Hello, there! Would you like another chapter of Shield Hero? Well, here it is, kids! I'm working on fleshing out the characters some more, specially people outside of our usual party of MCs, so forgive me if this one is a bit boring, but we need to do so!
I won't spoil my work here on the initial AU NOTES, so you will have to read it to understand it. Any suggestions? Complaining? Reviews? NSFW art to gift me? Some coffee for this MHA!rule34 adddict?
Well, anyways...I am thankful for everyone that takes time to read my works. Do have some patience though, good lads and ladies, as this peasant has to work to pay bills first, so my writing hobby had to be put on the sidelines, sorry about that! And some stories do take more of my creature juices than others; Blood God has priority when it comes to brain-power, so the other ones might dip in word count, but I do try and I do hope to be writing at least interesting (if a bit short) parts for my other small works. Priorities!
I do plan to start voice-recording the works. I'll tell you when the first one is done, to see how the reception to it goes, so look forward to that too. Since I have already rambled for long enough, let's get to this bread!
PS: Lady Nagant, don't you think you have escaped from me! I will write Vampire!IzukuXLadyNagant smut in the future of Blood God! Just you wait!
PSS: I'm sorry for the extreme delay. I had most of the chapter written for a long time, but had no motivation to post it. I don't know why, but I felt really down on this story. But with the arrival of S3 for Tate no Yuusha, I shall try to find my motivation and keep on writing. Thank you all for your patience and comprehension.
Shall I show You a True Shield
[Chapter 23: Cal Mira Exploration II]
Making merry and partying up all night had been nice, but Naofumi woke up extra early the next time and began preparations to work on a new project. He was used to making jewelry and accessories to sell in his wagon during his travels, but it would be his first-time making battle gear for someone.
Therese had not specified what sort of accessory items she wanted, so he would be flying a bit blind here. The hero went early to the main market of the archipelago, his target the few smithies around the place. He had his own tools alright, but he wanted to ask the blacksmiths for opinions of what sort of gear he should make for a female adventurer. His survey was productive, the smith-folk willing to give a few nuggets of knowledge to the Shielder. He was still getting used to freely walking with his shield out, but it was a nice feeling to not be rudely booted out of a shop or store.
He also bought a few spare ingots of various metals, as he had a feeling that he would be working on quite a few templates. His shopping done, Naofumi headed back to his hotel room and asked for a spare room to use as a temporary workshop. Hamberg, the overseer of the Archipelago and owner of their hotel/inn, directed him an exclusive room that was used by the staff to repair their utensils, citing that Naofumi could use the place as he pleased.
Well, time to work. He mused, placing a multitude of small and thin plates on the worktable. The shielder also pulled out a few notes from his inventory, the measurements that he took from Therese back in the bar; he still wasn't sure what specifically to make, so he would just make a bunch of accessories and would present them to the adventurer. He took the various raw mined gems that were given to him and placed them on the table, trying to visualize what would match with what.
Womanly accessories, huh? I guess those would be bracelets, ear rings, finger rings, chokers and neck chains. I could use make a few hair ornaments, but those are too delicate to be field-accessible. Naofumi mused, crossing his arms over his chest and trying to remember a few models he had seen back in Earth in jewelry stores. Gold would be the standard, but it is quite soft and might get damaged easily. I guess something between steel and silver? Maybe magic silver to enhance the effect of the magic in the gems. The hero tried to picture Therese using her magic and skills, the only image that came to his mind a certain fictional tsundere goddess from a certain series that had too many spin-offs and story-branches.
He smiled and shrugged off the idea of imitating that. The Shielder could take some inspiration from that, but he had to be practical, and anime certainly was mostly about the fantasy, not the reality of life.
Naofumi worked on the base template for his accessories until Shadow came to fetch him for breakfast, the group then getting ready for another day of hunting and grinding.
"Fortress-kun?" Felicia asked, noticing Naofumi frowning as he stared at nowhere in particular. Well, for her at least that was the sight, considering she couldn't see his status page unless he showed her (or she peeked with a magic tool, but she'd never do so (towards him at least)).
The hero lowered his gaze to the witch, his bothered expression easing up somewhat. "Don't worry. It is just that we suddenly stopped gaining any EXP, so I was wondering if we are too close to one of the other heroes."
Shadow cleaned her recently used dagger and sheathed the weapon, vanishing from sight without a sound as she likely went to scout ahead to direct the party away from their "fellow" group. Naofumi raised a hand up and signaled something to her, making sure to begin his work of taking the monsters apart, Raphtalia quick to help his endeavor.
His disassembly of the monsters was done by the time that the assassin/rogue returned, and even through her mask it was rather clear that the girl was less than pleased with the information she would have to share.
"Master, this one found the…Bow Hero's party nearby." Kana maintained her tone cordial, but he could pick up on the hidden venom lacing her voice. The operator seemed to have a particularly bone to pick with Itsuki, but then again it was rather understandable; she had been betrayed and left to rot, her so called comrades doing nothing to aid her in her time of need. Kana hated hypocrites, especially those with power. "What shall this one do? Relay a message?"
The Shield Hero touched his jaw, the bristling echo of his stubble amusing, and ran his hand over the length of it in a pensive manner. Naofumi pondered his choices, unsure if he should meet with Itsuki or merely ignore him. Maybe now that he is far from Ren and Motoyasu, he might be willing to listen to me for long enough. The Shielder let the idea swim in his head for a moment. But then again, he might just shut me down and go into Shield=bad mode. I swear, fighting in this world is already hard enough, do we really need to pile up on top of that?
Naofumi nodded to the hooded girl. "Might as well rip the band aid while the wound is ripe. Let's see mister ally of justice and his party of sentai-ranger-wannabes." He stated. Shadow nodded in acknowledgement and began guiding the group to a somewhat larger clearing among the woods. It was clear that Naofumi and Itsuki weren't the only ones here, as the Shielder's party arrived at the clearing and saw the Bow hero's group loudly debating with another group of adventurers. The mood was heated as the adventurer leader of the other party was shouting at the Bow Hero, pointing out to a slayed monster not too far from all the groups, the creature's body riddled with arrows.
"…that's just fancy ain't it?! Why don't you fancy killing all the monsters in the island too, huh?" The other leader shouted at Itsuki and Meld (the knightly mustached prick, as Raphtalia described him), the other two party members behind him showing their displeasure without holding back.
Meld crossed his arms and held his nose high in the air, clearly unsympathetic to the adventurer's plight. "We might just do that! We are Itsuki-sama's heroic party after all! It is our job to save the world; you should be happy that we protected you from those monsters!" As the knight exclaimed, Itsuki seemed to be bothered with something else, glancing around trying to find the source of his lack of HUD exp notifications.
The young teen found Naofumi and his party approaching him, his expression souring as he took in the sight of the hero. The heated argument between the other two parties died down once they noticed more people coming in, the adventurer leader looking relieved while Meld clicked his teeth, the hand over the handle of his blade lowering.
"Naofumi." The Bow Hero said in a neutral tone. If the Shielder was bothered by the sass hidden in the youngster's tone, he didn't let it show in his face. "I see that you changed your armor. However, I must say that blue doesn't suit you."
Naofumi deadpanned at the teen's commentary. "Being a smart-ass doesn't suit you, pretty boy." He returned the comment with one of his own, aware that Meld was now glaring at him. The Shielder let the gaze roll off him, uncaring for the knight's opinion. "What seems to be the problem here?"
The adventurer took the cue and stepped closer to the black-haired hero. "Mister fancy hero here thinks that the hunting grounds belong to him and that he can do whatever the hell he wants here. We were chasing that monster, working our trap and all, but then he just kills our prey and comes here acting as if he is some noble hotshot."
Naofumi turned his gaze to Itsuki. He might not like the other dude, but he was not a bastard; he would listen to the hero's explanation, unlike what they had done to him.
Itsuki, on his part, merely shrugged his shoulders at the adventurer's complaints. "I have merely done as instructed by the Queen and hunting downs monsters to increase my level. Besides, I delivered the first and last blows, so that should be plenty of evidence. I did nothing wrong." The words were spoken in such a matter-of-fact tone that even Naofumi was stunned for a moment.
Do you really think this is still a video-game? What do you mean first and last blow, Itsuki?! That's a clear violation of the archipelago's hunting ground rules, you dumbass! Didn't you listen to the explanation? Naofumi thought while massaging the bridge of his nose. No wonder the other guy is pissed off, you stole his prey and still have that sort of attitude; I'm surprised a fight didn't happen.
The adventurer and his party groaned, too frustrated to let the situation go unsolved, yet understanding that it would not likely be solved.
The Shield Hero crossed his arms and took a deep breath. "Look, Itsuki…" Naofumi began, but then he stopped. Itsuki was clearly not interested in whatever it was that he was about to say, and nothing would solve the problem of the already stolen prey. Might as well cut the loses short, Naofumi mused. "With us being this close, we won't be able to farm any exp. Besides, your levels are quite high, shouldn't you be looking for bigger prey instead?" The shielder's reasoning seemed to have some effect as the Bow Hero took his words seriously, mulling over it for a while.
"Very well, let them hunt to their contentment." He turned to Meld. "Might as well have an early lunch." His words triggered something in his party, the group that seemed so intent on hunting monsters before now immediately settled down. It was almost creepy how a few words from Itsuki got to the group moving, as before they seemed rather intent on standing their ground.
Meld nodded and offered one last glare at the other adventurers' party. The group flinched, not afraid of the knight, but stunned at the cocksure attitude; before they could come to try and settle things the…adventurers' way, Naofumi whistled, gathering attention to himself. He shook his head, the adventurers understanding the message behind it. The group grumbled in frustration, but left soon enough to initiate another hunt. While the group left, Meld huffed in contentment, turning his head to offer the Shielder's group the same treatment.
Results were clearly not what the heavy-plated knight was waiting for, seeing as Naofumi's group wasn't intimidated by his glare or shiny armor. If anything, the raccoon-eared demi-human that was by the shield hero's side was looking at him as if looking at something pitiful, while the other girls outright ignored him.
Meld gnashed his teeth, but maintained control. There would be plenty of time to show the demi-human bitch her place. Instead, he took a deep breath to call upon his group's baggage carrier.
"RISHIA! Itsuki-sama has spoken; where are you?"
Raphtalia seemed to perk up when hearing the name, trying to find the girl among the bow hero's party. It took a while for the girl's presence to be sensed, the foliage from behind the Bow Hero parting to reveal the sight of Rishia. The green-haired girl was absolutely swamped with gear, carrying a multitude of leather bags and baskets that honestly looked completely ridiculous. The raccoon demi-human frowned at the sight, but chose to not comment on it.
Naofumi himself watched the happenstance with dubious eyes. He watched the so called Rishia struggle to carry all the bags, clearly unused to such strain. She seemed to be trying to catch up to the group since early – if the leaves and sticks stuck to her hair and the tears in her well-worn clothes were anything to go by – and only now had she managed to do so. Meld watched over her with a stern eye, the girl now beginning to unpack. She spread a large blanket over the clearing's ground, the group sitting down as she settled her own bags aside and began tussling with the baskets that she had been carrying.
Steam emerged from the top of an open basket, a well-garnished fish meal being placed in front of Itsuki, who sat in the center of the group, surrounded by his party members. Meld sat to the Bow user's immediate right, Rishia passing the knight a plate with well-done meat. To Itsuki's left sat an unnamed female mage, being served a fanciful sandwich filled with plenty of veggies and doused in thick mayonnaise; the pattern continued until all members of the Bow Hero's party were served, Rishia finally being allowed a break. She then fished an apple-like fruit from the bottom of the last basket, biting into the fruit with gusto. He knew the fruit from his early days in Melromark, the so called Ringa. It was bitter-tasting and quite chewy; not the worst thing to eat, but it was certainly an acquired taste. But it was no full meal, especially for someone saddled with carrying baggage.
Now, Naofumi was an avid fan of the saying: don't poke your nose into people's business. He tried to move past the group without saying anything, only mentally noting the situation as another point against mingling with his "fellow" heroes, but he stopped when Rishia barely finished her meal and suddenly she was being shouted at, hurrying to her feet again.
"RISHIA! Tell me you haven't forgotten to buy our drinks!" The female mage on Itsuki's party exclaimed. The green-haired girl scrambled to reach one of the leather bags, but in her nervousness, she face-planted and dropped the bag on the ground. Naofumi didn't hear the sound of glass breaking, but that certainly wasn't the case with the Bow Hero's group, their annoyed glances and whispers rather telling of whatever was usual for this group.
"Damn useless girl…"
"Can't even be a bag carrier properly…"
"Why does Itsuki-sama keeps her around?"
The girl released a high-pitched, low-sounding "fueeeehh!" whine, massaging her nose to relieve the stinging sensation and the redness.
The Shield Hero sighed, frustrated, and approached the girl. He picked the leather bag and offered it back to the green-haired girl; she stood up and tried her best to fix her clothing, grabbing the offered bag and giving the hero a thankful smile.
"Thank you, sir."
"Rishia, hurry up!" Meld beckoned this name, the girl flinching in place when she heard the man's voice.
Naofumi ground his teeth inside his mouth, feeling his jaw beginning to grow too big for it to be considered human. It doesn't concern you. You don't know the circumstances behind this, it is better to stay out of it. He mused, dampening the flame lighting up in his chest. He turned back to his group, aware that his face was showing a rather nasty expression.
"Come on, we are going back to the inn." Naofumi stated to his party. Raphtalia grimaced, looking back to Rishia and seeing the girl frantically distribute the group's drinks. The raccoon demi also sighed, her palm dancing over the handle of her sword for a moment. "I don't feel like hunting today." Each word that left his mouth was accompanied by wisps of black flames, his clothing becoming saturated with cursed magic for a moment. Felicia licked her lips at the incident, taking another puff of her pipe and letting an amused smile paint her plump lips.
Naofumi returned to the main island of the archipelago and dismissed his group for the day. He immediately headed to the commercial district, all but barging inside one of the smithies, this particular one being one of the workshops recommended by Captain Sihalas. The blacksmith was startled, almost hammering his own hand by mistake. The elder stared balefully at the shielder, but once the man noticed the dark expression carved on his face, he relented. The smith dropped his hammer by his anvil and stored away the sheet of metal that he was working with.
"A'ight son, what seems to be the problem?" The smith asked while taking off his leather apron and gloves, resting his sooty and sweaty hands on his waist. "Damn near flattened mah own hand, so this better be good."
Naofumi eyed the anvil and hammer, his expression a hard thing. "Need to take something off my mind and hunting monsters wasn't available." The hero commented with the smith.
The man nodded, grumbling to himself and scratching the top of his balding head. "Aye, you look like a man possessed by the devil a'ight! But why the smithie? You don't look like the type to know how to strike the metal."
Naofumi approached the anvil and touched his shield to the tool. The entire thing was sucked in the gem, the smith blinking owlishly. The fallen hammer was next, the tool disappearing inside the greedy gem of the Shielder, Naofumi immediately changing the shape of his weapon to his newly acquired form.
[Blacksmith's Shield II]
+ 43 to Defense; + 57 to Endurance; + 65 to Stamina
- Fire Resistance Acquired (Medium)
- Blacksmithing Proficiency Up Acquired (small)
- Smith Recipes Acquired (Weapon/Armor/Accessories/Miscellaneous)
The shield was a simple thing. It was like a vanguard's shield, the front of the weapon painted in red tones with black decals of a hammer and tonsils crossed over an anvil while a forge was located under everything. The hero shed his blue coat and placed it inside his inventory, rolling the sleeves of his shirt.
"I learn quite fast." Naofumi stated, but he received a smack on the back of his head. It didn't hurt, but it was insulting nonetheless.
"The fuck do ye think ya doin', swashbuckler!?" The man shouted, circling around the hero to see if what happened was no illusion. "A lil' warnin' goes a long way, Shield-brat! That anvil that ya sent to fuck-knows-where was mine since I was a wee lad!" The more the smith spoke, the angrier (and more accented) his words became until the man was all but screaming nonsense to Naofumi.
Okay, I was out of line. He admitted in his mind. Still, it was hard to just sit there and take an earful of shouting, especially since the hero had arrived here with the intent of emptying his mind and not adding to it. The blacksmith kept at it, shouting and pointing at random things; it got to the ten-minute mark, and then Naofumi himself was pissed at the situation and the smith.
He tried apologizing and offering some compensation, but the smith would shout over him the very second the hero tried to put out a word. A vein bulged in his forehead, the hero grinding his teeth in his mouth while trying to wait out the storm of words, but it seemed to be unending. It reached twenty minutes, and then the hero was done with it.
"FUCK OFF! You cunt!" The hero roared at the smith. The man then grabbed a nearby hammer and pointed it at him.
"No, ye fack off!" The smith shouted, going deeper inside of the workshop. Naofumi followed the man, willing to give him a piece of his mind after all the shouting and berating. The two men kept insulting each other as they headed further inside, until they both arrived at a forge.
Naofumi frowned and was about to spit out another harsh insult, but then he noticed that he smith was presenting to him the hammer that he had grabbed from earlier. The hero raised a brow at it, confused. Weren't they fighting?
"Aye, ya lil' shit! Got everythin' outta ya innards now, ya filth-mouthed brat?!" The man asked, pointing to the unlit furnace. "With a tongue like yers, ya could light a fire a'ight!" The man seemed to be enjoying himself, completely different from the nonsense from earlier.
"What the fuck?"
"Relax laddie, I was messin' with ye! Just needed to get that aggression outta ya, or else ye might spit out that curse magic of yours onto the ingot. I ain't got that much holy water or a priest conveniently in mah pocket to purify it." The smith said, making Naofumi quiet down.
"Being a smith, one ends up meeting with all sorts of peeps with all sorts of requests. You ain't the first to show off some cursed aura, but yers certainly is the strongest I have seen so far." The smith said, his expression turned into an easy-going one. "Could do with a wee bit less of yer venomous tongue, brat. Some of the things ya said there could make sailors blush, aye?"
Naofumi scratched the side of his face, the stubble emitting a bristling noise. He had spent a good deal of his teenager years back in Earth with MMORPGs and organized a few global, online raid battles. The in-game chat lobby could certainly have rather...colorful language; healers and support players were the most yelled-at folks and if one wanted to play online then they would have to tough-up and develop some truly thick skin. The getting yelled-at part wasn't exactly true in real life, as you did not want to piss off the person healing your wounds/providing you buffs, but the language did translate rather well.
"Well? Don't ye just stand there like a spooked, daft idiot."
Naofumi nodded and approached the forge, grabbing the offered hammer and testing the weight of the tool. While the hero did so, the smith lit the forge and began to place charcoal to fuel the flame. Once that was done, the man went and grabbed a hammer and metal tongs of his own, picking one small ingot from the nearby crafting bench and calling out to the hero. "Now, I know that that fancy shield of yours grants you magical knowledge and all the good stuff, but ye can't go wrong with learning and practicing the basics. Don't overthink it, just observe me for now."
Raphtalia took a deep breath, focusing on her stance as she practiced a few forms. Her sword lay sheathed close by, leaning on a palm tree as she swung a heavier, but dull saber that she had been gifted by the sailors of Captain Bardimar's ship. It was a fairly standard, run of the mill blade sailors were known to have, but it served well for practice, the weight distribution different from the usual longswords she was used to.
She was alone in the inn's courtyard, her master's group having split to each do their own thing, as it was rather clear that the Shield Hero – since the encounter with his fellow hero – was not in a good mood. He called off the day's hunt, something bizarrely unusual for him to do, since her master was always willing to be out and about to do the needed work to strengthen the foundations of their group. Not working meant no loot, which in turn meant no materials for crafting, which meant no items for sale, which meant no coin; that was a cardinal sin for her master, something that he would not allow to ever happen. To simplify things, no work = no money; in the end, not good.
The girl finished a four-slash combo and tried to incorporate the last swing to allow her to execute her special move, Purple Lightning. She failed, the switch between slashes and a powerful thrust awkward to follow through without leaving her too exposed. Raphtalia sighed, aware that the saber wasn't a good weapon for trusting, but still disappointed that she didn't succeed.
"Naofumi-sama was really pissed off with the Bow Hero." She commented to herself, fixing her stance and trying to once more execute her move. "Rishia-san is being worked to the bone, but there has to be a reason for her to be allowing such harsh treatment." The raccoon girl tried to rationalize the situation, but failed to find a suitable answer to the green-haired girl's problem. The Bow Hero seemed to be found of justice (or his own concept of it), but so far the slave girl hadn't found the result of his fair work; the small country that Itsuki (because she refused to put a –sama next to his name if not extremely necessary) "acted on" during the following second wave still a broken mess. She heard from Melty that Mirelia had been sending aid and diplomats to fix the mess left behind by the young hero, but they would only see the result a few years down the road.
Raphtalia slipped up, putting more strength than needed on her swing and overextending a bit, messing her attack flow. She sighed and sheathed her weapon, going towards the basket that she left on with a water canteen and a towel to dry her sweat. She shifted her balance from one leg, cocking one hip up while she satisfied her thirst. It was fair to say that she had gotten strong; better to say that she was growing stronger every day. Not only in numbers (her status), but also in skills and tactics.
She still wished to be somewhat like the knights in the tales that her parents used to read to her before bedtime, but living with her master tended to kill childish notions and fantasies. Naofumi-sama was a practical and realistic person (he had soft spots, but those were extremely well-protected), his knowledge and world-view allowing him to survive what most would have perished from a long time ago. He cut through the fantasy and dragged her to face the harsh reality; life was cruel, the sooner she understood that, the sooner she could begin to change her fate.
Well, now I'm beginning to grumble in my own head! She thought amusedly, picturing her master's face when he was deeply immersed in his own thoughts. She wiped the sweat that clung to her forehead and neck, trying to go through her stances in her mind, trying to find the error that she was repeating. The raccoon girl figured that it would be better to find someone else to spot her and maybe spar a bit. However, finding someone who could measure up to her current skill level was hard.
The raccoon girl packed her things and headed to her shared room, storing away her training gear and leaving for a walk. She was rather sure that they would not do any hunting today, so the girl figured she would have a walk and get to know the island a bit better. Firo and Dera had long gone on their own to have their fun; Shadow had vanished from sight as usual and Felicia commented about heading out to stock up on a few personal supplies, which left Raphtalia mostly to herself.
The raccoon girl strapped her sword to her side and left, heading to the plaza. Now that I think about it, we are almost always busy with work-related things, Raphtalia thought to herself. She waved good-naturally to a few older ladies, who did the same. She easily reached the plaza/market point, many stalls and vendors still trying to sell and barter their wares. Many of the men that were manning the stalls did try to rein her in with 'special discounts', but she waved all of them off. It was somewhat flattening that she was viewed as attractive, and it did boost her confidence a bit. Naofumi was always cold when it came to these matters, even when she tried her best to display her affection for him.
All the books that she had bought (with her own allowance of course) that contained knowledge on more "adult" matters seemed to be ineffective when she tried to follow their advice. It was disheartening, when all her efforts to appear mature and adult-like fell through; her master's heart had softened a bit after all their time together, but he still had quite a few sturdy walls around his heart.
Speaking of books, Raphtalia wondered if there was a library in Call Mira. The island was fairly developed, even while considering its distance from the main continent; it should at least have some tomes and books. The racoon girl found herself heading towards the inn lobby again.
She was halfway through when she went past a beach-walk area, the sandy flats a beautiful sight to her. It reminded Raphtalia of her home, the salty smell of the sea something that she was used; it brought back memories of people whom she missed, of all the people that were captured and enslaved, forcefully taken away and sold to far off places. The racoon girl took a deep breath to aid in holding back a sob, the memories taking off wind from her sails.
She was strong now, she had a master that cared for her and comforted her, she had friends that were by her side.
The trip down memory lane almost made Raphtalia skip past one of the mounds near the inn, though a strange noise got her attention. Curiosity got the best out of the girl, and Raphtalia began to track the source of the noise. It wasn't hard, considering that even if the person responsible for the sobbing noise was trying to hide, her keen hearing would've picked it up.
Raphtalia thought that she shouldn't be surprised when she found Rishia kneeling on a "hidden" spot, trying to muffle her sobbing.
It was a pitiful sight, the racoon girl seeing the green-haired girl kneeling on the dirt floor, her choked crying and tear-stained face signaling that she had been there for quite a while. To make it even worse, Rishia's stomach growled loudly, the girl resting one hand over her abdomen while the other was settled over her mouth trying (and failing miserably) to muffle the sounds she was producing.
The clumsy girl widened her eyes when she spotted the racoon looking over her, her bloodshot eyes further dampening as the girl released the waterworks.
Raphtalia found it a bit awkward to be standing there overlooking the sobbing girl, so she approached her and squatted down. Extending a friendly hand, the Shield Hero's sword tried to be as tender as possible with the Bow Hero's apparently rejected companion.
"Would you like something to eat?" Raphtalia awkwardly asked the green-haired girl, feeling that it would be better to talk in a proper place instead of open airs.
The other girl managed to get her sobs down to a few choked hiccups.
The female duo sat on one of the many taverns along the main business street in Call Mira, a respectable stack of dirty, empty plates occupying the other side of the table they were at.
"Rishia, I will apologize in advance for my words, okay?" Raphtalia said in a dry tone, not bothering to touch the tankard by her side, still filled to the brim with ale.
Rishia nodded, her mouth stuffed to the brim with food. She looked utterly ashamed of the wooden plate stack she was responsible for.
"You are an idiot."
The green-haired girl flinched in place.
Raphtalia huffed and massaged the bridge of her nose, looking utterly disappointed. For the past hour the racoon girl had been feeding the other girl, managing to coax the reason for her breakdown from the source itself. It took a while, Rishia being utterly adamant on remaining silent; that was, until the first plate of hot food arrived in front of her.
The girl broke into tears again, though she attacked the place with a ravenous fury, surprising even the racoon girl. It was after the third plate arrived that the green-haired girl began to open-up and talk on her own to Raphtalia.
Apparently, Rishia was from a former noble background; emphasis on the former, as she no longer held any claim of nobility. Her parents mismanaged their territory and ended up having to resort to borrowing money from some shady characters. When the time to pay up their debt was over, the "nobles" refused to pay up, which didn't run well with the debt collectors.
The girl's parents skipped town and left Rishia as the acting head of the family, "forgetting" to inform her of their accumulated debt. When the time came once more, the debt collectors arrived with proper documentation and a rather sizable force of mercenaries to back their claims up, Rishia was left with no choice but to bend the knee and be forced into submission as collateral for her parents' unpaid dues.
When she was about to be "broken in" by the new administration as their new toy, the Bow Hero (Itsuki-sama, as Rishia said, the delivery saccharinely-sweet) and his party arrived to overthrow them. Rishia was saved just in time, her lands were returned to her parents as their right and celebrations were thrown all around, lauding Itsuki as their hero and savior.
Rishia herself couldn't help but be infatuated by the gallant visage of the hero, saving her from such bad guys in the nick of time. She did everything in her power to distance herself from her family – be it their name or influence – and join the hero's party. She had some skill with magic and swordsmanship, so Rishia figured she would be a great asset to the hero. Maybe even one day confess her feelings for him and maybe have those feelings be returned.
She wanted to be of use to the Bow Hero, so she followed him along in his journey. Everyone in the party was of the same mentality, so in the beginning it was like they were one big family. Rishia didn't have a proper role, so she figured that learning a bit of everything from her party members (and Itsuki-sama himself) would allow her to bloom in time.
That couldn't be farther from the truth.
She wasn't bad, but all her skills were ordinary. Her magic casting time was good, but there were better mages in the party. Her swordsmanship was basic, though solid; yet it was nothing when compared to Mald. Her archery was good, though when compared to Itsuki-sama it could only be called paltry. Rishia didn't have a true field in which she could be called outstanding, so she ended up relegated as the party's errand girl and bag carrier.
Since she would only get in the way of the fighting, it would be better if she just remained on the backlines and carried their gear.
Raphtalia heard the story with attentive ears, unsure if she should believe it to be truth. It felt like something out of a fairy-tale book or a romance novel; the gallant hero would arrive in the nick of time to save his princess out of a troublesome situation and together they would ride into the sunset to live forever happy.
Raphalia would use her master's words to describe it as nothing more than: "Cliché", and a bad one at that.
She frowned her brows, recalling her memories of their times in Melromark's land. She remembered the talks among adventurers about a party group that went about being "heroes of justice", though that was soon revealed to be Itsuki and his party of sycophants. Naofumi-sama called it delusion complex. Whatever the case may be, Raphtalia had already pinned the Bow Hero as a narcissist with a need to be praised in a "humble" way. Itsuki seemingly would only act when he could claim the most amount of "humble" praise for his actions. Rishia seemed to find it endearing.
Raphtalia found it to be disgustingly shallow.
Rishia was being treated as less than a work horse, and to make matters worse, she was receptive of that treatment due to her perceived "debt of gratitude" towards the Bow Hero.
"Forget being a party member, you are being treated as trash." Raphtalia kept the pursue, hoping to change the girl's mind. Rishia could be an adventurer on her own, there was no need to endure this humiliation, all for some unclear debt that couldn't be exactly paid. Her life had been saved, sure! But would that fact always be hung over her head and be used as the instrument to bash the girl into submission?
If so, how was she different from a slave?
"Can't you see that the Bow Hero is abusing your kindness to get his benefits? How long will this treatment continue, Rishia? Can you withstand all of that while your supposed party members live in luxury, while you are forced to eat scraps like this?"
Rishia maintained her head down. "Please, Raphtalia-san, don't slander Itsuki-sama." Her voice was meek and trembling, yet Rishia still held on to her station.
Raphtalia couldn't continue. Seeing that sort of commitment, it would have the opposite effect if she were to continue berating Itsuki to the green-haired girl. Rishia was still clinging onto a stand of hope that her efforts would be answered; that all the pain she went through was simply to forge her into a stronger person.
The racoon girl sighed in frustration. She signaled to the waitress. Rummaging through her own wallet, the girl deposited a few copper and silver coins on the table. "Eat up, and please take care of yourself, Rishia. I hope to see you alive in the future." Leaving those as her parting words, Raphtalia left the girl on her own.
Rishia kept her head down, tears pooling on her eyes. A few drops fell on the wooden table, staining it with her sadness for but a few seconds. Soon it was gone, much to the girl's dismay.
Was her state such a mess that she was being pitied by a hero's slave? The Shield Hero Naofumi had earned infamy ever since his first day in the world, first as a scum rapist and low-life thug, then later as a brigand and money-grubbing mercenary; later on he was labeled as a devil and enemy of the state, only for the Queen herself to clean his name and declare him as a holy hero and the greatest out of the four holy heroes so far.
Rishia didn't truly have anything against him, only hearing rumors and hearsay. However, after meeting a member of his party, she was starting to question things. It hurt and felt wrong to question Itsuki-sama, but it was crystal clear that his positioning regarding the Shield Hero was incorrect and erroneous. Maybe he was mistaken, but that was fine. Even heroes weren't perfect after all!
But he was Itsuki-sama! Her savior! She owed to him to trust in his judgement.
Rishia remained on her seat for hours, chewing on the words spoken by the racoon slave girl.
Her fulfilling meal had been paid by a slave.
A slave had better equipment that her.
A slave looked healthier than her, stronger than her.
A slave looked more fulfilled than her.
Rishia loved Itsuki-sama, in the same way she could identify that Raphtalia-chan loved her hero master, the Shield Hero. Yet while Raphtalia-chan looked like a glimmering star, Rishia couldn't even compare herself to a bar maid. What was missing?
"…Itsuki-sama…" She muttered to herself.
"Lad, that mind of yers sure is innovative." The rotund smith grumbled, overlooking Naofumi's current work.
The hero didn't bother responding to his temporary teacher, fully focused on working the hammer he had been gifted onto the metal sheet. The design was something that Naofumi's otaku heart had conjured after remembering a few shield designs from anime. Plenty of it was unpractical and fantastical, but then again, he had been isekai'ed and had a magical shield that changed shapes.
It was a rough draft, a true work in progress, but the hero had full confidence that his design would be functional. Thankfully the [Blacksmith's Shield II] granted him recipes and he could review the blueprints in his own mind. Additionally, he could also see the blueprints for the shields that he had already unlocked.
It was due to this nifty feature that Naofumi could work on the current design. Taking inspiration from the inner workings of his [Cannon Shield], Naofumi was trying to adapt the shifting turret design with something a bit more damaging.
Still, no matter how much bonus correction and aid he received from the smith, Naofumi was still a novice at this. At his side there were a ton of wasted material that had warped or broke before he could successfully accomplish his design.
Truly working with metal, either on a weapon or for armor, was much more different from the simple repairs he was used to do. There were many processes to it outside of simply hammering it into shape, so the Japanese had his work cut out for him. Still, it was an interesting thing to learn, so he would give it his all to learn as fast as possible.
"That does it for now, lad. Ye need to go to a city proper to learn it from a more experienced smith." The owner of the forge spoke in his rough way, pulling on Naofumi's shoulder to get him away from the heat of the forge.
It was only now that Naofumi noticed that he had spent the remaining of the day here. Sure, he had effectively told his girls that it would be a day off, but he hadn't expected to remain for so long. The sky was already darkening, and here he was.
"Yeah, that does it." The smith crossed his thick arms over his chest, giving the hero seldom received. "Workin' the forge, feeling the heat, affixing the metal; that makes hair grow on ya chest and broadens your shoulders. If it wasn't for that shield of yers, I'd say ya was a natural."
Naofumi huffed, unsure if he would take the sentence as praise or as an insult. "What, are you too scared to teach me wrong? I won't sentence you to hang, I'm not a dumbass like those three." He spoke with some venom on his tongue, unable to contain his animosity towards his fellow heroes.
"Shiver me timbers, the heroes are angry." It was the smith's turn to scoff at Naofumi. "Nah, I'm not ashamed to admit the limits of me skills. Work's not that complicated here in Call Mira; some repairs, some enhancements, most of it is making iron tools fer the people. I'm not up to par with the folk on the capital." The man's honesty was quite surprising. Normally people would boast up their skills, sometimes even if they could not match.
The smith scoffed once more. "Honesty has its moments, lad. Ye look like ya've been around, ya know how it works."
That he did. It was a popular saying back on his world that honesty was the best business strategy. Naofumi didn't fully agree with that, as practical experience demonstrated that sometimes people didn't want honesty, but for general business it was a good rule to follow.
The hero smiled, and picked his blue coat from the chair he had left it on. He would put it on, but one sniff on himself and that idea was void. He had spent hours in front of a forge, working on metal and sweating up a storm. All his resistances did help him out, but they could only do so much.
"I guess that I'll see you around." Naofumi spoke to the smith, seeing the man making a shooing motion with his thick and calloused hands.
"Don't be getting all sentimental and shit, lad. Come back when ya can!" The man roughly spoke, though Naofumi knew it was in good nature.
He flipped the smith off, exiting from the forge and stepping out onto the streets. The sun had already gone down, the hustle and bustle of Call Mira greeting him as bards played their songs and drunks sang along. He enjoyed the night breeze as it flowed, refreshing him for a few moments as he headed towards his inn.
The hero made short time on his walk, immediately heading to his room to get a change of clothes and head towards the inn's bath area. It also had a hot spring, which Naofumi was more than happy to make use of. So far, most times he only had access to showers and sometimes on the road he would have to make do with a wet towel.
As a proper Japanese man, a bath was not only necessary, but a priority in order.
Now that he had access to his inventory, he supposed that it would be good to either order a properly made tub, or maybe he could make his own if he found some type of fragrant and waterproof wood. A pity that Cypress pine wasn't accessible here.
Still, he would get to enjoy the hot spring.
The girls were still out, no one back in their room. The inn was also exclusive for the heroes and their parties, so if Naofumi was lucky he might get the area entirely for himself. That would be a luxury.
Getting a small tub to wash up was no problem, the staff of the hotel always ready to assist their esteemed guests in any way they needed.
Much to Naofumi's gratitude, his wishes became a reality and the spring was devoid of any presences. He couldn't help doing a gutsy pose, finally properly alone. Normally he always had someone around, though this time he could fully be by himself. Naofumi wasn't a loner, but he did enjoy some time by himself.
Stripping off his sweaty clothes and dropping them by a laundry basket, the hero took his diligent time with his bath preparations. Taking off the bandages that were soaked in high-tier holy water took time too, but once that was done and he found himself truly naked, Naofumi could finally release a relieved sigh. Properly scrubbing his body with soap to clean it, the black-haired hero slowly dipped his feet into the warm water.
"Ahhhh, damn that feels good." He groaned in pleasure, the warmth of the water releasing the tension he had accumulated back in the smith's forge. He hadn't even gotten that man's name, so maybe next time he should display manners and introduce himself properly. Thoughts for another day, now he only wanted to relax.
Considering that the inn the heroes were staying was at the highest level of the city, the Shield Hero had a somewhat privileged view of the city. It was dotted with many lights, both due to fires and magical sources, making it resemble Japan by a small margin. The splendor of electrical lights could seldom be reproduced by these weaker sources, but it made for a grand sight, nonetheless.
Though Naofumi wasn't one for drinks, right now some sake would be a nice option.
Outside of the Shield Hero's range of detection, Kana laid belly down on a blanket. Her usual stealth apparel wasn't with her, the girl opting to remain in casual clothing that wouldn't differentiate her from any commoner. On her hands the stealth specialist held a small telescope.
The Hero's otherworldly knowledge was a secret that nobles and royalty tried their best to keep under wraps so that they could take advantage of every scrap of it, but some of that knowledge would inevitably escape their grasp and become known outside of that circle. Didn't mean it was easy (or cheap) to acquire tools made with said knowledge, but it was certainly doable.
Kana had diligently saved up her own allowance to acquire said tool.
Tool which she now used to spy on her master, far off from his sharp senses. A thin line of blood ran from her left nostril, the girl squirming her thighs together as she kept her eyes glued to her master's naked glory.
A hard and muscular body borne out of his hard hours of work and dedication. He was bulky enough to be an imposing figure, his regular usage of heavy armor indicating that there were few loads that he couldn't handle. Her master was a proper man.
Not a dainty and fragile-looking figure like the Bow Hero. Not lean and skinny that a breeze would carry away, like the Sword Hero. Not glamorous and egoistically built, like the Spear Hero.
Her master was tough, rough, and mean. And she liked it that way.
Kana laid on her side, one hand disappearing inside her short shorts, the other holding the long-sight tool to her right eye. She could sense a few of Queen Mirelia's own operatives around, though she didn't bother with them. Supposedly they were around to make sure that the heroes behaved, though Kana was quite sure they were here to babysit the three fools who called themselves heroes.
Or so they should be doing so. She wouldn't bother checking up on them, too busy with her own…activities. Whatever the other operatives did, that was their business. So long as they didn't get in her way.
"…hmmm…" She sighed amorously. At first Kana felt this trip to be a bothersome, but needed, work routine. Now, she was starting to turn her view around.
Now if only her master would raise his waist from the water.
[To Be continued]
AU END NOTES
Once again I do apologize for the wait, inspiration for this story had dried up. Even now, I just wanted to push this one out since I had already written half of the chapter, the other half being written in one afternoon as I did get a boost.
Don't truly know if I'm going to continue, but hopefully the motivation and inspiration come around to help me out. IRL issues always come first, and as mentioned a few times before, this is a hobby done in my spare time. I can barely classify as an amateur writer.
Thanks for reading, and see you later!