Biggest thanks for Ace-Triad helping me with SPAG edit. Also thanks to Angel Wraith for reading my rough draft and provide important feedbacks.
Brother Richard was created in memory of SmutWithPlot (who I sadly can't capture the dry wit right... because I'm obviously not him), one of the more risk taking writer in the fandom who has now left us. While we don't openly acknowledge each other in our works, we do have some contact in privacy where we bounced ideas with each other. He was even gracious enough to offer the supporting characters he had in Villainess Quit for me to use to round up Malty's support characters in the future.
Best luck to you man, hope your life is now more fulfilled with you doing what you genuinely want and cared for.
More author note at the end for people who are interested to see me blabber some more.
Jaune stares down at the dirt road with a forlorn expression. After a while, he finally lets out a sigh. "There goes half our remaining men."
"Good riddance." The knight with the halberd shrugs his shoulders. Considering his initial skepticism, Mein almost expected this one to also follow Consevatie away too. "You can't depend on cowards like them, they'll run at the first opportunity even if they stick around now. Better we never had them to begin with, then thinking someone were watching our backs when they already ran."
"That's not a nice thing to say, Brother Richard." Jaune turns around to give the halberd man a light reprimand. "They may have left us, but they are still our sisters and brothers."
"I like to think I'm being honest." Richard returns Jaune's remark with another nonchalant shrug.
"That's enough, you two." Martin, the only expedition member left in full priestly robes, stands up and walks between two young men. "You are in command without question now, Brother Jaune. What should we do? Keep watching the road hoping Brother Siegmar brings the reinforcement, or we go in now with the Shield Hero?"
"We can't afford to sit back. If Shield Hero spoke the truth, the local churches and lords around won't have enough men to assist us in short notice. Bringing someone from other provinces takes too long." Jaune looks over at Naofumi. "If Sir Shield Hero would still have us, of course."
"Your help is more than welcome." Naofumi didn't even take a second to consider his answer. He's a bit too quick to trust in a faction that sees him the devil figure simply for his legendary weapon, but in the short time of their acutance, Jaune didn't give any reason to doubt his sincerity except the most paranoid bunch. "We need to know what we are facing, prepare and plan if we want to win."
Chapter 57: Army of Faith
The patch of grass and dirt where Jaune had his bout with Consevatie is turned into an impromptu sandbox. Lines in the dirt, broken twigs, and stones are used by Jaune's team to roughly construct the layout of the battlefield.
Both groups sit close together, an invisible line still divided between the party of the Shield Hero, and the remnant of Three Heroes expedition. The raptors of the templar and Firo start to growl at each other, looking like they'll break into another fight. Luckily, Gaston managed to calm them down with a few quick whistles.
"You are an animal whisperer, good sir?" Jaune looks over at Gaston. The big hunter is now gently stroking the chin of a church raptor, who purrs like a baby bird in his hand.
"Nothing of this fancy 'sir' business with me, knight boy. Just a farm boy in the boonies." Gaston smirks back at the young knight. "Spent a few years in the royal ranger corps, and a hunter the rest of my life. I know enough about animals. But you are wasting time wondering about my past, better start planning."
"Right. We cleared most of the undead outside the wall. There will be skeletons and dried up husk pouring out of the main gate, but they are only around level 20. Easy enough to dispatch with Miracles, blessed or blunt weapons." Jaune slowly looks over at Naofumi's party before nodding to his companions.
Nikos, Martin and Richard pulls out the short sword on their waist and pools them into the priest's hands. The older man present them over to the Shield Hero's party. "These blessed steel will cut through the unholy flesh and bones, and make sure they can't be raised again."
Éclair and Kyubey go ahead, taking each sword for themselves. The eyes of Raphtalia darts between Mein and the last blessed short sword. The princess runs her hand through the raccoon girl's hair to encourage her. "Take the last one, Raphtalia. I have my fire magic. It's not Miracle, but they are good against undead."
"Okay!" Raphtalia pauses for a moment before giving a furious nod. She eagerly takes the last sword from Martin's hand.
The princess turns around to look at Jaune. It might be her imagination, but the Arc boy's sight seems fixed on her before he continues. "The biggest threat comes from the three boss undead."
The boy picks up a small pebble and places it down on the 'road' towards the castle gate. "The one with the highest level is 'The Penetrator', a level 80 undead knight. He wears a suit of armor protecting his undead body against blessed steel, and wields a sharp, thin blade the length of a tourney sword with deadly skill."
"That's even a level higher than Farkas is now." Naofumi turns around to look at the heavy hitter of their party. "Can you take him?"
The werewolf looks down at his useless arms hanging by his sides. "Maybe, if I have my arms."
Naofumi chose not to comment on the wolf man's reply. "So I guess he's the worst news?"
"If only. The Penetrator is very strong and kills someone off guard in a blink. But he can only hit a few people together if they bunch up. The next two are a threat to bigger groups." Jaune shakes his head as he places a flat pebble behind the Penetrator, almost at the two big rocks making up the gate of the castle. "Next is 'The Phalanx', she is an undead boss monster at level 70. She looks like a giant turtle with its head, tail and limbs retracted, protected by all sides through a tortoise formation of shields. And she constantly fires volleys of javelin with the strength of a siege ballista."
"I can see how that's a problem." Naofumi nods his head with a grim expression on his face. He taps a finger through his chin, thinking over Jaune's recount of the enemy before looking at the young knight. "What about the last one? I'm guessing they stop you guys from grouping up?"
"Indeed. The last one rounds up their set." This time the young Arc picks up a... rock, the size equal to one of those rocks marking the gate and archer towers. "The last undead boss is 'The Tower Knight', a malevolent level 75 spirit possessing one of the giant stone sculptures the size of an archer's tower outside the gate. It moves much slower compared to The Penetrator, but its stone body can take a lot of punishment. And its giant sword and shield easily break us apart if we group up to defend ourselves from The Penetrator and The Phalanx."
"So, the perfect combination of rock, paper, and scissors. This is bad..." Naofumi's brown twists together, sweat slowly runs down the side of his head. "If we group and advance together, big rocks will flatten us. But if we disperse and try to rush up, the toothpick will take down our strongest and the needle head will take out the rest."
If her Naofumi was intentionally trying to come up with silly nicknames for the undead boss to make the situation less grave, it failed due to his grim voice delivery. Not that their situation was something to take light in the first place.
"Indeed, that's how we lost most of our sisters and brothers. Tower Knight is the bedrock linking the three undead knights together." Jaune clicks his armored finger at the big rock representing The Tower Knight. His voice grows more and more solemn. "Captain Leeroy..., he tried to take it out. He only managed to shatter one of the statue's arms."
Considering the paladin is no longer around breaking the fight between Jaune and Consevatie, it doesn't take a trained spy master to determine the elder knight's fate.
The body of Nikos twitches on her feet. The redhead probably wants to scoot closer to Jaune to comfort him. Naofumi beats her to it when he places a hand on the shoulder of the grieving young man. "At least that's one less arm from the big rock guy to worry about."
"I'm afraid it was for naught, Sir Shield Hero." Lucatiel's voice brings everyone over to the last Silver Hand. "The size of the statue Sir Arc described must be one of the Twin Fangs of old king Allant the valiant, Sir Bior and Sir Vallarfax. Both brothers had a giant statue made to commemorate their valor and sacrifice during The Second Wave of Catastrophe. And if a wraith possessed one of the statues..."
"It can possess the second one after the first is damaged or destroyed." Naofumi bites his lower lips. "And we are back to square one."
"Can't you banish it with an [Exorcism] Miracle?" Éclair turns to look at the remaining church knights. Their eyes instantly fall downward, a pregnant silence hangs between the two groups.
"We tried it on the three undead knights, and failed. The negative energy around the castle is too strong, and the three undead knights are protected against our holy magic. The Penetrator by its armor, The Phalanx by its shields, and The Tower Knight has its rocky shell." Priest Martin eventually breaks the silence. "We might be able to banish them with ritual magic if we had His Eminence Pope Balmus with us, or maybe one of the twelve vicars."
"Let's focus on what we do have on hand." Both of the Shield Hero's hands are now clapping at his own cheeks, squeezing his face tight. It would have looked adorable, if not for their situation. "We need to take the big guy down to have a chance to take out the other two... but he's literally made of hard stone and you can't banish it with magic. If only my weapon was a hammer..."
Being the Hammer Hero would certainly save her Naofumi, and give Medea a lot less of headache. Considering the current Hammer Hero was also summoned from the hero's world. And right now, he has reportedly gone rogue, and started a rebellion with rabbles trying to take down the lords in Shiltfreeden.
"You are looking at the situation wrong." Everyone's eyes settle onto Richard. The dark haired young man clearly didn't want the attention, as he clamps up his mouth and looks away blushing.
"Go on, Brother Richard." Jaune stands up and gives the other young man an encouraging smile.
Richard gives a quick glance over to everyone, and looks away again just as quickly. "A peasant like me shouldn't tell nobles and heroes what to do."
It seems even if this Richard stuck around Jaune unlike his mutinous fellow, the chasm between the peasantry and nobility is still in his head.
"I'd be a very foolish commander, if I ignore everything my fellow brothers in arms say." The only male Arc of his generation steps back, places a hand on Richard's back and gently guides the other man towards their makeshift sandbox. Richard looks down, and then back up at the Shield Hero.
"Yeah. What he said."
The peasant turned templar still looks unsure, but after a few seconds he squats down on where Jaune was sitting and places his finger onto the smallest pebble. "Out of the three, The Penetrator is most insignificant. It's a class-up killer, but it can only do damage to a single target or a few if they stand too close together in front of him. It's effectively just a loner fighting on its own, not contributing much to the group other than keeping our strongest busy. And its sword is too long and unwieldy against multiple targets if it's surrounded by them."
Richard's gauntlet finger moves next onto the big rock representing The Tower Knight. "The Tower Knight is the bedrock, like Captain Arc said. It does something the other two can't do, or can't do as effective: break up tight formations. But it's hard to take down with its rock body, and with The Phalanx pelting us with javelins, we can't afford the time or body count to throw ourselves at it."
Finally, Richard rests his finger onto the flat pebble - The Phalanx. "Which leaves us with The Phalanx. It's as much the link of the three undead knights fighting as a single unit as The Tower Knight - because it stops us using a scattered battle formation to surround The Penetrator, or swarm The Tower Knight. Its main defense is the phalanx of shields covering it, suggesting its body underneath should be very weak. If we find a way to keep both The Penetrator and The Tower Knight busy, we should be able to take out The Phalanx fast if we can scatter its shields."
For a man of humble birth, this Richard guy is surprisingly analytical.
"That's... brilliant!" Jaune's eyes seem to light up with sudden realization. "I was so occupied thinking over The Tower Knight, I forgot my first lesson in warfare: take out the enemy missile unit first."
"Can you do that if we keep the other two busy, Farkas?" Naofumi turns his head over to their strongest hitter.
"I'm at a higher level. If I can break through the shields, I should be able to kill it quickly." The former Five Hundred narrows his eyes and lets out a tsk with his mouth. "But I'm dead if I get stopped. Javelins can be repurposed into a wall of spears."
"So we have to somehow get rid of its shields... huh." Naofumi looks down at the legendary shield attached to his arm. The irony of their situation is clearly not lost to him.
The princess realizes she can contribute to this fight. The advanced spells of opposite primes are few due to the conflict making a spell work unstable. But in exchange, they are more powerful than regular advanced elements constructed with adjacent elements. And right now, there is a steam element spell she can use to help dispatch The Phalanx quickly.
She almost used said spell against the ancient thunder lizard too. Although in hindsight, it was a good thing they didn't need it. Considering her violent episode, using it would have instantly killed her. "What if we hit The Phalanx from inside her shields? I can use advanced steam magic with my fire and water elements. If the inside is vulnerable, a [Rising Heat] should scatter its shields and javelin."
"We might not even need Big Bad Wolf here, if all the shields and javelin are what keeps this monster alive." Gaston hums along, seemingly oblivious to the irony of his word choice. "I can sit back with the birdies and the raptors away from javelin rain. You give me a signal when the shell is gone, and we'll charge out like cavalry and trample it to death. Save the big, heavy hitter for the very big, heavy rock guy."
"That's great, we can actually win with this plan!" Jaune gives a quick pat on Richard's shoulder. "Thanks for suggesting a better strategy, Brother Richard."
"Well, I certainly hope we have a chance of winning." The former peasant's face is rather neutral despite Jaune's compliment. "Or else you just decided to throw all our lives away for nothing."
"NO! That's not what I meant." Jaune's eyes grow wide, he nearly stumbles on his feet.
Before the Arc boy has a chance to further apologize, Richard returns him a quick pat on his shoulder. "Relax. Just fucking with you."
Mein didn't even have a chance to block Raphtalia's ears. Nikos apparently agrees with her. "Richard! That's not the language we Knight Templars use."
The former commoner rolls his eyes. "Come on, you came from Zeltoble. You gladiators and sellswords use much dirtier words than I do. Don't forget your origin just because you are trying to be a court lady to impress Lover Boy."
"That's enough, Brother Richard." Martin holds a hand up while Nikos stumbles back in stammer. He turns to look at Naofumi. "Give your shields to the Shield Hero for him to copy. A working plan or not, we'll have to be at our strongest to prevail."
"Good suggestion, Brother Martin." Jaune hands over his heater shield Crocea Mors to Naofumi, he is followed by Nikos. And finally, Alfred comes forward with his big round double reinforced wagon wheel he mistaken for a shield.
The princess now has a better look at the interesting weapon used by the Penance Legionnaires, and their 'redeemed' cousins. The wheel-like great round shield is made of wood and has a deep brown color, lines run through its surface yet they look almost too clean. Almost like it's something a careful stone crafter curved out of a stone block to mimic the texture of wood rather than real tree bark.
"Wow, that's pretty heavy." Naofumi's body nearly pitches forward when he takes over the wheel-like thing from Alfred. His finger knocks on the weapon, the chromzoid gauntlet makes a dull sound on its surface. "You fight with this thing?"
"The [Wheel of Redemption], forged out of Gallian stonewood." Alfred smiles back at the Shield Hero. "It's weight will always remind me of the burden of our Lord's servants, and stop me from going astray."
"Okay..." Naofumi slowly edges away from the fanatic until the shield on his army also changes into the giant round shield. The sudden added weight finally makes him pitch forward.
Éclair reaches out to catch him, only to end up falling down together with Naofumi in a tangle of limbs. Everyone quickly rushes over to help them get up, it becomes easier after Alfred takes away his original shield.
Naofumi climbs up and brushes some dust off his face. He blinks a couple of times, probably staring at his stats for unlocking the three new shields before bursting out with exclamation. "What the hell? This shield has freaking high ATK stats?"
"The wheel is as much a weapon, as it's a piece of armor to shield me from harm. It is both the Chief God's wrath, and his mercy." Alfred slings his shield over his shoulder.
"Honestly, I should have been more surprised at you guys using shields at all." Naofumi slowly stands up again, this time prepared for the weight on his arm. "Considering who your devil figure is."
"Just because we guard ourselves against former Shield Heroes don't mean we can't use shields." Richard rolls his eyes at Naofumi's comment. "Mighty stupid reason to forgo a strategy advantage. Do you take us for badly written villains in some stage plays, or trashy knight novels for the audience to laugh at? Or do you think the shield fanatics in Siltvelt refuse to use a weapon because their immortal god king doesn't? We wouldn't have beaten back the Siltvelt invaders, if we are that stupid."
"Okay, dumb thing to say on my part." Naofumi's face grew a bit pink. He slowly moves his legs apart and tries to take a few slow swings with his new heavy shield.
"Please, be cordial with the Shield Hero, Brother Richard." Martin gives the younger man a light reprimand before turning to the Shield Hero.
"Our order was splintered from the main faith of four heroes, when we took on the role as humanity's guardian after the first Shield Hero choose the invading beastman over us. For us, the practicality of effective and efficient fighting to protect our fellow man trump over religious symbolism." Jaune looks over at the Shield Hero, giving a very brief version of Three Heroes Church's origin.
"Symbol of faith have its places, but they give way on the harsh battlefield." Martin shakes his head. It's hard to know what the priest is lamenting due to the lack of elaboration. "As a member of the Three Heroes Church, we are required to gain at least basic proficiency with the three holy weapons. But no, we are not forbidden to carry and use a shield unless during special ceremonies."
"You have a shield that can attack now, Master Naofumi." Mein turns to look at her Naofumi, she feels sour inside her mouth. "That's... good. Are you going to try and unlock more attack shields?"
Where is her place, if the Shield Hero can defend and attack? And if her place in his party is no longer secure, what would happen when she eventually reveals her true identity?
"I'm not sure... I mean, having an attack shield is great. I'm not complaining." The Shield Hero's face doesn't look as elated as Mein thought. In fact, with the way he seems to be sucking a piece of Shiltfreeden lemon inside his mouth, the Shield Hero doesn't look too happy. "But my ATK growth is still crap, and the stats of my shields don't stack together when I switch them out. Feels like I'm going to be wasting my time and effort if I try to find more shields with a strong ATK rating. I think I'll stick with tanking, plus I have your [Unstoppable Force] spell, if I need to hit something hard."
"You can always count on me, Master Naofumi." The princess releases a breath she's holding back. It's good to know the Shield Hero trusts and relies on her, even if it's only for her magic.
"We are as prepared as we can be. Let us proceed with the plan, and hope things go well." Jaune straightens his back, he makes the gesture of the holy triangle of the Three in front of his chest. "Three dots on true faith."
"Three dots on true faith." The other members of Three Heroes Church follow his example. All of them, except Richard.
The humble born knight looks over at his noble born commander. "If they don't?"
"...we go for the win and pray for the best." Jaune replies after thinking it over for a few moments. He turns to look at Richard. For a moment, the princess wonders if the Arc boy finally had enough of Richard's flippant comments. But there is no malice, or even annoyance in the sincere young noble's eyes. "Thank you for sticking around with me, Brother Richard. I thought you'd have left with Sieg and Jackson."
"What, because I'm also a peasant of New Albion, you think I'm the same as Jackson? You and your family could have done a better job looking after us. But Jackson is a fool if he thought Consevatie brat would stick up for us peasants." Richard rolls his eyes as he leans into his halberd again. "I saw it while you and your girl were busy fighting to protect us. That Consevatie brat, he hid behind the others and only took a few cheap shots at the undead knights throwing his axe. He IS the kind who'll stuff his face full of cakes while we starve to death."
"That coward! And he dared to besmirch Ja- Brother Jaune's good name!" Nikos' face turns almost as vibrant as her hair. "I knew he was a slimy rat bastard!"
On the Shield Hero's side, Lucatiel bristles at the choice of word by the former gladiator.
"Language, Nikos. You are showing your Zeltoble heritage to Captain Arc again." Richard smirks at the redhead, making her blush with stammer. The commoner turned knight turns to look at their noble captain with a more serious face. "Between your family and Consevatie, I'm picking you any day."
"Thank you for your trust, Brother Richard. I will not squander it. I'll make sure we all survive." Jaune's usual soft features harden at the end, clearly determined to lead his remaining team to victory. His face softens again when his sight settles on his lady friend. "You don't have to change who you are, Pyrrha. We are all equal underneath the Chief God."
The Arc boy's words make the blush on Nikos' face even deeper, although for a different reason than his commoner compatriot.
Mein turns to look at the Shield Hero, wondering if he'll also say something inspiring or not. "What do you think, Master Naofumi?"
"We survived the Wave of Catastrophe with a civilian militia, we'll survive this." The Shield Hero's words are few, but this time he has actual confidence behind them. And for a moment, the princess forgets how they are a small ragtag band mostly in common level range, going up against three boss monsters in prestige level range.
Most of them already survived an endless tidal wave of monsters. What's some undead compared to it?
"Prepare yourself, Brother Martin. Banish the evil spirits as soon as you get an opportunity." Jaune gives one last command to their only battle priest as they slowly march upwards towards the ruin of Seatto keep. As foliage slowly gave way to open terrain, the princess began to understand why Éclair took so much pride in her family history.
Calling it a fort, like most keeps of the lords, does the Seatto castle a great disservice. No, it's more akin to call it a fortress made of granite that can fit an entire town inside. The height of its outer wall easily puts the one surrounding capital to shame. Mighty towers of archers line up alongside its great walls, ready to put enough arrow shafts into any invader to make them more porcupine than men.
The ancient home seat of the Boletaria kingdom was a palace, a city and a castle rolled into one. It was easy to see why this place is considered the greatest northern Melromarc fortress to keep the savage beastman north of Griffin's Spine mountain range, even as its inhabitant slowly begin to lose favors amongst the nobility due to their leniency towards beast kind.
At the foot of the gate stood two great statues of armored knights. One is tainted as dark as obsidian and half collapsed missing an arm, while the other is still in pristine white. Not for long though, as its body quickly darkens as where the eye would start to glow with an eerie green. The bottom of its tower shield slams into the ground, and the stone knight slowly moves forward. Earth trembles underneath its rocky boot.
As Lucatiel predicted, the evil spirit has already abandoned its damaged former vessel and chosen another one.
"No, not the statues of blessed Sir Biorr and Sir Vallerfax." Lucatiel's voice behind her silver mask shakes with fury. Her gloved hands tighten around her great sword. "Whatever evil spirit committed this heinous act will pay for such transgressions!"
Behind the feet of the towering possessed statue, two other figures also come out of the gate.
The first is a comparatively much shorter knight that still stands the height of their tallest members. He clad in real metal armor also tainted dark by the powerful negative energy, and wields a sharp and thin blade long enough to joust glowing with ghostly white devoid of all warmth.
The other figure hangs back at the top of the steps leading up to the bottom of the gate. Just as Jaune described, it looks like a turtle monster without head, tail, or limbs sticking out. The whole body is a dome of linked together shields with pointy javelin sticking out of the cracks. It has a very uncanny movement, like the constriction of a worm, only slimier.
And as the three undead boss monsters come out to meet them like commanders, more undead creatures begin to come out of the gate in clumps. Skeletons in decayed armors wielding rusted weapons, and dried up husks with what remains of their leathery skin.
Amongst the rest of the undead, Mein can spot a few figures in blood, and mud stained white with the red holy triangle on their tattered tabard. The victims of the Three Heroes' Church expedition had joined the ranks of those they were fighting against on the same day.
All of them make the princess feel unwell. Even more so when she's facing against a wave of monsters beyond the Endless Aether, or the twisted monstrosities inhabiting the abandoned laboratory outside Balafon. Perhaps it's because those aforementioned monsters look so wrong, there is no sign tracing them to her fellow men, yet these things once walked on Medea living their lives just like her.
"Can you do it here, Mein?" The words of her Naofumi manage to shake her out of her stupor, and she's glad the undead boss monsters didn't immediately rush forwards and try to tear them apart like most undead scourge from stories. There's a good chance she could have died in her moment of distraction.
"I need to get closer." The princess turned adventurer looks over at the undead monsters forming up in front of the castle. More like an army than an unthinking hive of the malevolent dead beings hunger to devour all the living. "My aim has to be perfect."
"We'll get you closer. Stay with our lady mage and protect her, Brother Martin." Jaune's face looks as sculptured in stone as the giant undead knight he is facing. "Three Heroes' Church, ADVANCE!"
Jaune stands at their front flanked by Nikos and Alfred with their shields up. Everyone follows behind them in tight formation, The Tower Knight is still a good distance away from them. Javelins begin to fall over their heads like rain, their three point men linking their shields together. "[Tortoise]!"
Interlocked golden light in the shape of hexagon forms in front of them, forming into an aura wall taking the shape like the shell of the animal it's named after. Naofumi also adds his own [Air Strike Shield] behind it. The javelins start to cause cracks on both shields in front of them, but none penetrate and hit them in their clothes or flesh.
The cluster of undead charges towards them. Once again, the very ground they stand on begins to shake as The Tower Knight lumbers towards them. Mein can't see where The Penetrator stands with the wall of undead, but she is sure the class-up killer is also coming at them.
"Get the Sanctus, Brother Richard!" Jaune shouts at his commoner followers. The other knight breaks apart from their group, dodges between the rain of javelins to run at a metal heater shield lying on the ground beside a mangled flesh mound. Even from a distance, the princess can still see something shining on the shield.
Mein stops her feet and begins gathering her magic. She can feel her heart inside her chest beating, harder than the war drums of the beastman horde (even if she never heard the real thing), louder than the footsteps of the giant undead statue. This spell will take a lot out of her, and she only has one chance to make sure everyone walks away alive from this battle. "As the source of thy power, I order thee. Decipher the laws of nature and come together..."
Javelins still fall at them, the cluster of undead bones and decayed flesh draws ever closer to them. About fifty feet away from them, The Penetrator breaks through the line and charges at them fast. Yatsuhashi and Lucatiel break from their group to meet the prestige slayer heads on. The great sword in Lucatiel is also coated in a white flame, but this one shines with the heat of the heavens.
With a loud clank, the long blade of the undead knight meets the curved great saber of the bodyguard. The red blade parries the spear like sword away without any crack or chip. Yatsuhashi was right in trusting his father's sword - it's clearly made of superior material, and craftsmanship to not falter against a sword enhanced by the negative energy of the dead.
But the bodyguard isn't entirely unfazed by the attack. Despite his height and size, the giant young man was actually pushed back by The Penetrator's thrust, his legs giving way underneath his body. Yatsuhashi falls back into a roll, dodging a follow up slice from the undead knight that would have cut him open.
From the other side, Lucatiel sends her own sword forward into a lunge towards The Penetrator. Sadly, her own sword also bounces harmlessly off the undead's armor.
"...fire of the Old One, bring forth your wrath and bane..."
Richard manages to retreat back to their group before the undead reach them, his bounty in hand. But the rest of the undead follow right after his heels. The rest of Naofumi's followers, even Raphtalia, come forward and meet the monsters with cold hard steel. They are quickly cut down by the hero's companions, but for every fallen, two seem to take their place.
And The Tower Knight is right after the undead. It brings its blade up high, and brings it down like it's trying to cleave the mountain they stand in half. Except unlike Consevatie, the undead boss monster actually has the strength to do so.
Battle priest Martin stabs his spear into the ground to free up his hands. He close eyes and clap both palms in front of his chest as if in prayer. "His mercy boundless..."
"...water of the Goddess, tribute your mercy and bounty..."
The Tower Knight let its sword fall towards the remnant of the church expedition and the Shield Hero's party. Mein can feel it on her skin, that even the air around them seem to part ways for this attack.
"[Mercy Barrier]." Brother Martin opens his eyes and his arms as if ready to embrace someone. A wall of golden light forms on top of their two existing barriers. The princess can almost swear she sees a petite figure with a distinct feminine shape in the middle of the barrier, spreading her arms apart as if she's trying to shield them.
The big stone sword meets their three defenses, smashing through all three layers one after another. While it's descent is slowed, it still falls towards their head.
But she can't stop her chant either. The backlash from a haste cancelling of her spell work would bring her down and out of this fight, if it doesn't outright kill her. Such is the fickleness of an advanced element combining two primes, opposite elements especially.
"...fire and water, wrath and mercy. Meet in my hand and become one..."
Without their barriers, javelins begin to start falling on them. Everyone now has to dodge, or knock the falling death above their heads. One was coming straight at her, until priest Martin grabs his spear and spins it in his hand above their head, forming his weapon into an impromptu shield. "[Cartwheel]."
"[Shield Prison]." The few moments they managed to stop The Tower Knight's blow is enough for Naofumi to do something. Green energy shields start rising up in front of them among the ranks of undead, even carrying some of them above ground. The Shield Hero swipes at it before it fully forms. "[Shield Change], [Five Stars Geo Shield]!"
The half formed [Shield Prison] changes form, hardening into a rocky rampart in front of them right under the sword arm of The Tower Knight. The sudden solid weight underneath knocks the giant possessed statue off balance, blocks most of the falling javelin above them, and even briefly stops the swarm of undead at them. "How do you like that, huh? Not so easy with a sudden weight on your arm!"
Did the Shield Hero get the inspiration of this move from how he fell down earlier?
"...mists of water, release the heat of fire from the shackle..."
The Penetrator seems to notice her casting a spell, as it ignores both Yatsuhashi and Lucatiel's blade and comes directly towards her ready to skewer her with its lance-like sword.
A figure with a heater shield suddenly ducks in front of her, digging his steel heels into ground and holds his shield forward. For a brief moment, Mein wonders if Jaune is here to protect her. But the few strands of dark hair makes her realize it's the commoner knight Richard, holding the shield he risked his life to grab.
The Penetrator meets Sanctus heads on, and the shield of the paladin lets out a brilliant flash of white. Richard lets out a pained grunt, but his defense manages to hold, possibly thanks to his new shield with holy power. Martin steps forward and sweeps his spear down at the feet of the death knight, trying to trip him over.
That's enough time for her to finish her cast. Now, she can only hope her control and aim is true. She throws both arms towards the castle gate far in front of her, and utters out the last verse of her chant.
"...rise up to the welkin high, meet the incandescent sun-sphere with your passion. [Rising Heat]!"
A loud boom rings out. A column of steam so thick, it erupts up into the heavens looking more like a beam of light. Her aim is true in the end, as a result shields, javelins and black ichor are sent into the sky and scatter everywhere like the fireworks during Liberation Day. The Phalanx now laid bare of its defenses without a shell to protect itself.
The undead monster that's been raining spears on everyone's head is a mound of black slime of decayed flesh, with a core of glowing ectoplasm, likely containing its spirit. This would have been the perfect opportunity to banish it, if Martin isn't busy fighting for his life together with Richard against The Penetrator.
"GASTON!" Naofumi screams out on top of his lungs.
As for the battle priest, he shifts his spear into the corner of his elbow and closes his hands into a triangle aiming at the unbalanced death knight. "His wrath unyielding. [Emit Force]!"
A glowing white sphere fires out of his hand as the priest quickly dances behind Richard's shield. The ball of light hit The Penetrator and with a boom. The power of his Miracle sends Mein, Richard, and the priest himself flying back and crash lands on the ground. Everything from the tip of her hair to her toe hurt, but at least they got away from the death knight that can easily kill them with one solid hit.
Behind them, two filorials larger than the rocks fired from trebuchet and five raptors charge out. Gaston riding above his black filorial, whistling command to the rest of the herd. They cut through the lower leveled undead swarm, pass the slow moving giant statue and run straight at the now weakened and vulnerable undead boss monster.
The princess crawls to her feet again with both Martin and Richard. The Tower Knight still looms over them a short distance away. But with The Phalanx taken care of, they no longer need to huddle together to protect each other from falling javelins and can dodge around it. But The Penetrator is still close, too close. It also stands up from Martin's attack, and comes at them.
Another figure charges over them, his grey robes over his armor and brass colored pyramid helmet covered in dark flames spewed out of his giant wheel-like round shield.
The black fire of the Chief God's wrath, the church claims it's his holy burning light in its purest form. Yet in this moment, the 'redeemed' Penance Legionnaire looks more like a demon than the Shield Hero ever was. Especially with his almost maniac screeching contradicting his usual serene demeanor as he slams his shield forward. "BURN BY THE LORD'S WRATH AND MEET YOUR EXECUTIONER, WALKING DEAD! SCREAM!"
Stonewood wheel shields meet Titanite rune blades. The much thicker, and heavier shield carried by legionnaire Alfred doesn't manage to snap or shatter The Penetrator's sword. But it knocks the much thinner weapon aside and crashes right into the chest of the undead knight. A normal man's chest would have completely caved in, plate armor or not. But it only cracks the death knight's armor.
Still more damage than Yatsuhashi and Lucatiel managed to inflict. The three of them surround The Penetrator, running around it and attacking the undead knight in a fluid motion to stop it from focusing and killing one of them.
"We need to bring the big rock guy down." Naofumi knocks a husk and a skeleton flying away with his newly acquired shield from Alfred. It must be exhilarating for the Shield Hero to finally be able to throw his weight around and hit something for an exchange, even if said something is some fairly low level undead. "Can you do that spell again, Mein?"
"I can … not. Master, Naofumi." The princess joins the Shield Hero with Martin and Richard escorting her from other undead monsters. Her breath continued to be labored even after she got up from her unplanned flight. "That one cast, took too much."
"You sound winded, need a mana potion?" Richard pulls a vial with glowing blue liquid out of his tabard, offering it towards the disguised princess. Helpful, but ultimately misguided and unneeded.
"No mana exhaustion." Mein points a finger to her chest. "Heart acting up."
"We'll have to take it the old fashioned way. Swarm it, and attack its feet!" Jaune charges forward with his lady friend Nikos, Farkas follows after them. Everyone else focuses on clearing out the rest of the undead skeletons and husks, occasionally dodging away from one of The Tower Knight's strikes. They are soon joined from the other side by filorials and raptors. Gaston and his new monster friends clearly made short work of The Phalanx.
"Give me an attack boost, Mein." Naofumi looks over at the quickly thinning out the undead. "I'm going to knock the big guy down and end this fight!"
"Are you sure, Master Naofumi?" The princess looks over at the Shield Hero. She doesn't need elaboration on what spell he meant. "You almost died last time."
"I'll only attack once this time, I'll be fine!" Naofumi pops a potion down his mouth to emphasize his point.
"Okay, but don't die on me!" The princess turned adventurer gathers her magic and chants the verse for the other steam spell. "...[Unstoppable Force]."
"Here comes the pain, [Shield Charge]!" With an aura of steam around him, the young hero barrels forward like he's shot out of the barrel of a musket. He plows right through the few remaining undead, and into one of the feet of The Tower Knight. With a loud crash, Naofumi crumbles one of the boss monster's feet and shin completely. The possessed statue topples over like a fallen timber, green necromantic energy seems to leak out from its leg 'wound'.
And as expected, the Shield Hero immediately crumbles onto the ground after he comes out of his weapon art. He would have likely been crushed to death by the boss monster he fell, if the gluttonous devil bird didn't come along and pick him up by his cloak with her beak.
"Be gone from this world, undead creature! [Exorcism]!" Behind her, Mein can hear the shout of Brother Martin. She briefly wonders if the battle priest is trying to banish the spirit inside the statue, but there is no holy light descending from the heavens on The Tower Knight.
He looks over to The Penetrator, and sees it writhing on the ground. Eerie green light escaping from Its cracked armor, which clearly no longer protects it from the priest's Miracle. After a short while, the armor lies still, the evil spirit inhabiting it clearly gone.
With only The Tower Knight and a few weaker undead left, the rest of the fight becomes much easier. They finish up all the low level monsters, and surround the possessed statue taking turns pelting it with their weapons or magic. It takes a while to break the statue down, but eventually they destroy the negative energy infused stone driving out the spirit.
Martin catches the spirit with another [Exorcism], banishing it away before it can take over something else as its vessel. Everyone sits around, exhausted from their drawn out fight, especially the last part where they literally hammer away at stone. But they managed to all survive through their battle with the undead that killed most of the church expedition.
"Rest in peace, my brothers. For your sacrifices weren't for nothing. You are all avenged." Martin gives a nod and a moment of silence for all the fallen templars.
"It worked... the plan actually worked! I can't believe it." Richard's hands were shaking as his eyes cast between his feet and the crumbled statue in the distance. He finally settles on looking at Mein. "I know who I have to thank for."
"We took down three undead boss monsters and a major, but I'm afraid this isn't the end." The Arc looks over at the centuries, even millennia old remains around him unearthed from catacomb. "The negative energy is still looming inside the castle. If we don't end the source, the undead will still grow in strength and number."
"The castle has turned into a Dungeon, and the core is most likely in the depth of the ancient Boletaria catacomb." Lucatiel nods along, her masked face clearly looking at her lady Éclair.
"Then we'll take a short rest, and clear out this undead dungeon once and for all." The Shield Hero nods his head, and concludes for everyone.
A would like to take a moment of silence to express my grief over SmutWithPlot's departure.
Okay, back to my rambling.
This chapter features the Shield Hero team up with Three Heroes Church to stop a bigger, and more potentially omnipotent threat. To my best knowledge, I'm the first one in the fandom who did something like this. And if that's true then I'm feeling very smug for it.
As per my usual 'The Last Jedi of Rising of the Shield Hero fanfiction' ways, I am deliberately subverting some running trope in a lot of RotSH fandom.
I placed huge emphasis on the remnant of Three Heroes Church Knight Templars under Jaune in this chapter's battle. Because I want to shows off why they are the elite taskforce that's supposed to contain both the wave, and possible rogue heroes. Both Naofumi and Malty obviously still got their spotlight, where one stopped The Tower Knight from breaking their group up, and the other neutralized The Phalanx.
Also, Naofumi gets his first truly offensive 'weapon' shield in this chapter from Brother Alfred (and yes, it is a more solid Logarius' Wheel from Bloodboure that's more a shield than a wheel just in case Alfred isn't enough of a clue). But instead of actually double down on this way of trying to unlock more 'weapon' shields, he actually rejects it and decide to build up his own defense because his natural growth is more suited for defensive role.
This is admittedly, one of my personal grip with a lot of fandom stories usually happens in SIOC as the Shield Hero. They build up their defense on unlocking offensive shields. On the one hand, yes, there are a lot of deadly historically accurate shields. And yes, REAL tank build in MMORPG (where RotSH got most of its mechanics from) still have attack power even if they focus on defending their allies. I personally don't like it for two reasons.
1. It makes the Shield Hero mechanically boring and drains a lot of stake from the story. Shield Hero by inception is already a juggernaut who is hard to hurt. Giving them offensive power (even if weaker than other heroes) just makes a character who can basically do most of things without any sense of danger, and make the story boring.
2. It also makes the Shield Hero thematically boring. A summoned hero who can barely attack himself and have to rely on the others for offensive attack is an unique and interesting setup because it's a good limitation, and a lot of great work of art comes from having limitations. If the author doubles down on this approach, there's a lot of great stories can be told other than another same old, same old dumb power fantasy saturate the Isekai fantasy genre.
But of course even the original author tosses it out of the window before even the first third of the main story is over. (Sigh)
Then again, going down a different direction the original author rejected because I find the other direction more interesting is pretty much the motivation for my story. I wouldn't have written for this fandom, if I think the original author executed what I want to see perfectly like Fullmetal Alchemist's Hiromu Arakawa sensei.