Special thanks for Angel Wraith, who read the draft of this chapter and provided feedback. And Ace-Triad for coming back to help me edit again.
The whole 'Kingtaker' plot was originally conceived by Comrade Broseph, his input to this story is truly missed.
As always, stay behind at the end to watch me blabber some more.
"There are elves in this world?!"
Elves… isn't it one of the slang words the summoned heroes used to call some of those so-called 'highborn' bird beastmen?
"They are the Vermilis, the highborns of feather-born Malisis. Or bird beastmen, as the humans like to call them." Once again, Farkas manages to croak out a more flattering title with such distaste in his tone as he makes it sound more like a dirty word. The werewolf takes a few unsteady steps towards the Shield Hero with Yatsuhashi propping him up. "I suggest you always keep these knife-ears in your sight, Shield Hero. Never trust a Vermili further than you can throw them."
"Isn't it a bit prejudiced?" The Shield Hero's eyes slowly leaves the slowly gathering warparty of the 'elves' and looks at Farkas.
The wolfman doesn't answer back immediately. He simply locks his gaze with the Shield Hero, long enough to make the young man look away in discomfort. "In the last Wave, they betrayed King Mikage and took him prisoner before the Wave was even over. Tried to rule all Siltvelt clans through him. Who knows what would come to him, if the Oath Betrayer Shirou Emiya didn't come to rescue him."
"...oh." Naofumi's eyes turn back to look at the Siltvelt warparty. His eyes now much narrower, gazing at the newcomers with a cold light of calculation. "I'll keep it in mind."
Chapter 67: No Way Home
"Bah! These elves are easy prey. The undead would have taken care of them." Consevatie continues to bluster even as the members of the Three Heroes' Church also begin to assemble themselves into a proper battle formation to match the Siltvelt party. Despite his bravado, the young fop doesn't even have his weapon ready. "We can take them!"
Campbell for the most part, ignores the fool. His eyes follow the slowly advancing troops of the phoenix house just like the Shield Hero.
As more and more Vermili leave the forest, a different variety of troops can be observed than the standard sword and shield footmen: tall men clad in more ornamented armors and helmets, wielding glaives and great tower shields. Lightly armored archers holding silver great bows. Men and women in robes similar to the Three Heroes' Church priests, but with circles instead of triangles on their chests.
The princess recognizes these Siltvelt troops based on her studies: Qual'Thalas spellbreakers, the Siltvelt's most famous, or infamous, anti-mage troops. The Silver Arrows, the elite archers, rangers and outriders of the bird beastmen. And of course, the battle priests of the Church of the Shield Hero.
Campbell holds his right hand up as the Siltvelt troops slowly make their way around the corner of the Boletaria ruins towards them. The Three Heroes' Church templars wordlessly shuffled their feet, moving around with the grace of free flowing water. Warriors, wearing the same brass domed helmet as Alfred forms the first line of their formation, as the penance legionnaires lock their great round shields together into a protective wall against possible arrow bombardments.
To the ever slight credit of the Phoenix Prince, he orders his troops to stand down before the two armies can lock even into long range combat. The air is tense as both sides hold their weapons ready, but now an attack is fired from either side.
"Enlighten me this, Prince Sunstrider." Campbell's head slightly cocks to the side as he observes the opposition leader. "What does a Vermilian Prince seek in the land of Man? Over on the other side of Fort Wolf's Mouth too?"
"You speak, as if a superior breed Malisi like myself wants to spend my time with you wretched Mon-Keighs. As for your precious mountain fortress, I walked through it like a good civilized Mal" The Phoenix Prince practically spats out his words as he takes out a scroll, a shining seal sitting in the middle of the piece of parchment. One of his fellow warriors walks up, takes the scroll from the prince's hand and carries it towards Campbell's party. "I have the seal of proof from the Four Corners' Council."
Campbell gives a sideways glance to one of his own templars. The armored church warrior breaks formation, walks through their shield wall towards the phoenix footman.
"Why does he keep saying monkeys? Isn't it a bit racist against monkey beastmen?" While the two warriors from both sides are changing documents, Naofumi leans towards Farkas and asks with a quiet whisper.
"Not monkey, Mon-Keigh. Vermilian tongue for 'wild one'." Farkas snorted out once again, his eyes narrowed at the Siltvelt war party. "But those feather-borns, especially the highborn Vermilis are prejudiced against the other Malisi. Damned knife-ears - thinking that they are superior just because they are born with feathers, and not fur or scales…"
"They sound like typical elves to me…" Naofumi mumbles under his breath. "If they are birds, where are their wings?"
"Hidding under their armor, most likely."
While the Shield Hero gossips with his only Siltvelt informant, the document has now exchanged hands. The templar doesn't even dare to turn his back against the beastman, but instead walks backwards towards his own men. This action earns him a scoff from the phoenix footman, who simply crosses his arms across his chest and looks at the templar's retreating form.
The document is eventually carried over to Campbell. As the dispatched templar walks through the Shield Hero's party, Mein manages to catch a better look at what the shining seal looks like. It's gilded with gold, with four small pieces of gems representing the four heroes. So the Phoenix prince wasn't lying, he really was dispatched by the Four Corners Council of Cal Mira island.
Consevatie makes an attempt at grabbing the parchment, but Campbell was faster. As the overseer breaks the seal and about to read the message, the Consevatie heir blurts out. "What are we waiting our times with these elves for? Let's kill them and move onto the Shield Demon!"
As the first princess of Melromarc, she has met her fair share of arrogant, and dimwitted aristocrats who only gained their station thanks to a series of unfortunate tragedies of their own noble houses leaving them as the only heir. But there is being smug and stupid, and then there's being so dumb you wonder how they haven't killed themselves yet.
"Did my ears deceive me, or did I hear one of you savage Mon-Keighs openly plotting the assassination of an official emisarry on behalf of the Four Corner's Council?" Prince Sunstrider also crosses his arms like his attendant, his nasal tone shows how serious he takes Consevatie's threat. "Perhaps we should skip all the pleasantries, and jump straight to the crusade against you wretched Mon-Keighs?"
"I'd like to see you try something, elf-" Consevatie's taunt is immediately cut short when Campbell rises his hand again to interrupt him.
"Brother Alistair. Brother Siegmar is clearly cracked under fatigue and stress from the undead infestation he reported. Take him to the back where he may rest." The former inquisitor spread open the parchment and read it through.
"Campbell! You dare mistreat your better!?" Consevatie's head torn away from the beastman he was putting down, and glares at his superior. "You are dead, you hear me?! DEAD!"
"This way, my lord." Another templar rides over to Campbell and Consevatie, this one wears the same red dress coat as a Campbell, with a gray cloak over. One of the Three Heroes Church inquisitors. His voice full of jeers the fool was throwing at the phoenix prince earlier. "Too much running with your legs and your mouth is no good for you. But don't worry, we'll nurse you back to health."
"Get your hands away from me! You filthy bastard!" Instead of going quietly, the Consevatie fop pulls his axe and gets into a fighting stance facing this Brother Alistair. It seems he's determined to fight even his own allies just to wave his dick around.
"Now where did that come from? And here I thought the two of us were getting along so well. I was even going to name one of my children after you…" Unlike Consevatie, Allistair simply holds his empty hands up in a placate manner as he slowly approaches the idiotic heir. As he got closer in rage, one of his hands suddenly balls into a fist, and a satisfying crunch is soon followed with the sound of a body dropping down from a steed onto the ground. That's usually what happens when a fist collides with someone's nose. "...the grumpy one."
Watching Consevatie makes a fool of himself and gets humiliated, it should bring her joy. She should practically savor the moment. Yet at a time like this, all she can think of was what he said to her back during the banquet.
There is nothing but failure in front of you now, and you'll drag the Shield Loser down with you.
In a twisted way, the idiot's words almost feel prophetic now. She hasn't hurt the Shield Hero yet, but throughout her life she's been hurting the people she comes to care for one after another. How long till the same happens to the Shield Hero and his companions?
"Brother Siegmar will be severely punished. Losing his mind or not, his behavior is unacceptable." Campbell slowly rolls the parchment he reads back, and re-clips the seal around the scroll. The overseer doesn't even bother to turn his head as Inquisitor Allistair throws the unconscious body of Consevatie over his shoulder and rides to the back of their formation. "Yes, this is a legitimate official seal of the Four Corners' Council. We have every intention to honor the covenant and allow you the audience you seek with His Majesty."
"Now you wish to honor the covenant, when you already broke it with hero stealing?" Overseer Campbell's face remains neutral at Prince Kael'Thas' snide remark. If the former inquisitor is flustered, he doesn't show it.
"The King is currently holding a grand council with all the nation's lords, and allies in regard to the Wave. There will be a parade in five days. I'm sure you will be invited to attend as a honored guest." The overseer hands the scroll back to his messenger, and leaves the templar bringing the document back to Kael'thas' attendant.
"Charmed." The phoenix prince lets out a sound that can be mistaken for a snort from a less dignified man… or beastman. He looks over to where the Shield Hero's party stands, a short distance away from the Three Heroes Church war party. "I trust there will be no issue if I were to speak with our rightful king?"
"You may proceed as you please." The overseer gives only a curt nod. He doesn't make any gesture for his templars to stand down, or move out of the way.
The phoenix prince slightly narrowed his eyes at the overseer, but didn't give any comment. He leads his men towards the Shield Hero, and bows his head down at Naofumi, the rest of his followers all go down on one knee. "I'm sorry for arriving late, and leaving you in the hands of these savage Mon-Keighs, my king. Please, let me rectify that."
"First of all, we are going to have a major problem here, if you don't stop using that word." The phoenix prince looks up from his bow. He looks completely, and genuinely baffled at the hostility in Naofumi's tone. "I don't like being called monkeys, or whatever other bad words from your language. And I'm sure my companions don't like it either."
"Such words are not meant to address you, my king. Even if these Mon-Keighs do share some surface similarities to you, they are at best a pale imitation-" Prince Kael'thas is immediately interrupted by the Shield Hero's fury, and nearly recoils back as a result.
"THERE IS NOTHING DIFFERENT BETWEEN ME, AND MY FRIENDS AND ALLIES! The only thing I have that they don't is this damn shield that won't come off my arm! Heck, they would have all been stronger than me if I didn't have the shield!" It's been a while since Mein witnessed Naofumi completely losing his composure. But apparently, the series of misfortune he recently went through, coupled with the smugness of the beastman prince is enough to bring his wrath onto the surface. "So don't go around calling my friends monkeys, and then pretend I wasn't included!"
"I -I am terribly sorry, my king. While it wasn't intended, I didn't mean to have my words to bring you distress." The phoenix prince actually looks shaken by the Shield Hero's outburst as he tries to walk back on his words. Sadly for him, Naofumi isn't finished taking him to task yet.
"Don't apologize to me. Apologize to my companions." The Shield Hero points his finger towards his sworn shield, Mein, and everyone from Jaune's group. "If your bad words weren't aimed at me, you don't owe me any apology. But all the people who have been helping me, keeping me safe do."
The eyes of the phoenix prince twitches, clearly consider the request a remark to his pride. Yet in the end, he relents to Naofumi's demand. "I'm… sorry, people of Melromarc. You have my… thanks, for assisting my king and keeping him safe."
"That's better." Naofumi wraps his arms across his chest. "Now we can get down to business."
"Of course, my king." The phoenix prince gives a slight bow to the Shield Hero again, recovering some of his grace from before. "I have with me the official document from the Four Corners' Council from Cal Mira island - the entity that all nations have to answer to in regard to hero summoning. Especially during the time of a Wave of Catastrophe. If you wish, we can take you away from this nation immediately."
"So the [Young Phoenix]. One of the two rising young military commanders of Malisi is reduced to a glorified messenger, and mouthpiece of that out of touch council." Farkas growls at the phoenix prince with barely veiled disdain. "What next? Will Lung, the [Dragon Princess] offers herself a camp follower of the Shield Hero?"
"You… There is something familiar about you." Prince Kael'thas cocks his head slightly to the side as he glares at Farkas with narrowed eyes. A light of recognition slowly dawns. "My king, you should not have associated yourself with this renegade and kinslayer. This one has no faith nor loyalty, and can not be trusted to guard your life. If high-level veteran warriors are what you need, many of my own trusted men would happily offer themselves."
"BAH! As if you have any right to accuse me, you knife-eared traitor!" Farkas spat right back at the phoenix prince. "As if your kind didn't betray our last king, and hold him a prisoner to fulfill your own ambitions!"
"We, the Phoenix House played no part in the Kingtaker's betrayal! It was a scheme cooked up by the Vermillion Sparrow House themselves! Yet because of that foolish scum, all of us Vermilis are looked down by you fur-born and scale-borns, even when we hold ourselves to THE highest standard just to prove ourselves!" Prince Kael'thas glares daggers right back into Farkas' eyes as he punches right back with cutting words. "As for you! Your father, and your brother were noble, dutiful warriors and leaders. And what did you do on your first mission? Instead of putting down those damned rebels, you sided with them and slew your own kin under your command!"
"Easy for you to call our demi-Malisi brothers and sisters rebels when you live high in your gilded tower gardens, you damn birdbrain! But have you actually seen how they lived?!" The werewolf is now roaring back into the phoenix prince's face. "In the mud and shit, riddled with diseases, no better than slaves! First King be damned! I seen shrouded slaves living better than those we called our little siblings! Of course they'd rise up!"
"Okay, time out! Too many new words getting thrown around!" Naofumi takes a few steps to get between the two glaring and roaring beastmen, pushing them apart with his arms. "Someone go back to the beginning, and explain to me what you're even talking about here! What Kingtaker, what rebellion, and what's a shroud slave?"
"The Kingtaker. He was the last prince of Vermillion Sparrow House and father to the current one." Farkas slowly tears his eyes away from the phoenix prince he was throwing death stares at, and looks at the Shield Hero. "He was the mentor and regent of King Mikage, till the point he found a way to steal the power of King Mikage's shield for himself. At which point he imprisoned our king, and ruled in his name till King Mikage was saved by the other traitor, Shirou Emiya. For his vile betrayal, his birth name shall never be uttered again."
"Is this true?" Naofumi turns to look at Prince Kael'thas, who avoids his intense gaze. "Don't lie to me. I can ask someone else. I'm sure other countries have records for something huge like this."
"The… not so reputable recent history of my kind. Even if the traitor is not my own House." Kael'thas looks down at his feet, and starts his own recount of the events. "Before the Kingtaker, he was known as the Kingmaker. He… was a brilliant man. A genius statesman, a fierce warrior and a charismatic negotiator. And at the time, the Lady Tyrant of Azure Dragon clan was bearing down on our own clan, of all the heads of Houses, only the Kingtaker could match her abilities. So the other heads of Houses, my father included, relinquished most of their power to him. And before everyone realized, he became someone worse than the Dragon Tyrant."
A snake in the grass the whole time, or someone who let his own growing power and ambition lead him down a cliff? In either cases… is this Kingtaker's path the one she will ends up treading?
"You said he's the father of the current head?" Naofumi's eyes settle back on Kael'thas for a moment before asking again. "Look, I'm all for giving people chances and not punishing them by association, but how the heck is his son still allowed to rule, if he was that infamous?"
"The connection of his bloodline with the Vermilion Sparrow, our guardian spirit, was especially strong." The phoenix prince's eyes cast down again. His lips don't fully close, as if he's trying to force himself from biting down but not quite managed to do so. "If our clan head isn't connected to our guardian spirit, it would have weakened us enough to allow the other three clans to force us out of the high council. So it was deemed the lesser evil by all the Vermilian houses to let the Kingtaker's son succeed the clan head after him. But this time, the rest Vermilian princes won't allow him to make all our decisions like his father did."
Naofumi stays silent for a while longer, simply staring at Prince Kael'thas. "Ever thought of something similar to a constitutional monarchy? Or make him a spiritual leader? Like, have him still be the technical head of your clan, but don't let him make any governing decisions. At all?"
"That's… an elegant solution. Something the clans would all accept." The phoenix prince blinks at Naofumi's suggestion. "This is why we need your guidance, my king. Only with the direction of the Shield Hero, can we rise above our petty politics between the clans and become something greater. Please, consider coming to Siltvelt with us and assume your rightful title."
"Right, let's not jump from talking about the guy who took the last Shield Hero hostage, to me coming with you." Naofumi's words make the phoenix prince, and the rest of his entourage close enough to hear the whole conversation visibly cringe. The Shield Hero looks back at Farkas standing on his other side. "Farkas didn't tell me much about his past. He was involved with some rebellion, you said?"
It just occurred to the princess that Farkas told his story to everyone after Naofumi was kidnapped. And apparently nobody recounted the story to the Shield Hero.
"This renegade you know as Farkas." Prince Kael'thas recovers some of his initial bluster as he glares at Farkas once again. "He and his twin brother, Wilkas, were sons of Captain Jurgen. One of the five captains of the Five Hundred Guards.
"Jurgen brought the two of us as pups to Jorrvaskr, the old mead hall of the original five hundred." The werewolf's shoulder twitches unnaturally, giving the impression he's unconsciously trying to cross his arms despite them hanging uselessly down his sides. "We never knew if he truly sired us. Old fuck Stormcunt loves to send us Greyback clans in head first to any conflict as his personal attack dogs while he drinks and whores with his band of whoresons. 'Not a threat worth the attention of the great Stormcloak Clan', he would say. Lots of us pups run around without knowing who our father and mother are."
"Right… I can totally tell you grew up with daddy issues." Farkas returns a low growl at Naofumi's bland look. The Shield Hero turns back to the phoenix prince again. "But anyways, who are the Five Hundred Guards? Some elite guardsmen?"
"Yes. They are the most elite Siltvelt honor guards, named after the original five hundred companions of the First King, who answer only to the Shield Hero, and they are chosen from the nation's best warriors and spellwrights of all Great Clans." There is a clear tone of reverence in the prince's voice before it turns sharp. "This renegade and his brother are the two rising young fighters, trained to become a new generation of captains to serve under our new king, before-"
"Wait, stop right here!" The Shield Hero interrupts the phoenix prince once again. "You are expecting a new king, as in a new Shield Hero to be summoned? How? Do you know when a new Wave will happen? Was it from that Dragon Hourglass thing?"
"Dragon Hourglass can precisely predict when a Wave will happen… about a month in advance, but no further. Although there are a few theories on predicting when a Wave of Catastrophe would occur." Prince Kael'thas shakes his head. "One theory proposes they are called by great bloodshred and suffering in the world. So while it would still be earlier than usual, considering the last Wave of Catastrophe happened sixty years ago, it's believed another one will happen within one's lifetime due to The Great War from twenty five years ago."
"Right, I think Mein once said something along these lines." The princess quickly turns away from the Shield Hero's burning gaze. "Let's go back to Farkas' story."
"As you wish, my king. As I was saying, this renegade and his brother quickly proved themselves with their martial prowess, easily considered worthy of champions, even captains of the Five Hundred Guards. Perhaps an assessment was made too soon…" Even without looking, the princess can hear the phoenix prince narrowing his eyes simply with his cutting tone. "There was a rebellion that tore through half of Skyguard, the northern province of Siltvelt around ten years ago. The renegade and his brother Wilkas were both sent in as captains of Greyback clans, leading a hundred of their clansmen in the effort to bring the rebels to heel. To see how they will fair, and lead in actual combat. His brother fulfilled his duty with honor, while this renegade slain half of his own kin following him, and joined the rebels with the rest!"
"Easy for you to give them bad names, calling them rebels as if they were not men, but some faceless monsters!" Farkas roars right back at Prince Kael'thas with barely restricted rage. Actually, Mein can hear the sound of struggling. Someone clearly has to physically hold the wolf man back from attacking the phoenix prince. "The demi-Malisis, we call them our 'little siblings'. But do you know how they are treated in the North by Old Fuck Stormcunt and his band of snivelling whoresons?! They were relinquished! Working to death cutting lumber, or mining precious metals for the Stormcunt to 'prepare for the coming Wave'!"
"Get a hold of yourself, Farkas… give me a hand here, guys!" Naofumi's voice is accompanied by even more flailing and struggling.
"They were skin and bone, and could barely hold weapons. But they still stared into our eyes even as we ran our weapons through them! And you know what one of them told me when I told him to stop fighting!?" The increasingly intensive ruffling did little to cover up the wolfman's rage-filled howling. "We'll die if we fight, but if we don't, we'll still die. And the Stormcloaks will point at our bodies and say 'look at them, they were slaves!'"
"If that were true, then their plight was truly sympathetic." For once, the phoenix prince's voice becomes solemn. Perhaps he can understand the unfair treatment with his own clan's circumstance. But it's quickly replaced by his usual self-righteous bluster. "But it still doesn't give them the right to rebel. They should have filed an official inquiry through the Ravens to Lord Arryan."
"You think they would have gotten to old fool Arryan to begin with?! None of the other three Raven Lords cares about upholding Mikage's laws-" A loud bonk makes Mein look over to see who has the guts to hit Farkas on the head. Not too surprisingly, she sees Coach Zellus' wooden practice sword slowly leaving the werewolf's head.
"Don't make me break your legs too. Permanently this time." Zellus puts his wooden sword back. He looks at Farkas with a thoughtful expression while scratching his own chin. "So, that's why you came at me like you wanted to die back in the Colosseum of Fools. I thought it was that damn Siltvelt pride again, but you really did want to die, didn't you?"
Farkas growls again, but he stops struggling against the Shield Hero and his bodyguard. The wolfman's voice is also lower when he speaks again. "Old Arryan's own Ravens are overworked, trying to collect evidence and settling disputes of the Great Clans' constant dick measuring. Some complain of demi-Malisis against the pureborn would never pass onto his desk, if the Ravens from one of the other lords don't toss them into the swamp to begin with!"
"Oh, great." Naofumi steps back from Farkas, still looking at the wolfman even as he curses under his breath. "Ravens. Not those assholes again…"
"Were there perhaps further misunderstandings, my king? You speak as if you already know about the Raven Order, and don't think highly of them."
"Look, this really shouldn't be about me. We still haven't finished that topic of mistreated demi-" The Shield Hero's deflection is uncharacteristically, interrupted by his own sworn shield this time.
"The Ravens under the command of Towair kidnapped my Thane while we were traveling through stolen land!" Yatsuhashi turns around to look Naofumi in the eyes before staring back at Kael'thas, as if daring the phoenix prince to try and defend his fellow countryman. "When we breached their defenses with some help, we found my Thane savagely beaten."
"WHAT!?" The face of Kael'thas looks equally incensed as the Shield Hero's bodyguard. He paces around the ground, less graceful and more animatedly while his entourage looks nervously at him. "I knew Towair was the most hawkish of the four Raven Lords, and he spent most of his time working at… foreign affairs. But I'd never in a century or two, imagine he'd kidnap, and abuse our rightful king! That damned traitor! As if our collective names haven't been dragged through the mud enough by that shield damned Kingtaker!"
"Yeah, well. Now you understand why I'm not so eager to come with you? I'm starting to see a bit of a pattern here with you birdbrains kidnapping the Shield Hero here." Naofumi tosses an unimpressed sideways glance to the phoenix prince. "Did I mention he also released Godzilla's little brother, probably trying to kill us all, after he's chased off?"
"I do not doubt the truthfulness of you…" Prince Kael'thas also throws a sideways glance at Naofumi's very human looking bodyguard. "And your companion, my king. But do you have any evidence we can bring back to the council? Accusing high treason of one of the Raven Lords can get messy. Especially if you do not wish to, understandably so, appear in person."
"Is there some way for easy memory extraction? Cause, you know. I met Lucius Malfoy before… no?" Naofumi looks around at everyone, mentioning the current head of House Malfoy for some reason. It's not like Malfoy bloodline was ever well known for some kind of mind magic. Is this another error from whatever text he read in his own world? "Well, there should be some raven corpses rotting back in the land of the Bitch Lord. Maybe, the nobles were supposedly planning for a campaign against the bandits."
"So, there really isn't any evidence against Towair. That makes things tricky. He has many connections, as many consider him a hero of Siltvelt." Now, it's the phoenix prince's turn to run his finger across his chin. "He would get away with his crime, if there's not an airtight case made against him."
"Put a slave seal on me, and force me to only tell the truth against him." Farkas grumbles again, surprising the princess considering how he hated the idea of being enslaved. "I'll testify against him, if we get one of them fucking lords to the chopping block."
"No! We are not putting you back in slavery again." Naofumi puts a hand right over the werewolf. "Hell, if anyone's testifying with a slave seal, it should be me. I was the one who got taken in the first place."
"Slave seals doesn't work on heroes, Master Shield Hero." Kyubey helpfully corrects the Shield Hero.
"Wasn't there some slave seal Mikage used on Kirito, erm… the last Sword Hero? Imperius or something? Use that one."
Did, did Naofumi just offered permission to put Imperius Seal On him?
"NO!" Naofumi's ignorance induced idiocy is immediately rebuked by Kyubey, Yatsuhashi and Prince Kael'thas before Mein had her chance. The phoenix prince is the one explaining the details this time. "You will have your mind completely taken away by the Imperius Seal, and you'll be forever broken even with the seal removed as the last Sword Hero. That's why all knowledge around it was destroyed, and trying to research it is one of the highest crimes among all nations."
Naofumi's eyes open wide, clearly shocked at what he almost offered himself to. "What happened to Kirito, I mean, the last Sword Hero after that?"
"As the story goes, for a while, he was in the care of Lord Dumbledore, his former companion." The nasal voice is back in the Vermilian prince, when he speaks of the headmaster for Faubley's Hero Academy, and right hand man of the pig king. The phoenix prince clearly doesn't think highly of the esteemed headmaster, despite the man's reputation and power. "The doddering old fool must have done something wrong. Because five years or so later, the insane Sword Hero slain all his servants, and guards who are supposed to be keeping him safe, and disappeared into the dead of the night. Never to be seen or heard ever again."
"Or maybe he's just that messed up by Mikage's slave seal. Not getting one on me, got it." The Shield Hero takes his helmet off, and gives his sweat matted hair a few furious scratches before donning the protective gear back on. "Anything else we can do to that Towair asshole?"
"I'm afraid not legally, my king." Prince Kael'thas' acknowledgement makes Naofumi let out a deep, frustrated sigh. "Although seeing how much you are willing to take him to task, I definitely think there is something wrong with him. I'm willing to look into the matter once I return, and get the other Vermilian Princes involved too. It probably won't prove him guilty based on past actions, but we'll do our best to keep him in line. And if he feels particularly bold and foolish, we'll catch him. And he'll pay for his crime against our king by chariot split."
"That doesn't sound nice…" Naofumi's eyes turn back to focus on the phoenix prince again. "Please tell me it's only figurative, and not actually run people dead over by an actual chariot."
"It's a form of execution, where you tie the neck, and limbs of the condemned to five separate chariots, have them run towards different directions and pull the guilty apart." Farkas' answer makes the face of Shield Hero lose all color. "The most severe way to execute a criminal, usually reserved for those who committed high treason. Especially against the Shield Hero. The Kingtaker was lucky to never have been taken alive, or else it'll be the proper way of execution for him."
"NO!" Naofumi takes a step forward, waving his arms open and close animatedly. "I'm not forgiving him for what he did, but let's not make his execution so cruel, barbaric even!"
"Very well. Your mercy is truly boundless, my king." The phoenix prince gives a bow of respect to the Shield Hero. "He shall hang, and have his body left to the cliff racers and Ataru hawk bats to pick apart."
"That's… better. I think." Naofumi's head slightly dips down.
"My offer to testify against him is still open."
"You are more likely shot dead for kinslaying before you step into the Grand Council, slave or not." The phoenix prince crosses his arms and snorts back at the renegade wolfman.
"So Towair goes free for now. Well, it can't be helped. Anyways, let's get back to the story with Farkas." The Shield Hero closes his eyes and squeezes the bridge of his nose. "So, Farkas was one of the guys sent in to stop some demi-human rebellion ten years ago, and he joined their side after seeing how they were mistreated. You mentioned how they were treated worse than some 'shroud slaves'? What are those?"
"Entire family line, forever passed down from father to son, mother to daughter as slaves bound to a certain Malisi family. Usually humans, but sometimes Malisi as well, full blooded or mixed. For committing some heinous crimes." The werewolf glares daggers at Prince Kael'thas again. "If the Kingtaker's family wasn't Vermillion Sparrow, they'd have been turned into shroud slaves to some other family."
Mein casts another quick look to Naofumi, and sees the Shield Hero's face have even less blood than hearing about the gruesome details of chariot split.
"It's not all bad. Shroud slaves are considered family, and protected under Siltvelt law. If they are being mistreated, let alone harmed by someone else, it would be considered a grave insult to their family…" Prince Kael'thas' argument becomes progressively weaker and quieter under the Shield Hero's death glare.
"But they aren't protected from mistreatment by their own family, are they?" The Shield Hero easily picks the phoenix prince's weak defense apart, once again showing his acute mind at finding out the most critical part in a situation. "You know, when I first met some spies from this country wanting to make me a king, I didn't take their offer because it sounded too good to be true. But now, I don't want to be your king even if it is too good to be true."
"As much as it pains me to say it, there are certainly many… difficulties within Siltvelt. Problems we need to address and work on. That is why we need your guidance so much, my king. You have the power to overrule the squabbling Great Clans, and point a clear direction to all of us." Prince Kael'thas dips his head slightly down in a sign of resignation. "But with all the unfortunate developments… I understand why you hesitate to do so. But at least allow us to leave a detachment of men to protect you."
"No." The Shield Hero immediately shoots down his proposal without a hint of hesitation. "I'll be frank here: I don't trust you, or most other guys from Siltvelt. Farkas aside, the people from Siltvelt I met either wanted to get something from me, or tried to take me for whatever things they planned. Hell, those Three Heroes' Church guys who see the Shield Heroes as their devil figure."
Jaune's group standing not far away from Naofumi suddenly jolts up a little, being both pointed at and spoken about by the Shield Hero.
"I trust them more than you. Sure, there are bigots and zealots in their ranks, but there are also genuinely good people who helped me, or those around them because it's the right thing to do." The Shield Hero slowly pulls his arm back. "Point is, they earned my trust. Your people from Siltvelt haven't. So, no - I'm not having you leave a bunch of your own soldiers around me."
The face of the phoenix prince looks like someone who ate something unclean. Not hard to imagine why when his hero king told him he's trusted less than the faith that sees the Shield Hero as their sworn enemy. "That… is truly unfortunate. But at least allow us to accompany you while we travel south towards Melromarc's capital for our diplomatic mission. Allow us a chance to prove not all of us are conniving animals the humans portray us."
"Where are we going anyway, Master Shield Hero?" Kyubey looks over at the Shield Hero. "There is still a little over a week till' the next Wave."
"I guess we'll go back to Balafon for now. See what Motoyasu and his companion is up to, and plan for the coming wave." Naofumi turns towards the rabbit man, but still peeks at the Siltvelt war party from the corner of his eyes. "But we'll go to Port Harp first to pay our respects."
"Didn't you guys already go there?" Richard cocks his head to the side. "That's what you said back when we first met."
"Oh, right!" Shield Hero jumps back slightly, and starts furiously waving his arm around. "I mean, we didn't stay there long enough because of the undead thing. Yeah! My friends need a bit longer time to… settle things?"
"Hey, it's cool." The peasant turned templar holds his open hands up, in an obvious placating manner. "Not my problem if you need more time. Do what you like."
"Then we will escort you to the ruin of the harp city, my king." Prince Kael'thas gives Overseer Campbell an intense stare, daring the former inquisitor to stop him. "To make sure our rightful king isn't being mistreated, or threatened. Unless that's a problem?"
"You are free to do so, as long as you do not cause trouble to the locals, or wander too close to a fort installation." The Three Heroes' Church Overseer barely rises an eyebrow at the phoenix prince's provocation. "The only risk you lose is missing the audience with the king during the grand council."
"Then follow us. We shall lead you to the outskirts of Port Harp. Where we set up camp to help the refugees." Overseer Campbell pulls the reign of his raptor, and the Three Heroes' Church warparty changes formation once again to turn into something more suited for traveling. There is still a visibly large group of rearguard forces, compared to a more linear traveling formation. The church troops clearly still distrust the Siltvelt emissary's party.
"He must be such a delightful presence to any balls and feasts he attends." Prince Kael'thas narrows his eyes slightly at the back of the Overseer. He gives a gesture to his followers, and they arrange themselves into a more linear traveling formation to mimic the church troops. With his more elite troops boxing in Naofumi and his followers.
The others work on getting Naofumi's carriage saddled around Gaston's bird, seeing Firo is still out of commission after her brief struggle with Uncle Aldrecht. The princess steals another look at Eclair. The feet of the last survivor of House Seaetto are rooted onto the ground, staring forlornly at the ruin of her ancestral home.
The sun begins to dip down the horizon as they approach Port Harp. The once mighty port city lies in ruin, with most of its wall completely crumbled and collapsed just like the now sunken Boletaria Castle.
Mein casts another quick look at Eclair sitting in the corner with her undead knight. The knight has her legs pulled close into her chest, arms around her legs, barely moving just like her now undead bodyguard.
The princess turns around, looking into the distance where the sea and the actual port was. She can see some broken wooden decks or mats over the ruined buildings. It makes her realize why the people of Lute were so grateful towards the Shield Hero, if this is the damage one of them caused to a large and important trading port with an official garrison.
Around their carriage, survivors of the Wave wander around the street aimlessly, picking through wreckages or simply leaning against the broken walls with dead looking eyes. Some tents were set up around where the town center was. Priests and servants work around stoves and tables, passing away bowls of soup and bread to the refugees.
"There is nothing left…" Mein turns her focus back inside Naofumi's carriage, and notices Raphtalia slowly climbing out of the cart. She quickly follows after the lost princess of Q'ten Lo, same as the Shield Hero.
Raphtalia walks slowly, as if she is still half asleep. She passes over the survivors clumping in front of the soup kitchen, through the town square, until she finally stops in front of the remains of a statue. All that's left standing was the pedestal, a pair of feet with a bit of the leg attached. Not too far away, a broken tip of a marble sword lies jutting out of the tall weeds.
"The statue for The Lady of the Sword, Goddess of loyalty." Raphtalia sits down in the weed, crossing her legs and lets her eyelid slowly droop down. "This… this was my favorite spot growing up. Keel didn't like her too much, thinking she's too passive. But Rifana and I… we used to sit in front of her, talking about how we'll grow up helping the Shield Hero like she served the Chief God."
"There really is nothing to return to, not any more." Raphtalia pulls her own legs close into her chest just like Eclair. Mein wordlessly sits down on her right, while Naofumi sits down on her left. The two of them wrap their arm around the shivering raccoon girl as they stare at the base of the broken statue together.
So, after playing Total War: Warhammer 2 I learnt the Warhammer universe high elves have this phoenix motif, which made me decided to do the reverse for my story: Give the bird beastman a more high elf motif (while the rabbits are still basically wood elves).
I have to confess once again, having an official Siltvelt 'emissary' party here at the end of this arc is once again not a long term plan, but an idea I randomly came up with as I was still writing the beginning of the whole undead infestation. The original intention was because I want to make the reason for the Three Hero Churches' warparty not trying to kill Naofumi here more ambiguous: Is Campbell truly acting fair towards the Shield Hero, or is he simply stopped by a Siltvelt warparty that's equally the same strength as him.
Although I did realize with there being Siltvelt people who knows Farkas' history, it's a good chance to both have his backstory revealed here, and shown some backstory lore originally conceived by Comrade Broseph. And of course, also let Naofumi learn some more unsavory things Siltvelt does.
Guest Review time.
To I realize:
Well, it's not like Aldrecht came to this encounter wanted to kill everyone in the first place. Although once the negotiation breaks, there's simply no turning back. But yeah, circumstance (Malty) forced them to stop killing each other at the end.
I originally wanted to show how Naofumi reacts to Malty's newest outburst in this chapter. But once again, I underestimated just how much I can BS and stay in a single scene. So yeah, you'll have to wait till the next chapter to see how other people think of Malty's action here.
I'm between wanting to see a second installment of Metal Gear Rising... and hoping Fuckonami never touch this spin-off, considering what they did with Survival. A Rising 2 developed by Fuckonami will not be good for Raiden's overall reputation in the fandom.
I would like to at least thank you, the readers, for the support during my sickness, and for providing feedback on that giant two-part fight scene I wrote up. I would also like to apologize for taking a month to delay two chapters' worth of content for you.
It is true that yes, sometimes the choreography can be a slog to read sometimes. And yes, if given the chance, I would like all the time in the world to sit down and properly plan out the fight scene. That said, while I do try to incorporate as much of the feelings and stakes behind a fight, I cannot help but gush over every single detail of a scene and write continuous descriptions of things. It is my way of … expressing my passion, given that I am a huge fan of choreography, especially the late Monty Oum's.
The reason why it took so long and why I still was not satisfied with my fight scene was because I suffered multiple writers' blocks, along with other things in my life, before my sickness. I also discovered that when it comes to building fight sequences from scratch, I am outright terrible at it - and can only enhance or improve upon some basic foundations. From now on, I will expand on Qinlongfei's skeleton, til the point where he and I are satisfied.
I would also like to express my hope that Naofumi's original English voice actor, Billy Kametz, recovers and beats his colon cancer (which makes mine look like a minor cold), as of April 2022, and that Stephen Fu, his understudy can continue to provide decent work in his stead.