baker judging by how badly Rishia is being treated. "You don't have to fight to help us, you know?"
"Wha, what do you mean?" Rino wipes away at the corner of her eyes and blinks at him, she adds as an afterthought. "Lord Bow Hero."
"Rishia has been in my party since before the last wave. She can't swing a sword, shoot a bow, or use magic before." The Stormwind noble looks down at the floor again in shame. "But she helps catalogue our inventory, even making some basic salves, bandages and potions when we camp. I'd be pretty lost without her help."
"Re, really? I'm actually helping you out without helping you fight, Master Itsuki?" Rishia's face slowly glows red as her breath becomes hitched again.
"Of course." Itsuki nods his head and turns back to look at the Rathos sisters. "You can help us by making great food to motivate us to fight harder. Just like your sister."
"I... I can still help you, Lord Bow Hero? By baking pastries?" The other girl starts to sound like Rishia between tears and hard breathes.
"Of course. Look at these figurines if you have any doubt, I curved them out myself, and they are meant to be us heroes." Itsuki brings out the four small wooden figures from his bow and places them into Rino's hands. He holds the girl's hand for a few extra seconds longer, feeling unusually warm. "Hmm... you have very warm hands."
"Is, is it something wrong?" Rino abruptly stops looking and turning the wooden figures in her hands and looks up.
"No, nothing. It's just something from my world... you have the 'solar hands'. They are hands meant for the greatest bakers."
"Solar hands meant for the greatest bakers... nobody thought I was special before." Rino places the wooden figures on the counter and stares at her own hands this time. After a short while, the girl looks back up and nods her head. "I will become Melromarc's greatest baker for you... all you heroes, Lord Bow Hero."
"Ow... you are already the greatest baker, Rye-Rye." Macaroon gives another tight squeeze to her sister.
The Bow Hero would have appreciated the moment he made someone else feeling better a bit longer, but a loud slap makes him turn on his heel back. He sees a bread squashed under Mald's steel boots as the brute screams murder at Rishia. "How many times do I have to remind you, stupid girl?! You can't fight, but Master Itsuki is gracious enough to let you stay in his party. That means you are our servant. You eat, after everybody else is finished!"
"I'm, I'm sorry..." The Stormwind girl's head is turned the other way, her squeaky voice sounds close to drawing tears.
Social standard or not, this is getting too far. Especially with Rishia actually learning how to cast spells. Itsuki is about to step in and scold Mald, when someone moves before him and shoves Mald nearly off his feet. "Shove off, land horker! You call yourself a knight of glorious Melromarc?! Where are your compassion, and humility?!"
"You clearly aren't ready to be knighted, recruit." The brutish knight's face is turning purple from anger once again, he spat at Sir Crepe while pointing his finger at Rishia. "Code of honor is supposed to be upheld at my equal or better. A useless servant like her needs to learn how to respect and obey her better."
"NO! Our code existed for a reason! They are meant to be followed regardless of who we are dealing with, so we respect and protect the weak!" Sir Crepe stands on her toe as she glares right back at the brute in knight's armor.
Mald stands back and crosses his arms, sneering back down at the younger knight. "You honestly believe that? No wonder you are a hedge knight."
"Hedge knight!" Sir Crepe recoils back at the accusation, but anger slowly takes over shock on her face. "I'm knighted by her majesty Queen Mirellia herself with all my fellow trainees! You dare to disrespect her grace, and accuse me of being a hedge knight?!"
"Are you from a knightly house? A noble house? I thought so." The brutish knight scoffs back at the young woman. "That means you aren't raised in our culture. You may wear the armor with House Melromarc's emblem all you want, you are no different than some peasant hedge knight throw on a beaten up plate they scavenged off some dead body."
"How dare you... HOW DARE YOU BESMIRCH THE NAME OF MY QUEEN, AND MY FAMILY!" Sir Crepe's face is slowly turning a darker shade than her light blue hair. She takes something from inside of her cloth, and throws it into the face of Mald, making him stumble back again in surprise. "Look at these signet, and call me a hedge knight to my face again, you rube!"
Itsuki bends down and picks up the two rings when they stop rolling on the floor. One has a topaz, with a curved bow and arrow underneath. The other has two coiled canes in the shape of a question mark crossed over to form a rough X. "Pretty rings."
"You, your highness!" Lesty looks at the rings in his hand, she immediately falls onto one knee together with Welst and Rishia. Mald's cheek shakes, and he follows after her example.
"What's this about?" Itsuki looks around at his party members now on their knees.
"Master Bow Hero, the rings you are currently holding are the signet ring of House De Gallia, and the descent ring of the First Bow Hero." Lesty carefully looks up from her bowing at the blue haired knight. "Having both means... The holder is the first in-line to inherit the crown of the Princely House De Gallia. I'm so sorry for not showing you the respect you deserve, Princess Josephine."
"P, princess?" Itsuki quickly looks between the faces of his companions. Out of all the people, he certainly didn't expect to be this close to a princess. "Should I start to call you 'your highness' like everyone else? Sir Cre... Princess Josephine?"
"No, please don't. Master Bow Hero." Sir Crepe... Princess Josephine's face glows red as she takes her rings back from Itsuki's hand and returns them underneath her armor. "As Lady Lesty stated, I was born Josephine Crepe Brittany De Gallia, second to my name. But I don't want to be treated like some dainty princess like my sisters Isabella and Alicia. I wanted to be like cousin Tabitha, fostered by another house and became a knight-captain by her own valor and merit. That's why I hid my identity and came to the capital to train as a knight under my queen. Please, treat me as before."
Itsuki notices how Sir Crepe's eyes seem to twinkle when mentioning her cousin. It's clear that this Knight-Captain Tabitha is Sir Crepe's idol much like Shining Man to him. "Very well, Sir Crepe. I will rely on your sense of justice to keep myself on the right path."
The short interaction clearly shows Sir Crepe has a stronger moral code than Mald. He should probably depend on someone like her more, if he wants to live up to Shining Man's teaching.
"I shall not fail you, Master Bow Hero! Together, we'll right the wrongs brought by both the wave, and wicked men!" The disguised princess clicks her heels and slams a fist on her left chest, looking completely pumped at the acknowledgement from Itsuki.
They are halfway through the busy main street leaving the capital when he sees one of his fellow heroes walking with his party. That's not unusual, but the mini dragon on Ren's shoulder is. "I thought you got a dragon slaying quest, Ren. Where did you got your new pet."
The little black dragon on Ren's shoulder blows out a cloud of ember from its snot. Does it understand him? And is it angry?
"He's no pet." Ren looks over at his shoulder. "He's a Dragon Emperor... OW! Dragon Emperor's messenger."
"Okay..." Something doesn't look right here. Out of his fellow heroes, Ren is the one he knows best despite the other teen's standoffish nature and competitive nature. Taking a bite on the cheek without complaining doesn't seem like something the other teen would do. "What's really going on here?"
Ren looks around at the people before nodding his head to a dark alley on the side. He follows his fellow hero ducking into the dark gap between buildings before the Sword Hero starts his explanation. Ren rests a finger on the head of the mini dragon on his shoulder. "Long story short, something messes up with the guild's quest. This is the dragon I was sent to kill, and he's actually some ancient dragon god thing. He's going around looking for his kidnapped daughter, and we think she got taken by slavers. I'm going to hand in the quest now, and help rescue his daughter."
"He's pretty puny for a dragon god." Mald snorts out behind him.
The tiny dragon flies off Ren's shoulder and hovers in front of the brutish night. He spats out a maw full of lightning, sending the large knight shivering and crashing against the wall, tripping over both Lesty and Welst in a tangled heap. "My full size is bigger than whatever estate you own, tiny."
"Don't make a scene, Gaelion." Ren reaches out and wraps his fingers around Gaelion's body like he's holding a bird. "We have to be discrete to rescue your daughter."
"You are Lord Gaelion? One of the patrons of the holy crusaders?" Sir Crepe blurts out, she would have probably kneeled to the tiny dragon if the alley wasn't overcrowded with everyone.
"Don't give my name out to every mortal! This is what happens!" Gaelion turns its neck around to send beady glares and hiss at Ren again.
"What do you want to be called then?"
"I don't know! Come up with something yourself, aren't you world travelers supposed to be creative?"
"Wait, let's go back to earlier, you said his daughter is taken by slavers?" Itsuki thinks back to Ren's earlier explanation. Saving a girl from slaver should be the right thing to do, shouldn't it? In any case, he wouldn't feel any regret if slavers are the only one he's going to hurt. "I want to help."
Ren opens his mouth to accept or refuse, but the knight from his party beats him to it. "We should accept Lord Bow Hero's help with grace, my lord. They can help getting the criminal records from the guardhouse while we go turn in our quest. And we can use more fighters when we deal with the slavers."
"Very well." Ren nods his head, the other teen turns to look at Itsuki again. "Naofumi told me the corrupted guardsman kept fake criminal records on all the slaves in the black market. That's how they avoid getting in trouble if there's a guard raid in the slum. The name you are looking for is 'Wyndia', and she is a dog demi-human girl around the age of the child following Naofumi."
"Get criminal records, name is Wyndia, young and a dog demi-human, maybe bust some heads of corrupted guards. Got it." He nods his head at Ren. "We'll meet you in the Adventurer's Guild Hall."
The Incubation of Heroes - Sword
The Adventurer's Guild is still filled with people. Noise, too much noise. He doesn't like it. But he suppose he'll have to face the music eventually.
He scans around the head while Sir Beckter waits in line for him, that's when he notices a familiar head of red among a group sitting amongst a bunch of people around a booth in the corner. "Mein?"
"Yes?" The girl looks up at Ren, making the young man realize his mistake. While she bears some resemblance to Naofumi's first companion with the same colored hair and eyes, they are clearly not the same person. For one thing, her skin is clearly more blemished, with a darker shade of tan and some freckles on her cheeks compared to Mein's silky smooth face.
"Sorry, I thought you were someone else." Ren quickly turns around, hoping the girl won't keep pestering him with questions. He's not very good at keeping up with other people.
"Well, what a coincidence! I'm also Myne!" The girl stands up from her bench and walks over to Ren. "Myne of Samphor, amateur adventurer at your service!"
No, it can't be... isn't that the same town Mein came from? What are the chances that two girls in the same town, around the same age, and even look kind of alike have the same name? Unless it's a popular name in this country?
"Is there another Mein, or another Samphor here...? Because the only 'Mein of Samphor' I know is with the Shield Hero, and you aren't her." Ren looks back at the red head, seeing realization slowly dawning on her face.
"Hey, you heard that, Irving? Fearless leader?" Myne turns her head back at shouts at a dark and brooding man sitting in the very back of their booth. He wears a full set of thick leather armor, except a metal helmet completely covers his head. "One month touring with you, and I'm famous enough to be an imposter!"
"My name is... Beast Slayer." Dark and brooding hoarse out a throaty reply. Ren's ear and throat both hurt from listening to him speak.
"They probably came up with the fake name like how your mother named you: from that trashy romance novel series." A woman around Myne's age pushes her glasses up her nose. From her pointy, big brimmed hat and long cloak, she is probably a mage. "As for Samphor... it's one of the well-known, less-connected towns in Melromarc. It's just probability, not related to impersonating you at all."
"Damn it! Why did you go and bruise my ego Farris..." The argument between two young women quickly devolves into a fierce tickle war.
Ren, no longer focused on the real 'Mein of Samphor', hears Sir Beckter call him forward, so he walks forward to the counter. The counter is still being manned by the same girl with long, almost messy brown hair and large brown eyes behind a pair of copper rimmed glasses. "The mission to eradicate the dragon terrorizing the city of Trumpet was a failure. The dragon turns out to be a Dragon Emperor."
"Oh... oh dear me." The smile plastered over the receptionist slowly grows more and more strained. Until she finally breaks any pretense of being polite. She starts to pull papers all around the shelves near the counter with the ferociousness of a human shaped tempest, while scribing notes down with their weird computer symbol looking language. "How? How did the quest posting get messed up this badly? A Dragon Emperor is almost always accompanied by a full flight of dragons and drakes. Smaller kingdoms have been completely burned to the ground when they pick a fight with them!"
Ren turns his head to look at Gaelion resting on his shoulder, wondering where the dragon dad's flight is. Gaelion simply snorts out a small ember out of his snot, the equivalent of 'we'll talk about this later'. The Sword Hero coughs to bring the receptionist's attention back. "The misunderstanding has been cleared with the Dragon Emperor. He was looking for his lost daughter, and no longer bothering the people of Trumpet and Whiterun County. But the quest is specific on the 'slaying' part, so... mission failure."
"Oh... oh I see. Good thinking on your part, Sword Hero. As expected from a legendary hero."
Ren's face heats up at remembering he was very adamant about the slaying part. It's all thanks to Naofumi's intervention that something bad didn't happen. Gaelion's sniggering on his shoulder doesn't help either. "Actually, it was the Shield Hero's suggestion to not provoke the dragon."
"A pygmy dragon! You only see them in an emperor's flight. Are they a gift, or are they acting as the emperor's messenger?" The receptionist on the other hand is more interested in the miniature dragon on Ren's shoulder. She becks her hand at Gaelion, and the miniaturized Dragon Emperor flies over to land on the counter.
"Yes, and yes." Ren nods his head while the young woman gently rubs her finger through mini Gaelion's head and chin. "His name is Gondra."
Mini Gaelion turns around and glares at Ren with annoyance, he blows a slightly bigger cloud of ember and sings the boy's armor.
"Do that again, I'll rename you to Dergon." Ren glares at the incognito Dragon Emperor. Well, Gaelion was the one who didn't want to reveal his true identity. It's his fault to let Ren pick his fake name in the first place.
"Well... I'm afraid I do have to flag this quest as a failure, Lord Sword Hero." The guild receptionist takes a red stamp and presses some red symbol onto Ren's quest paper. "But considering the outrageous mess up in the quest itself, it won't go into your record. We just can't reward you for quest completion either."
"That is acceptable..." While Ren is nodding, Gaelion suddenly flops onto the counter motionless like a dead rat. The young man blinks a couple times at the dragon, even poking him once. "What the..."
"Oopsie? I touched his reverse scale by accident." The girl slaps her own head at the apparent blunder. "I touched Gondra's reverse scale on his chin. It'll either make him very angry... or make him fall over. Don't worry, he'll be right as rain after a short rest. Will you be interested in picking up a new quest today, Lord Sword Hero?"
"I see." Ren nods and then shakes his head. "That won't be necessary. I have something else to do for now."
"Very well, may our Chief God watch over you. His Wrath indomitable like a mountain, His Mercy boundless like the ocean." With a short prayer, the receptionist ushers him away. Ren picks up Gaelion and turns around together with Sir Beckter. They let the next adventurer in line walk up to the counter. The man wears a full set of armor similar to some Viking armor he once saw on TV, and the only feature Ren can make out is the thick bush-like beard.
"What should we do now, with him out cold?" Ren holds his hand up to his party to show the unconscious Gaelion to the others in his party. "He's supposed to help us find Wyndia."
When it comes down to the 'go to point X, kill thing Y, retrieve item Z' quest, his usual method is to run straight to the quest marker and simply slaughter everything by himself. It doesn't take Naofumi to figure out it won't end well when 'item Z' is a person he needs to keep alive.
"Well... we are waiting for the Bow Hero to get a criminal record from the guardhouse anyway. So let's wait till he wakes up." Sir Beckter simply shrugs his shoulders. "More bodies help us ensure the safety of captives."
"Alright." He doesn't like waiting around doing nothing, but it does sound like the best option for now.
"Ho, don't be all hissy with me, Micah Forest. Just tell me where to find one of these hero boys, and I'll be out of yer face." Behind him, the sound from the counter grows progressively louder despite the cacophony of noise inside the guild.
"My name ISN'T Micah FOREST, and you know it! BENHART STORMCLOAK!" The Guild suddenly grows quiet enough to hear a pin drop after the receptionist's outburst.
And then, a different sort of noise briefly fills the guild's hall. Sounds of knocked over furniture accompany weapons being pulled, bow strings pulled, and chanting, whooshing noise of spells forming. Everyone, including his own companions, all have their weapons of choice out, and they are all trained at the man in Viking armor standing in front of the counter.
That's also the moment Ren notices the gigantic sword on the possible Viking's back that gives Guts a run for his money. But unlike the Dragon Slayer, the blade of the sword is made with some kind of greenish blue, semi-transparent material. "What's going on here?"
"He's a Stormcloak." Sir Beckter spits out the name like a poison. "Those pillaging, raping cunts killed more Melromarc men, and ruined more Melromarc women during occupation than other beast clans combined."
"Thanks for yer introduction, Micah." The Viking slowly lifts his helmet, to reveal a pair of fluffy, round bear ears on his head. He holds his helmet besides his waist and points at his animal ears. "My name is Benhart of Jugo. The only Stormcloak thing about me is this pair of ears I got from me rapist cunt of a sirer. I don't get any saying for that now, do I?"
"All of you beasts are the same, should never crawled out of your filthy caves." The self appointed 'beast slayer' walks through the crowd, a sword in one hand and buckler in the other. The man is clearly ready to live up to his title and spill blood.
"Look, he only wanted to meet a hero. Let him get his wish." Ren holds his hands up and steps forward. It's clear this Benhart won't get a chance to walk out of the hall alive. But he can probably put a lot of people down, assuming his big sword isn't for show. "I'm the Sword Hero."
"A little young, huh?" Benhart cocks his head to the side for a moment, he puts his helmet back on after. A big grin splits his face. "Fancy a sparring match, boy? Always wanted to test me mettle against other heroes after Lord Dio knocked me on me arse the first time."
"Don't take the bait, Sir Ren. You can never trust a Stormcloak." Beckter grips down on his shoulder like a vice claw. "He could be trying to kill you."
He considers Sir Beckter's words. He did make the mind to work better with his party members. But the urge to prove himself against someone still burns deeply inside of him. "I'll test him out. If we start an all out brawl here, his giant sword will kill a lot of people."
That's the excuse he is giving to his companions anyway.
Sir Beckter looks back at the sword on Benhart's back, and back at the adventurers surrounding him. Now the shock has gone, a number of the adventurers are nervously looking around at each other. The knight gives a nod and relaxes his hand. "We'll jump in if you are in danger."
"Lead the way, Micah." Benhart turns around and whistles at the receptionist.
For a moment, the 'beast slayer' looks like he's about to jump the bear-man while his back is turned. He is stopped by Myne when the girl grips his wrist. "Come on, don't you want to see the Sword Hero fight?"
"Waste of time. The only good beast is..."
"Ones don't leave their stinking cave, yada yada yada... we heard that a hundred times already." The redhead pushes her possibly insane party member away.
Ren follows Micah and Benhart out to the clearing behind the guild hall. He hears the receptionist quietly apologizing to the bear-man. "Sorry, Benhart. I shouldn't have revealed your real identity like that."
"We're cool." The Viking shrugs his shoulder, clearly not taking the slight to heart. "Shouldn't have joked about yer name first. Knew how much ya hate it."
Interesting... despite the fuss inside the guildhall, it seems like these two knew each other rather well. Benhart settles into the far end of the clearing, while he steps a few paces in front of the gathered crowd. He can hear the adventurers cheering behind him. "Show him your power, Sword Hero!"
"Send that beast packing!"
Benhart unfastens his sword from his back and holds it in both hands. The bear Viking doesn't make any move to advance, so he assumes his opponent is letting him pick the opening strike. Benhart's weapon is a heavy two-handed great sword, a fast weapon will probably be the best choice assuming he fights like Guts.
With his mind set, Ren changes his sword into a katana and runs forward. Halfway towards Benhart, he activates his Weapon Art [Rude Sword]. Not the basic version he used against Naofumi where he fires an invisible vacuum blade at his opponent. The fully mastered version squeezes his body through, making it look like he instantly teleported behind his target's back.
With one step back to turn his body, Benhart swings his greatsword back. His movement isn't blindly fast, but slow and deliberate. Yet if Ren continues his assault, he would send his body colliding straight at Benhart's sword.
"What?!" Ren desperately cancels his Weapon Art midway, his body tumbles in mid-air onto the ground. Benhart takes another step forward, his sword continues carrying forward almost like it's attracted to its target like a magnet with opposite pole. The Sword Hero is forced to roll on the ground back, trying to put distance between him and the advancing Viking.
"[Meteor Sword]." Ren fires off his strongest Weapon Art. He is desperate to stop, or at least slow down the juggernaut. He's not sure this skill alone is enough to bring Benhart down, but before he has a chance to activate his second Weapon Art combo, the Viking has already charged right through the blast radius of [Meteor Sword].
The bear-man barrels right at Ren, and shoves him flying back with a shoulder charge. His unwanted flight is only stopped when his back collides with a tree and slumps down on the ground.
It's like fighting against Naofumi... if he had an equal ATK to compliment his DEF.
The young man struggles to get back to his feet, but he notices Benhart standing on the same spot where the Viking sent him flying with an arm raised into the air. "We'll call this a draw."
He... doesn't understand. Benhart was clearly winning their match, but the bear-man just threw away his win like that? Even his party members, who all have their weapons and spells out and halfway across the clearing are rooted on their spot, unsure what happened.
The Sword Hero half sits, half lies on the ground till Benhart slowly walks over and offers a hand. "I don't need pity."
"It's not pity, boy. It's my personal rule when it comes to dueling." The Viking helps Ren up on his feet. "I never duel with someone when I have a clear advantage, because it's not a challenge if I body them with higher stats. What level are you, hero boy?"
"Oi, and I'm level 62, almost twice your level." Benhart pats him on the shoulder a couple of times. "You did well for your level, but the duel isn't fair to you. I'll come back and challenge you again when you get to level 60s."
"What if I'm higher level than you next time we meet?"
"Then it be a real challenge for me." Benhart lets out a hearty laugh at Ren's question. He gives the young man another pat, this time on his back. "You don't get stronger by beating down weaker, hero boy. You stay strong when you constantly seek higher mountains to climb over."
"I was worried for you, Sir Ren." Beckter runs over to meet them, the senior knight gives a long and conflicted look at the bear-man. "I was... wrong about you, Stormcloak."
"Not a Stormcloak. I'm Benhart of Jugo." The Viking spats at his last name again as they walk back. "The Wave of Catastrophe better be froze over the day I take my sirer's name."
By now, the gathered adventurers are mostly gone. Interestingly, Myne of Samphor is the few still left as they approach the back wall of adventurer's guild. "Are you going to try your hand now, Irving?"
"I don't duel with beasts, I kill them." The dour man turns around and walks away like the rest.
"Aw, don't be like that. He was being a real sport back there with the Sword Hero. There are good beastman around, you know." Myne quickly catches up to Beast Slayer. "What about commander Torgal 'the four armed panther' of House Claus? He defected to us back in the Great War."
"The only good beast is one who doesn't crawl out of their stinking cave." The Beast Slayer's last words hang in the air as the crowd finally disperse.
Ren looks over at Benhart, who looks surprisingly passive at the hateful words. "Are you okay with that?"
"Being okay is relative, hero boy. Obviously I ain't happy about it." The Viking spits on the ground. "But my sirer and his inbred son... they are the kind of cunts who should never have crawled out of their stinking hole. I long figured I had no right to complain, when I came from fucks like them."
Ren doesn't know what he should say back to Benhart. It's clear the bear-man doesn't have a happy family to return to. But comforting someone has never been his strong point. That's when he notices Itsuki waiting near the wall of the guild with his companions.
The Bow Hero pulls him over away from everyone. He pulls a thick book out of his bow and waves it in Ren's face. "Okay, I got the criminal records from the guards. Mald had to threaten a few... all of them, actually. But we got it done! We tracked Wyndia to some slaver named Eulogy Jones. He ran the biggest underground slave trading ring, or something. But have you seen the red head besides dark and broody... the one that's not you."
"Not funny." Ren shoots a death glare back at his fellow hero. "But Myne of Samphor? Yeah, I talked with her. The one with Naofumi was an imposter, or someone who came up with the fake alias by coincidence. Not important, we already knew Naofumi's trial was rigged. His 'Myne' was probably some noble girl the king assigned to frame him. But the plot didn't go through."
"How can you be so calm right now... there's some kind of a conspiracy against us... maybe all of us, not just Naofumi!" Itsuki furiously runs his hands through his hair. The Bow Hero gives a peek towards his party around the far corner. "Look. I just learned from Motoyasu's ex-party members... some shadowy guy paid to have them ditch him. What does that say about my party? Yours?"
Ren has to blind a couple of times at this new information. He certainly didn't expect Itsuki of all people to dig up this kind of conspiracy. The Sword Hero looks back at his own party, briefly considering if he should simply ditch them for good before deciding against it. "Just calm down. We can't do anything about it, let's take one step at a time and one goal at a time. Rescue Wyndia first, helping an old dragon king should be a good step."
"Right, right. I can't panic now." Itsuki turns around and starts to talk to himself. "Motoyasu's old party should be safe, if someone paid them to go away. Yeah, I can trust them, probably..."
"Let's just go save Wyndia for now." Ren pushes Itsuki toward their gathered companions. "Here's the plan, I'll go into the slave trading ring pretending to buy a slave and find the girl we want to save. All of you wait outside, and jump the slavers when you hear an explosion. Hopefully we'll clean out that den of skin merchants without getting anyone innocent killed. Sounds good?"
"You? Going to buy slaves?" Itsuki is shaken out of his thoughts as he gives Ren a good look up and down. "Are you sure you can bluff your way in? You didn't put many points in your speechcraft."
"Who else are we sending in? YOU?" Ren crosses his arms with annoyance. "Everyone knows you are a justice junkie. There's no way you would go buy a slave."
Itsuki replies to him with a salutation involving one finger, but doesn't otherwise repute his point.
"I want in, if you are going to go kill some slaving scum." Benhart, who is still around their group, speaks out. "The world is better off without fucks who turn humans to cattle."
Ren raises one eyebrow at the bear-man. "What happened to only seeking a challenge against someone stronger?"
"I make an exception to my rule, when it comes to slaving, raping cunts." Benhart's face splits open again with another grin, his teeth looking sharper than the last time. "I'm more than happy to grind those cowardly fucks into the dirt."
The plan was probably going to be well, until their small band was blocked in the middle of a slum alleyway before they even reached their target. There is probably irony in how the hobo looking thugs surrounding them all have animal like ears or horns on their head.
"...as I was saying, I already had a good business with your fellow Shield Hero. So what do you say, heroes? Help out someone less fortunate than you?" Their leader, some dark haired boy a few years older than him with bovine horns, clearly loves to hear himself talk while he plays with the rusty blade in his hand. "You are on your merry way to rescue some slaves just like us, and we are only one step above them. Sure, we don't have a kill-tattoo on our skin, but nobody is feeding us either. What do you say, heroes?"
"I say we kill them all." Mald, the brutish knight in Itsuki's party suggest. "Slum gang is even lower scum than slavers. We'll be doing Melromarc a bigger service getting rid of them."
"No, we aren't fighting squatters. And how can you even compare them with slavers?! Look at them! They are about to keel over!" Itsuki hisses right back at his companion.
"We'd alert the slavers if we start a skirmish in the slum." Ren whispers back to everyone in his group. He doesn't want to start a fight with the demi-human gang, but he doesn't want to let the thugs know his bottom-line. It's probably not smart to hand a leverage to them.
"This whole quest is a waste of time. Who cares about some demi-human dog girl dungeon-bait. She's probably just some petty thief." The knight scoffs at their goal once again.
"Her father is a dragon the size of a small castle. He can vaporize us all with a sneeze." The threat of disintegration finally shuts the knight up.
"You would ruin the chance of being freed for your fellow brothers and sisters? How can you call yourself a son of Malis!" Benhart bellows out his chastise towards the gang of demi-human. The slum dwellers just laugh at him in his face.
"Look at the honorbound warrior, 'son of Malis', HA! As if the fucks from Siltvelt, or Shiltfreeden ever cared about us. We were left with this fucking life, because of all you 'sons of Malis' forced yourselves on our mothers!" The bull boy's laughter slowly becomes a bitter snarl. "You listen to me here, rat fucker! I don't know what it's like in the animal kingdom, but here in the Melromarc slums, it's everyone for themselves. Those fools got caught and turned slaves by the humans because they were too weak! It's their fault for not fighting back, and all of us 'free men' have to eat too!"
Benhart stumbles on his words, but a small shadow flies off Ren's head before the situation can deteriorate any further. Gaelion has finally woken up. The mini Dragon Emperor flies between them and the bull boy and stares at the gang leader in the eyes. "Everyone for themselves is the reason you should help us. It'll help you out more than if we pay some road toll to you."
"What does a dragon know about the world of man?" The bull boy drowns back, completely ignorant at who he is speaking with.
"Plenty." Gaelion's maw split open, as if the dragon is grinning. "First, the ones we are targeting is the biggest slave trading ring here in capital. That means they are your enemy by default, and by helping us taking them apart, you knocks down your biggest competition in the slum."
The demi-human gang leader narrows his eyes, but nods his head. "Continue."
"Second, being slave traders, they probably have underground connections with some corrupted nobles. That means wealth, luxury goods, smuggled contraband, army grade weapons and armor... we don't have to take all of them, can't bag them all anyway. Just enough to help the slaves we are freeing on their feet." mini Gaelion lands on the bull boy's shoulder, whispering in his ear like some proverbial devil. "What do you say we split the loot between us 50/50?"
"No deal, I'm the one who has to stay in this shithole and face the consequence when those nobles come knocking. Two to eight split or nothing." The gang leader immediately spits back at the small dragon.
"You drive a hard bargain, but what's the saying about meeting halfway? How about four to six?" Ren can't help but admire Gaelion's amazing poker face and bluffing, considering the life of his daughter is involved. It seems time certainly gave the dragon a lot of wisdom. "You know you won't ever get this opportunity again. Two heroes, ready to do most of your dirty work for you."
The bull boy narrows his eyes at Gaelion, but he still shakes his head. "Three to seven. That's the baseline smuggling rule now, my final offer."
"Deal." Gaelion flies off the gang leader's shoulder and presses his small paw on the bull boy's finger.
The fight itself was no challenge at all even for Ren himself. All he needed was to give some bullshit excuse about needing someone he can absolutely trust, and the slavers are more than happy to cater to his wishes. Once Eulogy Jones and his bodyguards lead him to find Wyndia, he immediately stabs his sword through the slaver's chest, and blows his bodyguard to bits with a [Meteor Sword]. That also happens to be his signal to the ambush party outside the slaver's base.
The demi-human gangsters are very good at sneaking around the slum. They marked out most of the scattered slave guards for Itsuki. A [Star Shower Arrow] catches them before they realize they are under attack. The mop up operation with the few guards resting inside buildings was easy enough when they have a walking tank like Benhart.
The hard part comes in the aftermath. More specifically, his inability to pry Wyndia off him. "Oh, I knew you'd come and save me! Master Shield Hero! I have wanted to meet you... and marry you since I was a little girl! And now you are here, save me from those filthy slavers."
"Ehh... a little help here?" Itsuki is standing on the other side of the ruined alleyway, vibrating on his boots like a muted phone. Infuriatingly offering absolutely no help at all.
"Wyndia, I helped too." Gaelion floats behind his daughter's buried head, looking like a kicked puppy. "Don't daddy deserve a thank you?"
"Shut up, stupid dad! This was all your fault to begin with!" Without looking back, the Shiba Inu girl swats Gaelion off the air. "None of this would have happened if you took me to see Yukari like I wanted!"
"I hope my mentors are okay. They must be worried sick when I didn't show up for apprenticeship." Yukari lets out a sigh and a shudder as she looks back at the cage she was kept in together with Wyndia and some other children. Sir Crepe from Itsuki's party walks over, kneels down and wraps her arms around the raccoon girl to comfort her.
"ADAM TAURUS! You absolute trash!" One of the other children in question runs over and kicks the bull boy on the shin. "You left me in here after I got caught!"
"Your fault for getting caught in the first place, fresh meat." The now named demi-human gang leader simply smirked down at the younger girl doing and failing an intimidation act. The other girl lets out a screech, and swings her arms forward like a windmill. Adam simply laughs at her and keeps her at arm's length by pushing on her forehead. "You are ten years too early to fight me, squirt."
Gaelion flies back up from the ground. "You have to let go of your savior, baby girl."
"No! No, no, no, no, NO! I finally found the Shield Hero after I got captured, I'm not letting him go till I marry him." Wyndia's reaction is starting to remind Ren of an actual Shiba Inu by this point. He likes those dramatic dogs, to be honest. Sure, they aren't compared to playing Brave Star Online, or his childhood friend Mikoto, but they are funny and kind of fluffy like an oversized rat. Sadly they always bite him when he tries to pet one.
"He's not the Shield Hero! Baby girl! The one who saved you, and you are clinging onto is the Sword Hero!" Finally having enough of his idiotic lovable buffoon dad charade, Gaelion yells at his adopted daughter.
"Oh." Wyndia pushes herself away from his body and looks at him up and down. Seeing the sword hanging by his belt, she lets out a screech that sounds like a cat with her tail stepped on and leaps away. "NO! I was tricked! Now I can't marry the Shield Hero because I'm tainted by his enemy! No, no, no, no, NO!"
Over on the other side, Itsuki finally falls over and bursts out laughing.
"I'm not Shield Hero's enemy, Miss Wyndia." Ren returns the one finger salutation to Itsuki, he walks over to the small her and runs his finger through her hair. Gaelion lands on Wyndia's head, and snaps his jaw at Ren again, forcing him to retreat. "He's a great guy, I'm sure he won't mind a little hug you shared with me."
"Really?" The girl's eyes seem to twinkle at the mention of her favorite hero. "Is he great, or what?"
"Yeah, the greatest among us. I'm sure you'll love him. Just like Raphtalia." Ren ignores the happy scream of Wyndia and walks over to Benhart.
"Did you say Raphtalia?" The black haired demi-human girl whips her head around. She falls and rolls on the ground when Adam used this chance to give her a sudden push. The girl doesn't even complain as she simply jumps up and runs over. "I been trying to find her for a month! Thought she must been taken by the largest slaving ring!"
"Oh, so that's why you volunteered snooping for me." The bull boy smirks at the girl. "You had more bark than your bite, squirt."
"I HAVE A NAME, ADAM TAURUS! IT'S KEEL!" The unnamed girl snarls at gang leader before turning her head back to Ren again. "You have to take me to Raphtalia! I'm not going to let some slaver fucker abuse her!"
"Naofumi didn't abuse her, she was freed by him and he take care of her like a daughter." Ren rubs his temple as he feels a headache slowly working its way into his head. Dealing with loud kids is more bothersome than dealing with a murder, especially now when he can run a sword through said murderer.
Keel stomps her way over till their body almost touch each other. She rests her hands on her waist and glares up at Ren. "I'll be the judge of that!"
"Will you also take me to my mentors? They live in a tower in the forest south of the town of Trumpet." Yukari also looks up at him with expectant eyes. "Please? Sir Sword Hero?"
"Better be careful, Ren. You are having more kids than Naofumi now." Itsuki finally drags himself up from the ground and smirks at him with the same smugness as Adam.
"Okay." Ren throws another glare at the self-proclaimed ally of justice. His eyes go through the three girls, and then rest onto the few dozen beastman and demi-human slaves. "What'll we do with all the slaves? They can't stay in this country. They still have seals on their bodies."
"I'll take them to a port and rent a passage to Solitude or Dawnstar, and we'll travel by land to Winterfell. It won't be an easy life, and it's much colder in the north, but they'll make a living under Ned. There's enough free land to build new farms, or plantations, and Ned's responsible. More responsible than I'll ever be. He'll treat them fairly, no matter who they are born from." Benhart's eyes seem to glaze over, clearly having found memory of this Ned person he is talking about. "They can get their seals erased at Winterfell too. I know Ned's been stocking on holy water to help freed slaves."
"But it's a long way to Siltvelt, even if you go by sea. And how will you even reach a port, and rent a ship that'll ferry this many demi-human?" Sir Crepe looks up from the girl she is holding and sets her eyes at the slaves. "Especially when you have a hundred slaves still having their seals on."
"...I'll find a way." The way Benhart says it tells Ren that no, the older adventurer definitely does not have a plan.
"Father, can you fly them to Siltvelt, please? Pretty please?" Wyndia stops her daydreaming about meeting the Shield Hero picks Gaelion off her head and starts to shake the mini Dragon Emperor, his eyes start to go swirly. "I don't want these people to suffer more."
"What about... you, baby girl?" Gaelion shakes the metaphorical cobwebs out of his head. "You got captured because I wasn't there looking after you."
"I'll be okay, the Sword Hero is here to protect me, and I'm on my way to meet the Shield Hero!"
"Alright, baby girl." The miniaturized Dragon Emperor gives an unsure stare to Ren and bars his teeth. "You make sure you take good care of my baby girl, boy!"
Later that day, the citizens of Melromarc Castle all saw a black dragon the size of a small castle fly over their head.
So... the real 'Myne' of Samphor is revealed in this chapter, and now both Ren and Itsuki know Malty is an (completely unintentional) imposter.
Sir Crepe is also revealed to be a princess in disguise, although from a different noble family. She was first inspired by Elusith's take on Elena, who I thought fit more as an idealistic knight than an opportunistic merchant's daughter. Which is why I named my OC after a french pastry just like Eclair. Of course, the idea of her actually being a wide eyed optimistic princess hiding her identity to train as a knight and being the daughter of Joseph came much later, when I decided to add the lore of Familiar of Zero to this story.
And DJman248 guessed correctly. The whole part about rescuing Gaelion's daughter is setting up for Wyndia joining Ren's party.
We'll be back next chapter, where we'll fast forward to Seatto castle and start the arc to retrieve Eclair's artifact.
Guest review time.
Interlude 10 feel shorter probably it's basically two completely independant scenes get chopped and sewn into one chapter. It's actually one of my longest chapter in word count. Hope this one feels less choppy since at least the scenario carried over... probably didn't work. But originally they were supposed to be released together... which would have pushed out a 20k word chapter... I was insane to think it would have worked.
Count Ascart isn't being 'okay' being taken advantage of, which is why he told Naofumi he has no interest return to national politics and just want to rule his own land and raise his family. He's just aware under the circumstance, the queen did the best she could for him, and it worked out in the end. A bruised pride is much better than a lot of alternatives... like Eclair's father.
As I was saying, making a real Myne of Samphor was more of a joke than anything else. But yeah, she's probably going to eventually ascend from her stage extra status like Sir Crepe, Gaston, and (coming right up in the follow up arc) Jaune.
Melty will definitely get manipulated by Iris to further House Amelia's standing. Iris won't exploit someone dry and then throw them aside like canon Malty, but she is still ruthless Player when it comes to gathering more power for her own family. And Melty's birth status, and naive nature is just too good an opportunity for Iris to pass.
Okay... my personal opinion towards AoT is more complicated than straight praise. It's definitely over praised by its fanbase (as everything that ever existed), but even among the more niche fandom, I'd say it's still not even the most top tier overpraised. I'd personally rank both Code Geass (Which was NEVER good to begin with), and Puella Magi Madoka Magica (had a lot of potential, sadly Urobuchi didn't do anything interesting with the premise other than being his usual edge lord self about it) WAY over AoT. And comparing it to mega fandom like Naruto, Harry Potter or Star Wars is just flat out unfair.
But saying I only saw the depth I want to see is pretty accurate, since I'm not sure the depth I saw in AoT was intended by the author of if achieved by complete accident. I know this way too well from RotSH, where I think WN Naofumi had a great character arc... as the story's villain.
Honestly, his personal arc fits more to a villain's journey than a hero's journey, where he start out as a wide eyed optimist, gets broken by a cruel world and went the other extreme. And he slowly went down the rabbit hole of becoming the villain thanks to the general incompetence of the heroes, and the constant emotional validation of his cheerleaders and manipulation of Queen Safespace making him think he can do no wrong. The end (spoilers) where he ascended to godhood isn't a triumphant ending, but him becoming taking over the role of the evil god after the Goddess.
But it's clear Alenko didn't meant for this narrative, considering their war path to white wash Rising Naofumi afterwards to make him morally justified.
Saying Isayama did AoT for his own ego is also a pretty accurate, but that can be said for all the creators. My story came out the way it currently is, because I'm too prideful to do it differently even when it made my story worse (as already pointed out by a great critical guest review in one of the previous chapters). But in the end, I'd much rather have an egotistic writer who does something different... and at least conceptually interesting like Iseyama, than an egotistic sell out had their head buried in their own butthole like JK Trolling.
And just to clarify, me saying AoT is the spiritual successor of earlier Gundam entry isn't me saying it's on par with quality. AoT's actual execution on the plot can be The Last Jedi level bad (and come from someone who gets routinely critiqued for bad plot execution, that's something). My personal pick for stand out being the Survey Corp coup arc... which was written so badly it made me stopped reading over every chapter and just come back a few month to see where the plot is going.
But yeah, I'd suggest you making an account and PM me, if you want my more extensive opinion on AoT. My overall opinion is: could have gone better, The Last Jedi level bad execution at times, but I'm glad it exist.
The one thing I actually agreed with canon RotSH is it's portrayal of being morally good shouldn't be easy. What I am very much in disagreement with Alenko (aside from them pampering their imaginary dream pet husbando) is being good is hard shouldn't be explicit excuse for 'being virtuous is hard, so being heinous... I'm sorry, being 'practical' is the only right way'.
This theme was actually explored way earlier than modern pop culture in 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms', where Cao Cao was the equivalent of a modern 'practical' hero (which is why he's gaining massive popularity now despite he's supposed to be the villain of the story), while Liu Bei was the traditional virtuous hero. Cao Cao being practical and resorted to morally questionable method to build his power base worked out for him and his family in the short term, but he ended up mostly attracting talented, but opportunistic schemers into his ranks and his family's reign was eventually stolen right under him. Which is something the so called 'practical' main characters in Japanese Isekai novel completely ignored, and just have the 'practical main character' attract all the deathly loyal followers despite their actions should naturally inspire backstabbing actions.
Yeah, as I said. A real Myne existed in my story more as a joke than anything more serious.
If Lev existed in this story's world, Towair would have made sure he dies in The Great War, so he can work Abby into his asset himself like he did with Yuri in S̶h̶i̶l̶l̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶A̶u̶t̶h̶o̶r̶'̶s̶ ̶P̶e̶t̶ Achievement of the Duke's Daughter. His shtick is he fan the malice of someone from his rival country, and turn them into someone who will cause internal problems for his rival country.
Hope you didn't got too disappointed when I incorrectly implied this chapter will be a huge plot driven chapter about rescuing Wyndia...
Much like the interlude of Shield and Spear, this is more meant as a character chapter. Originally I had a bit more scene about the two heroes actually involved with the plot of rescuing Wyndia (Itsuki going to the guard house to get the criminal record, and them actually fighting through the slavers), but they both end up on the cutting room floor because there's just not a lot going on in them, and I already went over 10k words.