Biggest thanks for Ace-Triad helping me with SPAG edit. Also thanks to Angel Wraith for reading my rough draft and provide important feedbacks.
More author note at the end for people who are interested to see me blabber some more.
The Wave of Catastrophe.
The most destructive phenomenon in the world that can (and have) brought the mightiest nations to their knees. It regularly occurs every two hundred to one hundred years, to the point it has become a sordid, but predictable affair more than most natural disasters such as droughts and floods.
The banality through repetition has made this destructive force seen as mundane by most rulers. To the point the heroes who are summoned to stop it have gradually gone from the world's savior, to another source of strategic resource to exploit by the Players of The Game. No different from another Mithril vein uncovered underneath a mountain.
Yet, despite the prevalence of the Wave of Catastrophe, man still knows so little of it. Even after millennia of it occurring over and over, scholars and arcane researchers still can't even narrow down what's the force that causes it. Some more well accepted theories include it being a prelude of an Outer God invasion, a semi-sentient disaster that's called forth by great pain and suffering of the mortal realm ... or even a theory that the Wave was being mandated by the Chief God he himself, because he doesn't want the mortals of his realm to grow too fat and useless through complacency.
The one who first suggested the last theory had his soul torn apart by a Soul Devourer long ago under the punishment of spouting heresy. For how could their governor god be anything but the most benevolent to his children? But his theory does live on, even if under a less official capacity.
Because the denial of it contradicts how the churches portray the Chief God. If he truly is all benevolent, how could he let his children suffer through so many cycles of the Wave without stopping it.
She's getting sidetracked. She isn't part of the clergy, or a devoted arcane researcher interested in learning all the secrets of the universe. And despite the acts she constantly puts on, she is definitely NOT a blind... err, faithful devotee of the Chief God.
But what the phantom of the long dead king revealed is HUGE! Even if he can't give any proof aside from his own account, it's still evidence of how a person can actually become an agent of the Wave itself. Suggesting either the Wave itself has some sentience, or a sentient entity was behind the calamity.
While Mein's mind is wandering all over places, the legs underneath Éclair give way. The last heir of House Seaetto crumbles onto the cracked marble floor in a heap.
The princess belatedly realizes the implication of King Ariona's words to Éclair. Since her line descend from the old kingdom of Boletaria, that means her ancestor was directly responsible for the second Wave of the Catastrophe.
Chapter 59: Sins of Thy Father
"My lady!" Lucatiel dutifully lungs over to her fallen master.
"Yo, you know. You are pretty chill for a ghost who has died a long time ago. And now haunting the place where you used to live." Naofumi's voice tries to sound nonchalant about the situation. But the slight stutter at the beginning still betrays his uneasiness. "I half expect you to go around, hunting the place and trying to kill all us living people."
"Perhaps I am too at ease with my situation. But I did have practically eons to get used to the fact that I am dead, and isn't fit for some greater destiny like serving the gods for eternity like my good friend, and Sir Biorr." The long dead king's chuckle echoes in the long and grand hallway. "It was a good life. The scourge during my younger years notwithstanding. But I had many a happy memory with my friends and mentors, and later with my growing family. I passed away peacefully, and have no regrets."
"But what do you mean? Your father caused it? The Wave, I mean." Mein can't see Naofumi's face from her angle, but the Shield Hero takes a step towards the black phantom, his voice sounds stern. "Actually, why and how does a Wave happen? I was summoned to fight it, but nobody explained to me why it happened in the first place."
"A 'wave'? Like a tidal flood near the sea?" King Ariona's head turns around sideways. His confusion is clear in the echo of his voice, even if no one can see his face underneath his helmet. "No, you mentioned being summoned... you are also a hero, like my good friend."
"Yes, my Thane is a hero summoned to defend against the Wave. As for the Wave itself, many terminologies have changed from your time, King Ariona." Yatsuhashi also takes a step forward behind his master. He gives a bow of respect to the deceased king. "The one you know as a 'scourge' is now called 'The Wave of Catastrophe' to us. A 'Scourge' is specifically used to describe an undead horde."
"Ah, I see. Do excuse my outdated knowledge." The ghost of the ancient king nodded his head. He looks over at the hero standing before him. "It's rather embarrassing on my part, but to tell the truth I wasn't exactly sure what Father did during my time among the living. Now as a spirit wandering the pale realm, I'm not any more enlightened about the situation. But I was sure of one thing. Father somehow became an agent of Second Scourge, or the Second Wave as you call it."
"A man becomes an agent of the Wave itself? Incredible!" Martin walks closer towards the ghost of the ancient king. In his fascination, the battle priest completely ignored Jaune's attempt at grabbing him from behind.
The Arc boy lets out a dejected sigh, and motions everyone forward. Raphtalia immediately bolts towards the Shield Hero, easily overtaking Martin's fast but measured steps. Firo chases right after her, ignoring Gaston's whistle and Wolfgang's squawking. Everyone else behind Martin is a short distance away.
"At the palace, I faced down Father with my good friend, and Sir Biorr at my side. But it was only a demonic construct molded in Father's image. No, my good friend was the one who confronted Father face to face... what's left of him anyway." King Ariona's hand moves up and rest on the side of his helmet. "From what my good friend described, the power from the scourge... the Wave devastated Father's physical form, and he resembled more of a bulbous slug with flesh mounds and tumor over his body more than a man. But there was no mistake - he was somehow responsible for the... Wave."
"This is astonishing information! Lost knowledge from one of the first few Waves recited back to us from the spirit of an ancient king! It will no doubt help our scholars and arcane researchers get a more complete understanding of the phenomenon!" Martin takes out a scroll of parchment from his robe, spreads it across the floor and starts furiously scribing it down. "And for an ancient king to become an agent of the Wave itself... this land credence to the hypothesis of the Wave is sentient itself, or perhaps it is controlled by a sentient being... possibly an Outer God who is trying to invade the celestial domain of our Lord and our own mortal realm!"
"Yeah. Good luck making the old asses sitting around their podium all day long, drinking their tea accept your evidence from a ghost. They'll probably accuse you for heresy, listening to a black phantom." Richard rolls his eyes at the priest. His eye then turns towards Éclair, who is still rocking in her own world on the floor. "And speaking of being accused, are we going to add 'colluding with and harboring a fugitive' to our list of growing crimes?"
Mein's eyes whips over to look at the peasant born templar. Is the young man bluffing, or does he actually figured out something about her Naofumi's party?
Sweat began running down her hair, face, and back. A bead of salty water trails down the bridge of her nose into her eye, making her close her right eyelid by force and blinding her from one side. Even with the irritation, she forces her feet to shift around, so she can see all of the church remnants from her left eye while her hand closes around the hilt of her sword.
She doesn't want to strike them down, especially the boy who had a sincere courtship with her. But if her hands are forced... she will do it without hesitation.
Even with her leather gloves, she feels her grip fumbling around her sword.
"What do you mean, Brother Richard?" Jaune's voice is a bit more hardened, with a bit more edge than his usual soft voice. "Accusing one of the heroes for collusion and harboring a fugitive is no joke."
"Who said I was joking? Was I the only one who heard the chapter master of the Silver Hand calling her squire 'my lady'?" Richard points his thumb over at Lucatiel, who is still hovering and fussing over Éclair. "They only accept the Seaetto as their master. That makes the identity of this 'squire' rather easy to figure out, doesn't it? Unless old man Uther had a bastard nobody knew about?"
"Is it true, lady knight?" Jaune's face becomes more grime as he brings his full attention onto the knight still twitching on the ground. "On your family's honor, and your own as a knight. Are you Éclair, the daughter of Lord Uther. Or are you a bastard he has been hiding all this time?"
Play dumb! Don't admit it! You already lied to them just a moment ago, just keep going! Honor means nothing, if it gets you killed like your father!
The chest of the last Seaetto rises up and down, her breath clearly becomes harder and more labored as if she's doing some strenuous task. After a while, she slowly claps her hands around her black iron pot helmet and takes it off, letting her pink hair freely flow down. "It's true, I am Éclair. The only daughter of my father Uther."
And of course... the dumb knight will go back to her own idiotic ways and complicate things!
This is why she spits on things like honor, and chivalry!
"Lady Éclair? But, how?" Jaune visibly takes a step back at the reveal of Éclair's identity. "I penned a letter to Father, asking him to object to your arrest and try to parlay for a pardon. Father's return letter said you already died during your... captivity."
Hmm... Jaune's response is interesting. It seems like the idealistic knight felt Éclair's arrest was unjust. They can still turn the situation around!
"Technically, neither I nor your captain is colluding, or harboring a fugitive." Naofumi opens his mouth, making everyone turn to look at him. "Officially, Éclair is dead. So nobody is actually looking for her. Therefore, she technically isn't a fugitive. And it's not like she's planning to do anything to harm the nobles, or the people of this country. She's just going around, helping defend people. Surely that's not a bad thing?"
The first princess can't tell if she should praise her Naofumi for his... liberal interpretation of the wording of their law, or slap her own face for digging themselves even deeper. Hopefully, none of the members of the Three Heroes' Church are the supremely dutiful type who'll lobe a starving child's head off their shoulder for stealing an apple.
A quick glance towards the rest of Naofumi's party makes her realize most of them have their hands resting much closer to their weapons than originally.
"Yes... technically." Richard squeezes out after his long stare leaves Naofumi's face. He turns to look at Jaune again. "Well, what do you say, Brother Captain Jaune? You are the one from House Arc, and have most to lose if Lady Éclair's identity gets exposed."
"We already talked with Lady Éclair. Her arrest was unjust to begin with!" Mein quickly jumps out from the back, catching everyone's attention. "All she did was try to defend a group of demi-humans being wrongfully accused of theft, and would have them enslaved by the corrupt guards. And they arrested her for treason, and conspiracy against the crown!"
Her own defense of Éclair is parchment thin, considering it comes from the mouth of the accused herself. Unless it was confession under the slavery seal, it would have been under severe scrutiny in a court even if she confessed under oath as a knight. Especially after Éclair just got caught for lying her true identity mere moments ago.
But sometimes, a tear jerking sad story is all she needs to swing the opinion. Especially when it's used against the types with bleeding hearts.
"That does sound like something happening all the time in this nation." Pyrrha looks over at Jaune, Mein can almost see tears rolling inside her eyes. "Can we not, just pretend Dick - erm, Brother Richard didn't hear what Sir Lucatiel said?"
"I agree. I thought Lady Éclair's arrest was uncalled for in the first place." Jaune looks over towards the other three members of their group. "Brother Alfred, Brother Martin, and Brother Richard?"
"I care not for what they were accused of, only how they repent by doing our lord's work." Alfred clicks a finger on his brass dome helmet.
"I'm sorry, Brother Jaune. I must have skipped the whole conversation while I was busy learning about the Wave." Battle Priest Martin figuratively tears his eyes away from his scribble filled parchment. "I shall default to your judgment."
Hmm... it seems the priest is more sly than Mein gave him credit for! It's always nice to work with actual smart people who knows when to play dumb.
Everyone's eyes set on Richard, who brought up this whole mess to begin with. The peasant turned templar simply shrugs his shoulders. "Yeah, sure. I believe she's innocent."
"Well.. that was easy." Naofumi blinks a couple of times. "I half expect we'll have a hard time convincing you."
"You kidding me? I'm not going to go against her." To Mein's surprise, Richard's hand points directly at her. "All of us survived the undead boss monsters, thanks to the magic of your lady mage friend. If she speaks for this Éclair, then she's okay in my eyes. Just because my short name is Dick, doesn't mean I wave around my thing in everyone's face like that Consevatie inbreed."
"Then it is settled, Lady Éclair's identity does not change our current mission. Stopping this possible undead scourge is our first priority." Jaune turns to look at the Shield Hero and the rest of his party.
"Is there any point though?" Éclair's voice sounds weak, even softer than the distressful one she used after she faced the illusion of her father. The heiress Seaetto isn't someone who goes around loudly announcing her presence like the Consevatie heir, but Mein is used to the quality of Éclair's iron-like resolve, unbending and unyielding.
To hear her sounds as weak as a lost newborn ... it's distressing.
"All this time, I thought I came from the bloodline of prestigious and honorable warriors, worthy to stand side by side with Heroes." Éclair's hand trembles even with Lucatiel holding onto her arms for life. It doesn't look like the hands that spend countless hours practicing with a sword. "I ... I never imagined the ancestors we revered so much were responsible for the Waves. Were all the Waves after the first one the sin of my bloodline?"
"You lady. You should not be so quick to accept blame on yourself for something out of your control." Despite being a ghost, King Ariona kneels down right in front of the distraught knight and stares his helmet into her eyes. "Such thought leads to dark places. Nothing good comes out of it."
"My lady is your descendant, Your Grace. Even if her family have long renounced their crown." Lucatiel turns to look at the long dead king. "That is why she took responsibility for your father's actions."
"Ah, I see. I did not think my bloodline would have the tenacity to have persisted. It's... pleasant I'm proven otherwise, and for me to meet you, Lady Éclair." King Ariona's head slowly turns from Lucatiel back to Éclair again. As if to emphasize his point, he reaches out with his ethereal hand and grabs Éclair's still shaking hand. "In life, I have always been weak. A pampered son fostered to my uncle who doesn't live up to my father's valiance. That was perhaps why the gods found me unworthy to become one of their eternal Servants."
Éclair doesn't reply back to King Ariona's words, but her eyes follow the movement of the ancient king, no longer cast down.
"I returned to Boletaria for the sole purpose to disprove my father's involvement with the Second Scourge. And in the end, I lost my will to live and would have... ended it all when I found out Father was indeed responsible for the scourge on the world." The long dead king's body is steady, his voice doesn't become higher pitched or waver other than the usual echo. Yet Mein can feel the king become emotional, judging from how he no longer put in effort to use modern terms.
"I'm guessing you didn't carry out your suicide, or else there wouldn't be Éclair." Naofumi's eyes move between the ghost of the king, and the last heir of Seaetto, descendant of Boletaria. "That's a good thing. Killing yourself wouldn't have solved anything."
"Indeed, Sir Shield Hero. That was what my good friend told me when he stilled my hand." King Ariona nods his head towards the Shield Hero, before turning back to stare at Éclair once again. "'Do not turn an blind eye to you, and your ancestor's mistakes, but don't let them define you. Think of what you can do to make amends for past mistakes in your life, rather than trying to ignore them through a meaningless death. My friend was the one who made me realize I have a duty to help the people who survived the fall of Boletaria, and everyone else who suffered because of the Wave."
The ghost of the ancient king slowly stands up from his crotch, raising Éclair to her feet with the help of Lucatiel. He slowly fans his free left arm out, at the now ruined old Boletaria palace. "Look around you, Lady Éclair. I see the same devastation of my time once again. Aren't there people who survived the tragedy, and in need of hope and inspiration? Stand on your feet, and become the ray of light in their hour of need."
"There are people who survived the fall of Port Harp ... and the manhunters." Raphtalia also scoots closer to the knight. Her voice is emotional, desperate like the girl is trying to convince herself more than Éclair. "I... I didn't see too much when I was captured. But I know they didn't take everyone. Keel wasn't with me and Rifana. There must be others who escaped."
"There are." Jaune confirms the raccoon girl's suspicion. "I know His Eminence Pope Balmus dispatched Overseer Campbell to set up and open a soup kitchen in Port Harp. To help the refugees recover."
Huh, the irony of the Three Heroes' Church secretly being responsible for assassination of Éclair's father... and then turn around to spare some pocket lint for the refugee. Likely for the good publicity in the eyes of the unenlightened mass of commoners.
"Yes, you are right, Your Grace. The time to feel sorry for myself, and my family is over." Éclair's eyes became focused once again, her hands closed firmly around King Ariona's ethereal gauntlet. "I will do whatever I can to help what's left of our people, and everyone else who suffers from the Wave. Even if I don't return as their leader, I will fight for them on the frontlines, barring further harm from them."
"An admirable goal, my daughter." King Ariona retreats his hand and runs it under his chin. "Hmm... mayhaps the god passed me over for a reason. I may not be fitting as one of their Servants, but I can still lend my experience to you. Just like my good friend, and Sir Biorr was always by my side when I first took the mantle of leadership."
"That's fine and all, but the sun is already setting. And we are on top of a crypt during an Undead Scourge." Richard points his finger towards the fast disappearing sunlight outside the palace. "We really have to make haste, reach the church and fortify it if we don't want to get figuratively buried by the walking dead!"
"I should have some influence over the dead, with me being an ancient phantom king. At least the low level ones without the sense of self should not be able to even approach me unless I will it." King Ariona briefly considers Richard's suggestion and points his finger towards the other side of the hall. Presumably leading to the throne room. "If we make haste, I have some gifts to bestow you. We can always come back in the morrow to retrieve them, but they should be helpful in warding away the dead. It should not take long."
The time they spend running into what's left of the throne room isn't even enough for a cup of tea. The throne room of old Boletaria castle is in short, simply breathtaking. Instead of an enclosed hall, it's also a balcony where one side of the room is completely open other than the guard railing. It was probably a great hazard for getting the Boletaria kings assassinated by a high level eagle eye. But the view of the Griffin's Back mountain range, especially basked under the disappearing last ray of sunlight makes mother's throne room look practically a beggar's hovel by comparison.
King Ariona points at a random spot that's completely not worth notice and tells them to dig through the marble bricks. Mein almost has half a mind; the long dead king is simply messing around with them as his personal jester.
The actual digging didn't take any longer either. Yatsuhashi and Alfred simply charged forward, and slammed the ground with their respective weapons. Only a crater remains afterwards. Everyone closes in towards the 'dig', and Mein notices something shining buried in the soil underneath.
Martin jumps right into the dirt hole, completely ignoring how his long robes are soiled by dust and earth. Naofumi tosses some rags to Gaston, and the hunter hops down after the priest. Together, they didn't take too long to clean, and pull up the gifts King Ariona was talking about.
A sword and a shield, both shining with the color of polished copper. Both look more like decoration one would find in the personal treasure room of a conceited aristocrat than actual weapons.
The sword has two dull edges, and it even has a cap on the tip like one of those over-designed Faubley 'mechanic' constructions.
As for the Shield, it's shape is like some ornamented flower... which might sound like it still at least has a rough shape to be an usable, if overly embellished shield. Except all the 'petals' are hollowed out, with enough holes to let slingshot pallets, arrows, bolts, and bullets pass through.
The first princess is convinced this is either a joke, or a trap by the second. "These are your gifts? I'm sure we'll be able to sell them for a lot of gold coins to a rich noble collector. But they look like junk to me! How will they help us fight undead?"
"They are so shiny! Like they were freshly crafted. Shouldn't they have been more oxidized?" Naofumi on the other hand runs his finger across his chin once again. After everyone looked at him with confused eyes, he quickly explained. "I mean corroded ... rusted out?"
"They may look like copper, but they aren't made of pure copper." King Ariona chuckles at both Mein's indignation, and Naofumi's curiosity. "It would have been a tragedy, if the spell wrights and craftsmen who spend years perfecting their art to create a set of Runic weapons, only to have them rusted out."
"You don't mean... these are made of Runic Bronze?" Jaune's voice is now a few pitches higher. "I read about them from Father's book collections! The art to create them has been lost to time, but they are a kind of metal that's highly conductive of the arcane energy! Many scholars believe modern sword wands found their inspiration from Runic Bronze swords, while Runic Bronze shield's design shrunk in size, and eventually became magic casting amulets and talismans!"
Well... Mein certainly feels like eating her hood now. Or at least she just tasted her own feet. To think, something she passed for mere curious collectables turns out to be the most prestigious, downright mythical ancient artifacts.
"Of course, these must have been your weapons when you fought alongside the second Spear Hero - The Demon Slayer - as Ostrava of Boletaria!" Éclair practically tosses her head around to look at her ancestor. The speed of her movement makes Mein worry for the knight's neck.
"True, these are my weapons when I fought alongside my good friend against the Second Scourge... or the Second Wave as you call it now." King Ariona nods his head, his ghostly fingers gently brush alongside his old weapons. "And because of my connections with them during my time among the living and their material, my spirit can fuse into one of them, further strengthening the weapons. I will still be able to talk with you all, without worrying my spiritual essence will either become scattered against the four winds, or pulled back into the pale realm."
"So, you can become a permanent Over-Spirit. That's pretty cool." Naofumi's strange terminology makes everyone look at him again with confusion. "Err... I mean, this is something from the Shaman King... Shamans from my world who fight to become Shaman King, yeah, that's what I meant. They are... people who can see, and control ghosts and natural spirits. They can shortly fuse their spirits with physical objects connected to the spirit to imbue them with magical powers."
"Spirit Control is the highest form of sorcery, for how much the spirit must trust in their respective sorcerer, and the focus they both needed to maintain the fusion. Even when Siltvelt was at her strongest, there were less than ten supreme sorcerers who could utilize it." Farkas rambles under his breath. "To think, the world you come from has enough of them to fight over a title..."
"Yeah, something like that... I'm NOT one of them, though!" Naofumi quickly looks away from everyone's staring, seemingly ashamed that he isn't somehow a supreme sorcerer at the young age of twenty, when those are usually ancient thunder lizards with their beards reaching their ankles.
"That's really interesting and all... but can we get back to actually doing something productive!?" Richard once again points his finger towards the light quickly disappearing behind the mountain. "Our time is running out and we are wasting it!"
Is Mein imagining things, or is there some noise in the distance... it seems to progressively grow louder?
"Choose which one you want me to reside in, my daughter." King Ariona turns to look at Éclair again. "It makes no difference to me, but my consciousness and spirit essence can only imbue one of them."
"The Sword. I will have the sword." Éclair gives a quick glance between two artifacts lying before her and makes her choice. "The Runic Shield can further empower the Shield Hero."
Good choice, Mein can agree with both of the Seatto heir's reasoning. She probably can't say the same thing for her Naofumi.
"Don't worry about me, Éclair!" As she expected, the Shield Hero immediately objected to Éclair's choice. "I unlocked enough shield forms already. You'll be on your own after this quest, fighting the bandits. You need to think about how you'll best survive."
"No, I wanted to choose a sword." Is Mein imagining it, but Éclair's sight seems to be setting on her. "Someone once told me this: when violence is inevitable, there's nothing wrong leaning on a bit of controlled aggression. A shield is a great equipment to protect things I hold dear, but most of what I cared for is gone now. I need something that'll help me and what's left of my people curve out a new path: A sword."
Oh, yeah. She did say this to Éclair, didn't she? Since when did she become someone who can actually give out pieces of wisdom?
"Here you go, Shield Hero." Éclair quickly throws Ostrava's Runic Shield into Naofumi's hand, while holding up the Runic Sword in front of the spirit of her ancestor. "I'm ready, Your Grace."
King Ariona gives a nod to his descendant and his form changes. The ethereal body of a knight in full body seems to collapse into itself, until he becomes a glowing orb small enough to be held inside the hand of a child. At the same time, the growl and howl of the dead fills everyone's ear, as they start to pour through the hallway into the room like a tide.
It seems whatever intimidation the black phantom of King Ariona can affect the undead, it is lost when he assumes this supposedly lesser form.
Mein quickly turns around and thrust her hand forward, letting out a torrent of fire from her hand despite her heart drumming through her chest. She amongst the crackle of fire, and the foul odor of burning rotten flesh, she can hear the screeching of templar Richard. "Do your thing fast! We can't hold out for long!"
The fire from her hands flickers out when the princess loses her breath. She feels someone quickly shoves her to the back. Naofumi and Raphtalia back side by side, quickly fills her view, blocking the hideous forms of the undead. The princess steals a glance back, and she sees the orb of King Ariona's spirits shoots into the sword in Éclair's hand like a falling star.
For a few beats of Mein's rapid hearts, nothing else happened aside from the howl of the dead, and the battle cry of everyone around her. Then, ancient glyphs glowing with a pale blue light start to climb up the bridge of Éclair's new Runic Sword. The edge also starts to gain a new, and much sharper looking blade made of the same energy.
Despite its necromantic nature, the princess can feel nothing unholy about it compared to the undead around them. In fact, it feels almost like the miracles cast by the Knight Templars of the Three Heroes' Church, or even the holy fire evoked by Éclair in their many earlier battles.
The last descendant of the Boletaria line, and the last knight of House Seaetto rises her new weapon towards the heavens. A coat of holy fire wraps around the blue ethereal energy, but it doesn't seem to cause the phantom residing inside the sword any discomfort. In fact, both powers seem to amplify each other, to the point the sword in Éclair's hand briefly glows like a sun on earth.
"SSSCCCRRREEE~" Many loud screeches echo around the throne hall... balcony? The undead quickly retreats from the battle, like a receding tide this time.
"Incredible..." Martin's eyes are fixated on Éclair's new sword. He looks ready to prostrate himself in pious prayers. "King Ariona may think the gods have rejected him, and look like a common evil spirit. But this proves he is every bit a heroic spirit - a Servant of the gods - as the Second Spear Hero, and Sir Biorr. Perhaps the Chief God had him remain in the pale realm, because he was meant to assist us in our time of need!"
"Yeah, that's all nice. But can we go fortify that ruined church now?" Richard lets out a shiver inside his armor. He tries his best to wrap his tattered cloak around him. "This place really gave me the bad feel!"
Despite the sun finally sunken under the mountain, their journey to the ruined church was frankly easy as a summon stroll around a flower filled garden. Which is actually rather fitting, since the church is in the garden of the palace.
The spirit imbued Runic Sword in Éclair's hand both serves as a good light source in addition to their [Mage Light], and an undead repellent.
They make it to the ruined church without expanding any effort, or even getting into any more fight with undead creatures. Raphtalia does get dizzy near the end, and ends up lying on top of Firo for the journey. But that's the most exciting thing happened to them.
Despite his much more sluggish movement showing his fatigue, Brother Martin is in high spirit. He finishes warding the church, while everyone else boards up the place with what's available around them. While everyone else is busy munching on ration, he spends every moment he's not chewing asking King Ariona questions regarding everything of the spirit's time. The king inside his sword even offers to keep a vigil while everyone rests.
"Don't get too used of me being on constant vigil." King Ariona chuckles inside his sword. "This place... the barrier between the mortal realm and the pale realm is weak, and I can draw endless energy from the pale realm to keep me awake. Outside, I will not be able to stay awake indefinitely."
"So, Éclair will just end up with a blunt metal rod?" Naofumi looks between the Ostrava's Runic Sword and Éclair, he is clearly worried for the helpful knight with their parting drawing closer, one way or another. "No offense to you, Mr. King Boo. But your sword doesn't look too sharp."
"Yes, I suppose that will be a problem." Despite lacking a human body, Mein gets the distinct impression the phantom king is scratching his own chin. "Then again, my sword isn't an envious WEAPON of the Worlds. There's nothing stopping my daughter from having a backup steel sword dealing with the rabbles, and only using my Runic Sword against a much severe threat like a greater demon. It conducts arcane energy much better than most other materials, so even without my help, it'll channel her own holy magic much better than that blessed steel sword she has."
"Right, I keep forgetting we heroes are the only ones who are stuck with our weapons." Naofumi's eye sets down on his legendary shield on his arm. This is the first time Mein hears the Shield Hero himself using the word 'hero' in a derogatory tone.
"What about the undead retreating into the crypt, your grace?" Jaune gives a half bow to King Ariona's sword Éclair left on the church altar. "Will you be able to repel them back, like you did tonight?"
"And what do you know about the crypt?" Richard on the other hand is more blunt. "We survived the fight against the undead outside thanks to our planning. Would be nice if we can plan around what might be underneath."
"Good thinking, Brother Richard." Jaune gives a compliment to his humble born companion.
"I do not foresee things going as smoothly once we enter the crypt. It's clear the negative energy is much stronger from the crypt, almost as thick as a miasma." The sword stays silent for a short while, before the spirit of King Ariona continues. "To my embarrassment, I do not know what might be lurking underneath the crypt aside from its possible general layout. It is long past my time after all. But whatever is inside, it is on par if not surpass my commanding presence over the undead. I can make the undead act more sluggish, but I will not be able to have control over and repel the undead under this creature's command once we descend into the crypt."
Brother Martin's face became serious after hearing this from Ostrava's Runic Sword. "What unspeakably vile undead creature could have been stronger than an ancient phantom king?"
"You seems to be under some wrong assumption, good sir priest." Mein wonders if she made a mistake out of her fatigue, but the sword seems to turn towards the battle priest. "True, power comes with age when it comes to the spirits. But in the pale realm, there is only the difference between a stronger and weaker consciousness, not difference between raw strength. It is very possible for a strong willed younger spirit to overpower a comparatively ancient one."
"So it's back to swimming through the undead. Lovely." Naofumi lets out a sigh at King Ariona's implication. Mein can't say she looks forward to smelling more burning rotten flesh either. The Shield Hero turns to look at Jaune again. "You think this strong undead has something to do about the scourge not being active?"
"What do you mean, Sir Shield Hero?" The Arc boy turns his head over to look at the Shield Hero.
"Remember when we first met, you said something about this being an undead scourge, but it's strange it's not attacking other people?" Naofumi clicks his finger on the floor, making a little drumming noise with his metal gauntlet. "Maybe it's because their boss was an experienced general, and they are trying to build up their forces... or maybe staying behind because of some reason? Like maybe protecting something?"
Jaune's head slowly nods along as he looks down. "That is plausible, yes."
"What about the structure of the crypt itself?" Richard continues to press for information. "Will we get lost inside a maze, and get tired out to death by the undead? Will they be able to loop us, and catch us in pincer movement?"
"I don't know what my descendent does, if they continue to dig deeper. But assuming they followed the design of my time, the crypt's main tunnels should take the shape of a cross, with stairs descending down further levels from one end to the other. And there'll be outer 'rings', or squares for burial." The sword once again pauses for a brief moment. "So, yes. Assuming whatever commanding the undead creatures know tactics, they will be able to catch us on sides, and behind once we progress far enough."
"The undead we fought through the castle does act more like an army than a mindless clump. Whoever commanded them must have been a seasoned general in life. We need to spread our strong fighters to the side, and behind." Jaune nods his head along as he looks down and thinks.
"Generations of Boletaria, and later Seaetto are tasked with keeping the raiding parties, and beastman hordes north of Griffin's Back mountain range to protect our softer southern siblings." Lucatiel crosses her arm in front of her chest. "Anyone one of them could have been raised as a death knight, and command the undead to defend the castle. I... simply pray we won't come face to face with my Silver Hand brothers and sisters. They say the most pious paladins make the most vile death knights, once they are raised."
"Let's hope that won't be the case." Jaune gives a quick glance over to their raptors, and two filorials. "Our steeds will be a liability once we descend into the crypt. There won't be enough open room for them to charge around."
"How about we rest now? And plan for tomorrow?" Naofumi looks over at the leader of the Three Heroes' Church expedition remnant. "We are all tired, and we'll probably overlook things even if we talk and plan ourselves stupid. We should be able to think much better with a fresh rest."
"That's a good suggestion." The young Arc concedes to the Shield Hero's point. Everyone began to spread out their sleeping wares. Naofumi lends out extra blankets, and monster hides to the church expedition. Unlike their rest down at the bazaar, there isn't any visible line dividing the Shield Hero's party, and the church expedition. Although Jaune, Nikos and Alfred all sleep around the edge of the group, clearly ready to jump up and defend themselves against undead if Martin's holy warding fails.
Mein wouldn't call her rest pleasant. Even sleeping, she constantly feels like she hears howling outside the boarded up and warded church. Perhaps it's simply her stressed mind playing tricks on her, or it may be an actual unholy presence from the creature mentioned by King Ariona. But her rest was not interrupted, and she woke up when sunlight began to seep into the ruined church.
Some of the other early risers are already discussing their plans. The princess crawls up from her sleeping bag and rubs her eyes, trying to listen to the conversation Gaston is having with Naofumi and Jaune.
"...I'll take the steeds, and guard the entrance with them." Continues the hunter from Lute. "Enough open area for them to run around, and we won't be culled down and killed by undead. And we can always retreat back into this church if we are overwhelmed. Your priest's warding should be good for longer than a night, right?"
"Brother Martin is an accomplished battle priest. I trust in his warding." Jaune confirms Gaston's question. "Even considering the strong necromantic energy, it should still be good for another night or two. You'll be safe inside, once you have to retreat. Although if you are being overwhelmed on the surface... I suggest you take our steeds and run. Find whoever the hero that's around this area causing Sir Shield Hero his EXP penalty and inform the lords of the Silver Pass. If the undead can commit that large a force on the surface again, we are likely already dead."
That's admittedly an outcome the princess didn't want to think about.
"Will you be okay here by yourself, and the monsters? Gaston?" Naofumi looks over at the beasts either rolling around the floor, frolicking, or still snoring. "You helped us a lot, I don't want anything bad to happen to you."
"HAH! Don't forget who you are talking to, Shield Hero boy. I'm the best hunter from Lute!" Gaston flexes the muscles on both of his arms. When Naofumi's face doesn't look any more relaxed, he becomes more serious. "Okay, serious now. I'm no one special, Shield Hero. I can't cast some super magic, or shoot holy lightning out of my hand. I'm an experienced ranger who can shoot an arrow straighter than most. And I can't help you much if I go down with you. But out on the surface here? I can lead the raptors and birdies and make sure you all have an escape route."
"Sir Gaston makes a good point, Sir Shield Hero. Securing a possible retreat is important." The Arc boy turns to look at the Shield Hero. "We don't know what's under there, and King Ariona's warning sounds dire. It might very well be something we can't handle, and have to wait for reinforcements."
"Yeah, that does sound like a good idea. I should probably have Raphtalia stay with Gaston too..." Naofumi hasn't even finished his full sentence before a high pitched voice interrupts him.
"NO!" Raphtalia's objection jerks up the couple raptors who were still snoring on the floor. She walks over to the Shield Hero and stares him down. "You won't get rid of me so easily this time, Master Naofumi."
"But, what if it's as bad, or even worse than that time from the Lost Laboratory? Remember the nightmare you had afterwards?" The Shield Hero's thought is clearly all over the place, with him worrying over the wellbeing of the raccoon girl.
"It wasn't a nightmare! I was... I was worried about my growth. I was scared you'd leave me behind if you know I'm not a little girl anymore." Raphtalia manages to calm herself after a few deep breaths. The raccoon girl is clearly also hiding how severe her trauma was, because she doesn't want to be left behind. "And I'm not a useless little girl, or some pampered noble! I can help fight to protect you... and big sister Mein! What if she has her heart problem again while everyone is busy fighting the undead?"
The princess barely just got over Raphtalia's unknowing jab at her true identity when the raccoon girl starts pointing out her own physical ailment. They really should just leave her alone! Seeing her Naofumi turning his face to look at her, she quickly objects to his idea of leaving her behind before he can even make such a ridiculous suggestion. "You aren't leaving me behind, Master Naofumi. What if all of you are surrounded by an undead ambush, and need the attack boost from my [Unstoppable Force] to break through? I'm going down the crypt with you."
"Okay, you can both come. But you two stay in the middle where everyone can protect you, okay?" Raphtalia practically jumps up and down after the Shield Hero relents.
They break their fast, and exit the church ready to descend the crypt. The entrance is covered by a two panel metal gate that can easily fit three fully grown and armored men walking through side by side. Jaune looks over at the Shield Hero and Alfred. "Brother Alfred, the Shield Hero, and myself will form our first line. We have our shields, and we can easily hunker down and brace for incoming undead if they try to rush us down."
"I also have a shield! I should be at the point with you, Ja- Brother Jaune. I have stronger ATK than the Shield Hero, so I'll make a better vanguard!" Nikos immediately objects to Jaune's plan. Mein has a strong suspicion her problem doesn't have anything to do with strategy, despite her saying otherwise.
"As my Thane's Housecarl, I should stand beside him." By comparison, Yatsuhashi's protest is very sincere.
"That's the exact reason I need you at the side, Sister Pyrrha. Remember what King Ariona told us?" Jaune points his finger up, explaining his tactics. "We need someone strong, who can carry the whole fight in case we are hit from the sides, and behind. You, and Lady Éclair with King Ariona's sword, will serve these roles. Sir Housecarl will take this role with Sir Lucatiel protecting our back. We'll have a much more even fighters spread around our formation this way."
The Shield Hero's bodyguard seems to be appeased by this explanation, but the red headed former gladiator still isn't fully happy. "But, what if you... any of you are hurt and I wasn't able to help?"
"You'll be able to help us, Sister Pyrrha. Your weapon is a spear, it has long enough natural reach, or weapon arts to go through our line and hit incoming undead." Jaune walks back and places both of his hands on the red head's shoulders. Her face instantly lit up. "I need someone I can trust keeping our sides safe, in case of a double pincer attack. One of them is you!"
"Oh... okay. I'll keep everyone safe on the side." The arena grand champion quickly looks away, in a vain effort to hide her affection-induced embarrassment from Jaune. It clearly worked... as pretty much everyone else is sniggering or smirking on their face except the Arc boy in question. Jaune has always been rather... dense in the romance, unless one makes everything absolutely clear.
But as they continue towards the crypt, Mein begins to notice some problems. In particular, Gaston's constant beast whistling, and Wolfgang's squawking. She looks behind... and sees Firo is following behind them. She quickly reaches over and shakes her Naofumi's shoulder. "Master Naofumi, Firo is following us."
"What?" Naofumi stops in his tracks and looks back, forcing everyone else to also root their feet to not mess up their formation. The Shield Hero waves his hand back at Firo, trying to make the infuriating bird back to Gaston. "Go on, Firo! Stay with Gaston!"
"NO!" Mein nearly jumps on her feet when instead of a chirping or squawking, Firo clearly says a human word. "No, No. No! NO! NONONONONO!"
By the power of greyskull, I have the POWEEERRR~
Jokes aside, I totally did NOT plan anything about Eclair getting a magical sword empowered by the soul of her long dead ancestor even before I started writing this chapter. Yeah, I was going to have Ostrava give his weapon to her, but the idea of him fusing with the sword and empower it just sort of happened as I was writing this chapter... because I have to throw Eclair a bone after all the emotional BS I put her through.
But just in case anyone was wondering, yes. Demon Slayer saved Ostrava, and he survived through the event of Demon's Souls is inspired by WanderingSoul96's (sadly discontinued) Grey Souls. Although obviously, here in my story the Demon Slayer was the second generation Spear Hero. I think it's rather fitting how he comes back and act as the mentor and give hope to his descendant after he was once saved from despair by 2nd Gen Spear Hero.
And of course, after Raphtalia we are about to get Firo's transformation.