To funnsunn, if I haven't made it any more obvious, then pardon my bluntness. Glass is lesbian. She's in love with another girl from her world. It is almost common knowledge by this point. You might want to find a different pet peeve, my friend. ;)

To Ander Arias, in canon, I believe Naofumi lists the Spirit Tortoise as having "many" heads at the end of its life. So… yeah. Two is honestly nothing.


Chapter Fifty-Five: The Heart: Part One


"What just happened?" Therese asked worriedly as she burst into the tent.

"I don't know. Wyndia was fine only a minute ago but now she's freaking out!" Farrie explained worriedly.

The dog girl laid on the ground. Rocking back and forth on her knees and clutching Ren's scarf while sobbing. She wasn't the only one having a bad time either. Elena was muttering to herself with a harrowed look in her eyes while Rino paced back and forth, a stream of profanities flowing out of her mouth.

"Wyndia! Wyndia, what's going on?!" Therese hastily ran up to the dog girl, resting her hands on her shoulders.

Wyndia continued to cry. Tersia, who came in, got alongside Farrie and helped with calming down Motoyasu's party members.

"Wyndia!" Therese repeated.

The dog girl still didn't respond. Therese shook her once, finally getting the dog girl to look up at her. "What happened?!" She pressed.

"Ren… his health bar just dropped a lot out of nowhere." Wyndia managed to choke out.

Therese slowly paled. Tersia and Farrie were paling too now. Rino and Elena had told them the same thing had happened to Motoyasu. And Tersia, since she was registered as one of Ren's slaves, was able to verify what Wyndia had said on her HUD.

"No…" Now it looked like Ren's other two party mages were on the verge of freaking out.

"Is… is that bastard killing them?" Wyndia asked. "Are we too late-?"

"No, we're not too late. They're still alive, aren't they?" Therese asked, forcing the worry in her voice down.

Wyndia shakily looked at her HUD again as did Rino and Elena. Fortunately, the hero's health bars were refilling now. "They're… they're still alive."

However, a moment later, they dropped sharply again. Wyndia gasped, fresh tears coming to her eyes as she clutched the scarf around her neck.

Therese looked outside the tent flap. L'Arc and Glass were standing there, looking in. "I don't think Kyo would go so far as to kill them…" L'Arc said unsurely. At least, he hoped that he wouldn't.

What the hell had happened to their former ally to drive him to this?

"L'Arc, you need to find Master Craftsman. He needs to be made aware of this." Therese suddenly said after collecting her thoughts.

"Got it, Glass, let's go!" L'Arc and Glass ran towards the cavern entrance where Naofumi had gone down last. A shadow followed to help guide them.

"Don't worry. We'll reach them in time. I promise." Therese told the dog girl firmly.

"I… I…" Wyndia was beginning to sob again.

"We will find him," Therese repeated again, a bit more forcefully. Wyndia looked up at her in surprise. "I promise. Nothing bad will happen to Ren."

...

"O… Ok." Wyndia shuddered.

"Come on." Therese pulled her gemstones out again, speaking a bit more softly. "Let's practice gem magic for now. And let me know if Ren's health goes critical. Only then will I allow you and everyone else here to start freaking out."

Wyndia slowly nodded, resuming where they'd left off last night with their practice. The others in the tent calmed down as well. Though they weren't out of the woods yet.

Therese hoped the Heroes found the way soon. If things progressed at this rate… she wasn't sure if she'd be able to keep Wyndia from falling apart.

The dog girl still couldn't shake off the feeling that everything wasn't going to work out. That Ren was going to die. But she forced herself to focus on the distraction.

'Please, Heroes, find us something to hope for before my hero dies.'


"Understood. Try to keep going Fitoria, but don't take any unnecessary risks. We'll find that heart as soon as possible." Naofumi told Filo as calmly as he could despite freaking out on the inside. "Just make sure to keep this thing away from anyone else."

Really, why couldn't it have been simpler? While they were struggling to find the way deeper inside, the Tortoise was getting beefed up so it'd be even stronger than before?!

Gods, he couldn't imagine being in Fitoria's spot now. It'd been bad enough blocking that attack after it'd awakened the second time. He couldn't even imagine what it must be like now trying to fight an even stronger form after battling all day and all night prior to that.

His thoughts then took another turn. If the Tortoise was growing more powerful… Did that mean Kyo was extracting more power from their hero comrades? Wouldn't something like that be dangerous to them?

He really hoped that wasn't what was going on. He wasn't entirely sure if the Book Hero was powering the Tortoise using the captured heroes, but their friends had been referred to as 'batteries' before.

"Got it." Filo repeated Fitoria's words verbatim. "Please hurry." And like that, Fitoria refocused on the fight. Having to dodge laser beams from two heads now while simultaneously finding ways to get close enough to avoid being hurt by them or the missiles constantly soaring from the Guardian Beast's back like a never ending tide of death.

"Right, as if things weren't bad enough." Itsuki growled out.

"Actually, Itsuki." Naofumi swallowed hard, feeling like he was about to make a huge mistake, but he had to bring it up at least, no matter how obvious it might be. "Since we're unable to find an entrance deeper in, do you think it'd be possible for us to make one of our own?"

"Naofumi." Itsuki took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Do you think I'm an idiot?"

Ouch. Naofumi winced. Yup, he'd definitely made a mistake.

"You think I haven't tried that already?! Wait, hold that thought. Why don't I show it to you instead?!" The Bow Hero was quickly turning red in the face as he brandished his weapon.

"Itsuki, please calm down. I'm sure Sir Shield Hero was not trying to offend-" Crystal said worriedly.

"No! If mister know-it-all here wants to know why it wouldn't work then I'll just have to show him so he can understand!" Itsuki turned around and pointed his bow down the way they'd come from.

"You might want to take a step back! And raise some of your shields while you're at it, Naofumi. This isn't going to be fun." The blonde stated bitterly.

"I dunno, looks promising enough," Karn smirked behind him.

Crystal elbowed his side, and then the two gathered around Naofumi, as did Ost, Raphtalia, Filo, and the Shadows with them.

"Meteor Shield! Air Strike Shield! Second Shield! Dritte Shield!" Naofumi summoned his array of shields around the group, protecting them.

"You ready to watch, Naofumi?! Get your popcorn ready!" Itsuki asked angrily.

"Go ahead." Naofumi sighed. He was starting to wish he'd noticed how frustrated the Bow Hero had been, otherwise, he would have kept his mouth shut.

"Here we go then! Meteor Shot! Bunker Arrow! Explosion Shot!" One skill after the other, Itsuki fired down at the ground down the cavern in front of him.

The powerful skills detonated with furious explosions. The cavern trembled, and some rocks came crumbling down from the ceiling. Naofumi looked around worriedly, expecting a cave-in to happen.

But the attacks were hitting the ground. While rocks fell from above, the cavern didn't collapse.

And as smoke from those skills disappeared, Naofumi saw that there was an indent in the ground. But beneath the thin layer of stone laid the impenetrable tortoiseshell.

Right.

Stats.

They were nowhere near powerful enough to dig through the Tortoise's hard shell. Not even Fitoria was able to put a crack in it.

"Do you see why now?!" Itsuki asked angrily. "Do I need to continue?!"

"No, I'm sorry, you've made your point-" Naofumi began to respond.

However, Itsuki continued launching more skills at the ground. "Erst Arrow! Second Arrow! Dritte Arrow! Arrow Squall! Saint Arrow Rain! Shining Arrow!" He continued down his list of skills. The less powerful skills bounced off the shell of the Tortoise as uselessly as the more powerful ones.

"Here, how about I'll try this freaking useless skill that I got from that stupid whale! It might work, right?! Right?!" Itsuki aimed his bow down again. "Rebound Arrow!"

The arrow he launched hit the same area as the others. Only, it bounced off the floor and then against the wall, then the ceiling, then another wall, then the floor again. Continuing on and on down the cavern and out of sight.

"Alright, I get it Itsuki! I said I'm sorry, so will you stop losing your &%$# already!?" Naofumi raised his voice harshly.

Itsuki didn't respond at first. He was too busy breathing in and out angrily to reply.

"I've had it up to here with this!" The Bow Hero dramatically raised his hand over his head as he finally began shouting again. "I had at least some hope when we first learned that the caverns had changed that we'd definitely find it this time! That, maybe, this was the trigger necessary to make the entrance appear!

"But nothing's changed! We've been going around in circles for hours! And now we ran out of even that! WHAT THE HELL ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO!?"

Itsuki wasn't just frustrated. He was visibly crying. "Itsuki…" Naofumi said, this time in worry.

"Damn it Naofumi, I'm so worried about Ren and Motoyasu but nothing we're doing is working! What if we took the wrong entrance initially?! How many of them are there then and how many of them lead deeper in?! What the hell do we do!? We don't have time to aimlessly wander around like this!" Itsuki said, barely keeping himself from sobbing in front of everyone.

...

Naofumi moved forward to rest a hand on his shoulder, unsure how to respond to Itsuki raising a valid concern that had been bothering him as well.

"Screeeeeeeeeeeeee!" Suddenly, a loud screech of pain echoed from the cavern that Itsuki had fired his last skill down into. Everyone immediately turned towards it in surprise.

"Di-, didn't we already kill all the familiars on our way through there?" Crystal pointed out.

"I thought we did." Karn furrowed his brow. "They were the only things providing us some form of entertainment here."

"Heroes. Something feels different down that way." Ost suddenly spoke up.

The large group raced down the cavern that Rebound Arrow had gone down.

It'd gone quite the distance too. Apparently, it could bounce off targets an absurd amount of times. Itsuki just didn't use it before because it'd be useless in wide-open spaces if it rebounded into the sky. Besides that, it had low attack power that decreased each time it bounced off a monster.

However, after they turned a corner, they found Itsuki's skill embedded in the ground. It was vibrating intensely like it was trying to free itself. "I've… never seen it do that before," Itsuki said in surprise.

"It's like it's stuck to something." Filo pointed out. She walked over, digging her feet into the ground. "Hey, it doesn't feel that hard here. It's really weird!"

"Hey, Itsuki, you know how you were unleashing all those skills at the ground before?" Naofumi asked.

"Yeah." The Bow Hero nodded dumbly.

"Think you can try that again here?" Naofumi suggested.

...

Itsuki slowly looked from Naofumi to the ground. After a moment, he slowly nodded. "Okay."

Naofumi raised protective shields around the group again, just in case. Itsuki pointed down at the area in front of the trapped skill. He wasn't entirely sure this would be a good idea, but he selected the skill, and his bow glowed bright orange as it charged up.

"Explosion Shot!"

Boom! "SCREEEEEEEEE!"

An ear-splitting screech accompanied the large explosion as the floor suddenly began to writhe around in agony and crawl away.

"What in the god damn..?!" Itsuki muttered in disbelief and jumped back from the bizarre sight. But before anyone else could provide more meaningful commentary, the part of the floor pulled away completely and reformed into a blob-like monster.

Spirit Tortoise Familiar (mimic-type)

"Ack- Meteor Shot!" Itsuki fired a second skill off as the familiar charged at him. It was completely consumed by the resulting explosion of energy.

"Screeee…" With a dying noise, the Mimic-type familiar burned to dust under the powerful skill.

...

When the smoke dissipated, a new path leading deeper into the Tortoise was revealed in front of them.

"No wonder we couldn't find the entrance." One of the shadows accompanying them said in an impressed tone. "That monster was disguising itself as part of the floor." No illusion magic or anything.

"I… I can't believe I missed that." Ost muttered, sounding embarrassed. Naofumi just stared. Was this the only path down, or were there other familiars disguising paths similar to this all over the caverns?

"Does it…" Naofumi trailed off, but the woman got the message.

"Indeed. This path leads deeper into my body." She affirmed.

Itsuki just continued to stand there. His Rebound Arrow, now that it'd been freed, was bouncing off the walls again. Going deeper into the unexplored cavern until its timer expired and it vanished out of sight.

"... holy &%$# please tell me your tantrum didn't just inadvertently help us out," Naofumi said in a deadpan.

"Oh, um…" The Bow Hero chuckled awkwardly.

"Itsuki, you insufferable son of a bitch! Why didn't you lose your temper sooner?!" Naofumi yelled at the Bow Hero. However, it wasn't anger in his voice. But rather, relief and a little bit of pride.

"Wh-What's that supposed to mean?!" Itsuki stuttered angrily.

"Never mind that now! This is just what we needed! Shadow! Inform Mirellia and the others! Tell them we found the way to go deeper inside the Tortoise! We'll be scouting out the path ahead so we'll be prepared to get everyone through!" Naofumi shouted at the cloaked figures.

"We shall do so immediately." The Shadows bowed, then quickly disappeared down the tunnel to deliver the good news.

Naofumi cracked his knuckles. Excitement leaked onto his face.

"Let's go."

The group followed Naofumi down into the new tunnel.


They were getting close at last. Naofumi could feel it.

This time, Naofumi could tell that they were definitely going deeper into the Tortoise.

As they descended, the texture of the walls began to change. Shifting from rock to pulsing walls of flesh. The air changed too, becoming warmer and damper the deeper they went. The ceiling remained rocky, but the floor became soft under Naofumi's boots.

"Wow, it's like Filo is seeing the inside of Filo's mouth!" Filo pointed out happily.

"That's… an interesting way to put it." Crystal said worriedly. It was like they were walking down a large throat.

"This is disgusting," Karn said dryly.

For once, Crystal agreed with him. If it wasn't for the fact that they were there to assist Itsuki and the Shield Hero, the two would never willingly travel through a place like this.

Naofumi wasn't sure if he could sense it or not. But it was like a heartbeat was reverberating through the floor beneath him.

"We're finally in my body proper now. This is where things get dangerous." Ost informed them.

"You mean it wasn't dangerous enough?" Itsuki asked in a strained voice. He still looked embarrassed about losing his temper earlier.

Before Ost could answer, a white bulbous monster came flying at the group. Naofumi immediately reacted by blocking it with his shield, and then Raphtalia proceeded to kill it with a slash of her sword.

It'd been quick, the whole exchange barely lasting more than a few seconds. Ost didn't skip a beat as she nodded to Naofumi before pressing on.

"Yes. Here is where my body's immune system resides. It holds familiars far worse than the servants that patrol my outer body, and there are a lot of them. It will do everything it can to get in our way should we provoke it." Ost said.

The familiar had looked like one of those white blood cells you'd see under a microscope. It was… creepy.

"Any other bone marrow servants we need to beware of?" Naofumi asked sarcastically.

"I hope not." The fact that Ost didn't say no made Naofumi begin to sweat.

"Anything you can recall from your game that might help us to know what's coming?" The Shield Hero then asked Itsuki.

"Not much yet." Itsuki shook his head. "I'll let you know if anything lines up though."

The cavern they were walking down became bigger the further they went. They also came across white, maggot-like creatures squirming on the ground.

Itsuki put an arrow into each one they came across as they walked. Still, Naofumi couldn't help but think about how hard it was going to be protecting everyone in a wide area like this. Especially with those weird white blood cell familiars popping out every now and then to ambush them.

Thank goodness they were all strong enough to deal with them. That made it a bit easier to handle.

"I…" Ost suddenly looked down at herself. "How odd."

"What is it?"

"I can feel my magic power increasing. And I think my regenerative abilities are improving." Ost stated.

"You have regenerative abilities?" Naofumi asked.

"I am part of the Spirit Tortoise. Does it surprise you that I can regenerate damage just like my main body?" Ost asked with some mirth.

"... No, I guess not." Naofumi shrugged. "I just haven't seen you get hurt yet I guess."

"And thank you for making that possible. I think the closer we get to my heart. The more power I'll have at my disposal." Ost continued. "That should allow me to use more powerful spells than before."

That was good news. Ost had been handling herself as a support mage pretty well. Her gravity magic was also pretty useful. If she got stronger, than that meant things were better for them overall.

The group eventually came across a curtain of red sinews blocking the way forward. "Wait a sec…" The Bow Hero paused, finally seeing something familiar stick out to him. "Karn, cut through that sinew on the side there."

The swordsman shrugged and did so. Immediately afterward, the path in front of them opened up. "Finally, something from my game that's actually familiar." The Bow Hero mused to himself.

"You know, I had a feeling." Naofumi sighed, remembering how he'd seen this sort of puzzle in some of the puzzle games that he'd played before.

They continued forward. After a while, they came across another barrier of sinews. These ones were blue. "Let me guess, Magic this time?" Naofumi asked in a deadpan tone.

"I know what you mean, but no." Itsuki shook his head. "It's a case where you need to cut the right one, or you'll get ambushed."

"And the right one is...?" Naofumi let the question hang in the air. There were like five of these sinews next to the wall in their way.

"I want to say the middle one, but honestly, I'm not willing to trust my game knowledge any more than I have to at this point. I think we were just plain lucky on that last one." Itsuki rubbed the bridge of his nose with a frustrated sigh.

"Hey, if it works, it works. Ost?" Naofumi turned to the familiar next.

"I'm sorry. Like I said earlier, everything feels wrong and weird. I'm not certain which one is correct, or if any of them are." She shook her head apologetically.

"Right, middle one it is. Raphtalia you're up." Naofumi directed his girlfriend to go forward.

"Yes!" Raphtalia slashed forward this time, cutting through the sinew that Naofumi had indicated.

The path in front of them opened up, but at the same time, the red sinews from before regrew behind them. To make matters worse, more of those white blood cell monsters began to flow down from the ceiling onto them like a tidal wave.

"Gah! Meteor Shield!" Naofumi put the barrier up around everyone, barely protecting them in time.

"Itsuki, a little warning!" Crystal yelled.

"I told you they would come if we were wrong! What more do you want from me?!" Itsuki asked as he began firing arrows one after the other.

"The path opened, so how were we wrong?!" Karn asked skeptically.

"I don't know! Maybe Kyo changed how it works or something?!" Itsuki yelled over the din of battle.

"Focus!" Naofumi yelled back at everyone. His skill was already cracking holding these monsters back.

Raphtalia and the rest began going on the offense while Naofumi kept everyone protected. They'd been taken by surprise, but they managed to stem the tide of monsters coming onto them. But the way ahead kept on filling with more of them. Even though they were still forcing their way through, it was slow going.

"Here!" Upon reaching another door of blue sinews, Raphtalia cut a sinew again. Only, this time, the door locked itself further by growing more sinews over it. She hacked another one, but it caused more immune system monsters to burst into the tunnel behind them.

"Stop! I don't think this door opens from these ones." Itsuki shouted after firing off a skill into the horde. "At least, I don't remember that being the case in my game."

"You couldn't have said that two seconds ago?!" Naofumi shouted back. His barrier started to crack, so he summoned two of his shields, dropped the Meteor Shield, and put it back up again so it'd be at full strength. He also drank a soul healing potion in case this turned out to be a long-drawn-out fight. "How do we get ahead then?!"

"Hmmm…" Ost suddenly pressed a hand to the door before Itsuki could answer. It began to writhe and spasm under her touch, but then, the sinews withdrew and the path opened to them. No cut sinews or anything.

...

"You were able to do that this whole time?" Naofumi asked in deadpan.

"I discovered I could just now," Ost admitted.

The chamber beyond was filled with a loud pulsing sound, but there were no familiars on the other side!

However, Ost was straining to keep the path open. Even if she could open the doors, she couldn't do so for long. "Go, quickly!"

The group went through, and after Ost followed, the door closed behind them. The familiars they'd been dealing with were left on the other side.

They took a moment to catch their breath after the surprise ambush. Then, after checking to make sure everyone was ok, Naofumi spoke to Itsuki. "How were you supposed to open that door?"

"I think it required slashing through a white sinew." The Bow Hero replied after thinking about it for a few seconds. That had been the answer to that last door in his game, right?

Gods, it'd been so long since he played Dimension Wave. Itsuki felt like he was remembering everything wrong.

"You mean like those ones?" Filo pointed to a pair of white sinews coming down from the ceiling next to them.

"... Yeah, weird though, I didn't see any in that corridor," Itsuki mumbled.

They waited a moment, preparing in case they were right, or wrong. Then, Raphtalia slashed through the sinew Itsuki had indicated.

Sure enough, the door behind them opened. A few familiars came through but were easily disposed of. The rest had already gone back into the Tortoise's blood vessels… at least, that was Naofumi's guess since he couldn't see the rest. And neither could Itsuki.

"These sinews should regenerate after a certain amount of time. But after that, they'll close up the corridors once again." Itsuki told them.

"Meaning that when we bring the rest of the army here, we'll have to have somebody posted at each sinew to open and close the doors." Naofumi thought out loud. "And they'd have to be strong enough to deal with the waves of familiars that'll be unleashed when that happens."

Itsuki nodded. "If we cut the right ones, we probably won't flood the area with too many monsters like before." They walked back down the corridor to the middle one. After looking it over, Itsuki had Raphtalia cut the sinew to the right of the middle one after the path ahead closed up.

This time, it worked. The path forward opened with only a few familiars responding from the walls this time. Though the way back still closed over once again. "Looks like we'll have no choice but to bring everyone through here in groups." The Bow Hero noted which ones needed to be cut in his mind then nodded. "Alright, I have it down this time."

As flawed as it'd been, at least his game knowledge was finally able to come in handy here.

With that, they continued deeper into the latest cavern.

It gradually grew wider, opening up into a large hall. There was no sign of the heart yet. However, they could feel its heartbeat through the floor beneath them getting stronger and stronger. They were definitely getting close.

Near the end of the large hall where the ceiling turned to flesh, they stumbled upon a dragon hourglass. It was similar to the one in the corner of Naofumi's vision. It was smaller and filled with blue sand. But it had the number 7 etched on it. "Look familiar?" He asked Itsuki.

The Bow Hero nodded his head, looking it over.

"Where's all the sand?" Filo asked. Looking in the top part, Naofumi found she was right. Only the bottom part had any sand in it. It looked to be around only a sixth of the way filled.

"This indicates how many have been sacrificed to the Spirit Tortoise. And how many more are needed for it to make the barrier around the world." Ost reminded him gravely.

He reached a hand forward to feel it, only for it to pass through.

The hourglass in front of them was only a projection. The real one was likely in the core. "Couldn't have been that easy, huh," Naofumi muttered.

As they watched, a few grains of sand appeared in the top half, dropping down and adding to the pile in the bottom half.

"Did some of Fitoria's flock just die?" Naofumi asked Filo worriedly.

Filo shook her head. "As far as Fitoria is aware, no."

It must have been some monsters or people caught up in the Spirit Tortoise's rampage. Naofumi grimaced at the thought.

"Let's keep going," Ost told them. "All those people and monsters will have died in vain if we don't stop the rogue Book Hero."

"Alright." Naofumi nodded.

They continued in silence after that, the beating gradually getting louder and louder.

...

At last, at the end of the large winding hall, they found it at a dead-end fleshy chamber of pulsing walls and bulging veins.

The heart stood six meters tall in the center of the room and was divided into two colors. Red and Blue. Each side had an eyeball sticking out of it. Sinews from the floor and ceiling held the heart in place.

Spirit Tortoise Familiar (Heart-Type)

What do you know? Even the heart of this thing was a servant. Was every part just another servant making up the Guardian Beast?

Did that mean its tongue was alive too? He hadn't really thought to check if it had eyes on it before when it'd open its mouth. But if the tongue was also a familiar…

No. That was diving into some pretty dangerous territory, so Naofumi decided to leave it at that.

"I didn't think things could get any creepier than this," Naofumi murmured.

"It looks bigger than it did in my game," Itsuki said, not really surprised by its appearance.

They observed the heart for a little while, but the heart didn't notice them. The Bow Hero began to carefully investigate the area around it, making sure not to draw its attention.

"Anything you can discern, Ost?" Naofumi asked in a quieter tone. "Is dealing with this going to help us find the core?" From what they'd seen, there hadn't been any other paths branching off from this one. Meaning the heart had to be the key somehow.

That text Itsuki had found earlier mentioned the heart and the head specifically. Perhaps that was important?

The woman frowned as she studied her heart. "I believe… If we were to attack it now, my heart would summon waves of familiars to protect itself. Outside of that, I cannot gauge how it would retaliate." She frowned, clearly frustrated. "I'm sorry. I cannot recall how to open the way forward. But I do sense that there is a large chamber underneath here. How we are supposed to get there though is beyond me."

"Oh well." The Shield Hero shrugged. "Guess we'll have to figure it out ourselves then. Or maybe I can egg Itsuki on some more so he'll blow up another hole in the floor for us to go through."

"I heard that!" Itsuki hissed out in a stage whisper from the other side of the room causing Naofumi to smirk.

Ost looked between the two then down at herself, wanting to say something but hesitating. Fortunately, Naofumi noticed it.

"Is something wrong?" He asked quietly.

"No, it's just... While I'm thankful that you took my words to heart without hesitation, I can't help but feel concerned. Knowing who I am and what I represent, are you not afraid that I'm simply leading you and the Bow Hero to your deaths?" Ost asked hesitantly.

Naofumi looked up thoughtfully. "I can't deny that's on the back of my mind. But like I said before. If you'd wanted us dead, you've had ample opportunity to make that happen."

Ost didn't speak, only looking at him as he shrugged again. "I've met bad people before. I can't claim to be an impeccable judge of character, but you don't seem like a bad person to me. And I've grown cynical enough to at least understand that your original purpose, however horrifying it might be, has exactly that. Purpose.

"If it wasn't for this one douche bag hijacking you, none of this would have happened. And while I'm still suspicious that you aren't telling me everything, you've helped us to get this far. And I've seen you get along with Raphtalia and the others. So as long as we both want to protect the world, all we can do is trust each other and go forward. Right?"

"I see..." Ost turned away after that, choosing to spend the next few minutes studying the floor in contemplative silence.

Eventually, Itsuki came back. "Find anything?" Naofumi perked up.

Itsuki helplessly shrugged as he shook his head. "I couldn't find any indents or clues or anything about it being hidden like before. I checked to make sure no other mimic familiars were blocking off anything. But I found nothing. So unless it's in the area directly around that thing, I have no idea. There wasn't anything in my game beyond the heart, so I won't have anything to offer from here on out either."

Naofumi frowned. "What about attack patterns? Anything I should know?" Naofumi asked.

"Nothing too complex. Heat beams from the eyes. I think it has gravity attacks as well. I'm not sure. I just remember the heat beams being annoying since it can fire them with both eyes." Itsuki frowned.

"Alright…" Should they risk pissing the boss off now to search, or did they have enough info gathered to best get everyone here safely for the sealing ceremony-

"Heroes," Ost spoke. "I… I'm not entirely certain. But I… I have a feeling that destroying my heart and head might be necessary for us to proceed."

"Destroy them?" Naofumi asked in surprise.

"Might be?" Itsuki skeptically asked.

"I won't know for certain unless we tried it," Ost continued. "I can only guess based on how energy is flowing through this room. It's also based on the hypothesis that my heart and head were important enough to be mentioned in that message you discovered, Bow Hero. It is not possible to seal my head, but it is possible to destroy both at the same time."

Itsuki looked from Ost to Naofumi. "Wasn't the plan to bring everyone here so we could seal the heart?"

"Yeah. But if it turns out to not be that simple… It's not like we have anything better to go off of." The Shield Hero frowned.

Itsuki thought long and hard to himself before sighing. "Alright, but whether we're sealing this or not, I'd still rather not face this thing without all of our back-up helping us. It's not the head, but it's definitely not weak."

"Right." They'd gotten their recon done without incident. They could head back now, being better prepared to defend Mirellia and the others so they could make it here. Though, Naofumi did worry about having to protect such a large group without really experiencing any of the heart's attacks. "Let's-"

"Whoa!" Crystal, who'd been standing back against the wall alongside Karn, Raphtalia, and Filo, gasped loudly as she tripped and fell onto the soft ground.

"...!" The eyes on the heart suddenly focused on them.

"Huh?" The spearwoman looked behind her and found she'd tripped on a small, black rock.

… Naofumi groaned to himself.

Of course. Thank you universe for screwing him over just now. This wasn't what he'd meant by being allowed to experience the heart's attacks.

"...!" Heat beams came shooting out from the heart's two eyes. At the same time, familiars began to flood the room in front of them.

Naofumi held his shield up and summoned his various barriers. The heat beams crashed into them, cracking and destroying them almost instantly.

Holy &%$#. This thing packed some serious firepower behind it. "All Zweite Aura!" Taking a moment to cast the spell, he applied the buff on the group, raising their stats. "Itsuki, cover us!" It looked like they were going to try destroying it after all.

"Damn it Crystal, couldn't you have found a better time to trip?! Zweite Down!" Itsuki's spell debuffed the heart, making blocking its attack somewhat more bearable.

"I don't get it, where did it come from?!" Crystal cried in shock as a full blown battle started out of nowhere in front of them.

"Oh don't sweat it Crystal. We all have our bad days." Karn helped her back up.

"No, I mean that rock literally came out of nowhere!" Crystal defended herself, still looking shocked. "I was looking at the ground when I stepped forward! That rock wasn't there when I looked!"

"Eh, you probably didn't notice it. We've been under a lot of stress today."

"I-yes I suppose. But how did it get inside the chamber? There's no stone structures here, and-"

"We're kind of in the middle of a battle here, in case you didn't notice." Karn cut her off.

"... Excuse me?"

"Look, I was trying to be nice and supportive, but you kind of grabbed the heart's attention with your blunder. The least you can do is own up to your mistake and help me and the Heroes out." Karn rolled his eyes at her.

"I… yes, you're right, I'm sorry." Crystal shook her head, grabbing her spear off the ground beside her.

The battle had begun in earnest in the meanwhile. "Arrow Squall! Shining Arrow!" Itsuki released the two spread skills after charging them up. The various arrows fell on the various familiars, decimating their numbers. A few also fell on the heart, causing it to screech in pain.

Ost winced, but none of the Heroes noticed it. Raphtalia and Filo raced forward past Naofumi's barriers.

"Light Thrust!"

"High Quick!"

Filo's agility allowed her to plow through many of the familiars in their way. Raphtalia's magic attack followed right behind, aimed directly at the now exposed heart.

"...!"

A force field appeared around it. Raphtalia's magic attack cracked it, but didn't break through the barrier, surprising her.

"That thing can protect itself too?!" Naofumi shouted in shock.

Filo quickly reacted by picking her mommy up and jumping out of the way just before heat beams from the heart's eyes decimated the area the Tanuki girl had been standing in. Naofumi then took the brunt of the hit on his Whale Core Shield as his other shields shattered once again. Even with his raised stats and its debuffed stats, it was still pretty strong. He could only block the heat beams with one of his skills for a few seconds before it shattered.

"T-Thanks, sweetie." Raphtalia thanked her daughter after they were behind Naofumi again.

"Don't worry Mommy, Filo will help!" Filo cheered happily.

Mother and daughter went back to assisting the Shield Hero against the waves of familiars coming at them.

"Can someone please explain how this thing summons so many servants so quickly?! That's completely unfair!" Karn yelled.

"There's no end to them!" No matter how many Crystal speared, there was always more to replace them.

"Crushing Earth." Ost's spell took effect, flattening many of the familiars in front of her to the ground. Their movements became much slower, and Crystal and Karn were able to kill them far more easily. "They're coming out of the walls, floor, and ceiling! This is part of the self defense response I mentioned!" Ost informed them.

It was just like biology. Nothing drew quite as big of a defensive response than an attack on the heart.

Perhaps they'd underestimated things a little bit.

The damage that they'd caused to the heart thus far was already healing over before their eyes too. The heart had the same regenerative properties as the rest of its body.

"We'll have to take that thing out in one hit! Explosion Shot!" After charging up the skill, Itsuki unleashed fiery armageddon towards it. But the rank and file monsters got in the way, prematurely detonating the skill.

"...!" The heart's forcefield protected it from the rest of the blast.

"If I only had a direct shot." Itsuki muttered to himself. But his weaker skills weren't enough to pierce the barrier. And when he used his more powerful skills, the familiars jumped in the way to make them far less effective.

He had the sudden urge to use Eagle Piercing Shot to try and bypass the barrier. But he stopped himself from doing so. There was still Kyo after this. If this familiar was using barriers, what were the odds that Kyo wouldn't have that too?

L'Arc warned them not to reveal their entire hand. He had to keep a few skills in reserve, just in case. Even then, it wasn't like Eagle Piercing Shot was strong enough to one-shot the heart. Only his most powerful skills would be able to do so.

"Filo and Mommy can give a hand to Bow Guy!" Filo cried out. "Mommy, charge up your strongest move!"

Raphtalia nodded from where she stood beside Filo. Her tail puffed up behind her as she and her daughter began charging up their magical energy.

"Air Strike Shield! Second Shield! Hate Reaction!" Naofumi summoned his remaining shields that weren't on cooldown before using the last skill to draw the attention of all the monsters onto himself to buy the two behind him some time. The familiars immediately began flocking towards him. He downed a Soul Healing Water to replenish his reserves as the heart shot more heat beams at him.

They were lucky. It didn't look like the heart here would use the same powerful attacks the Tortoise had used outside. Though blocking all these attacks really was a pain.

"...!" A huge mandala-like magic pattern appeared on the floor around the heart.

Oh... Perhaps he'd spoken too soon.

A black ball of magic shot from the heart straight at Naofumi's defenses. Naofumi didn't recognize it, but he still stood in the way to take it.

Crack! Crack! Crack!

All of Naofumi's skill shields shattered, including his Meteor Shield. His eyes widened before the orb then slammed into his own shield.

"!" Light bent and warped around Naofumi's form. It was like he was ten times heavier, and besides the attack trying to force him to his knees, it hurt, a lot.

'Crap, that's gravity magic!' He hadn't seen the Guardian Beast use it like this before! It was like he was trying to hold back a mountain focused entirely on him.

"Naofumi!" Itsuki cried out worriedly.

"Herculean Strength!" Ost's support spell washed over him, and Naofumi managed to dig his feet into the floor beneath him just in time to avoid being crushed to the ground by the weight of a thousand anvils.

"Huragh!" Naofumi forced his arms to push his shield to the side. With his heavily increased strength stat, he was able to push the gravity ball away from everyone else. The attack dissipated against a wall of the room.

"Thanks, Ost." He managed to breath out.

"Don't thank me yet, you're covered by the enemy!" Ost warned him.

That whole time, the white blood cell familiars had been attacking Naofumi's exposed body. He'd been so taken by the pain of that gravity attack he hadn't noticed.

It was like they were trying to dissolve his limbs off. Only, his defense had been unaffected by the gravity attack, so they weren't dealing much damage. The fact they were dealing a little damage to him though worried Naofumi extremely. Even more worrying was the fact that these little buggers were draining his MP!

"Meteor Shield!" Naofumi summoned his blue colored barrier around him again, sending the familiars on his body flying off.

"You okay?" Itsuki asked.

"I'll be fine. Focus on the heart." Naofumi waved off his concern. Drinking an HP potion followed by a Magic Healing Water while blocking more heat beams from the heart's eyes. Drinking all this stuff, he was really starting to wish he had more tasty options to work with. Having to drink all these potions in battle was really annoying.

"Don't let them touch you! They'll drain you of your magic power if they do!" Naofumi warned the others.

"Ack!" Crystal swatted another familiar out of the way. Where it'd touched her arm, her skin looked pale, and her MP bar had dropped on her HUD. While the drain effect around the Tortoise wasn't active inside its body, it did appear these monsters had a similar method of attack.

This wasn't looking good.

"We're ready!" Raphtalia called out. She was glowing with power as was Filo. Good, they needed to end this battle as soon as possible.

"Great! Filo, tell Fitoria to get ready!" Naofumi urged his daughter.

"Already on it! Just give the word Bow Guy!" The two bent low to the ground.

Itsuki nodded, holding his Bow in front of him. Finally, it was time for his moment to shine! It was time for him to prove he was useful too!

After a few more seconds, mother and daughter raced forward at incredible speeds. Even with his increased stats, Naofumi had a hard time tracking them.

"Wind Cutter!"

Sensing the danger, the familiars in front of them piled up to try and get in their way. Fortunately, they were no match for Filo's speed and power.

Filo's powered up kick destroyed all the familiars in her way, hardly slowing her down as her foot then connected with the forcefield. The heart's eyes widened in surprise as the barrier around it shattered completely.

"Yin Yang Thrust!" Raphtalia's sword, covered in shadow and light, followed right after her daughter moved out of the way, stabbing through the heart's left eye. Energy then burst through behind it into the heart and out its back side into the back wall.

"!" The heart began beating like crazy as blood spurted from the large wound. Raphtalia kicked back off of it, and Filo caught her mommy in the air before avoiding another deadly barrage of heat lasers from the other eye as it fiercely retaliated.

Despite all the damage the Tanuki girl had inflicted, the heart still wasn't down, and it began to heal again before their eyes.

"Fitoria says to attack now Bow Guy!" Filo called out as the immune familiars began charging towards her and Mommy.

"Meteor Shot!" His weapon glowing a bright blue, Itsuki released the most powerful skill in his arsenal.

At the same time, Fitoria closed in on the heads with a well timed High Quick outside.

The heart and head saw the impending danger too late.

Boom!

The heart was consumed in a fiery explosion as Fitoria cut off the heads outside.

"...!"

...

Silence consumed the room.

Naofumi sighed tiredly. "Zweite Heal." He cast healing magic on himself to deal with his injuries. He then cast healing magic on Itsuki's party members, as they'd suffered injuries as well.

"Wow… that was incredible." Crystal was staring at Filo and Raphtalia. Awed by the power behind their non hero attacks.

"Are you ok?" Raphtalia asked them worriedly as she approached.

"Yeah. It's nothing I can't fix." Naofumi gave her a small smile.

She smiled in return.

"Yes! I did it!" Itsuki declared proudly.

"Just you?" Naofumi asked in a deadpan.

"Oh, um… hehe." Itsuki chuckled weakly. "We, did it?" He weakly offered.

Naofumi shook his head. Itsuki still had a bit of a pride problem, didn't he? Oh well, at least the heat beams had stopped firing on them.

A loud noise reverberated through the chamber. It was likely the sound of the heads falling from the body outside.

Filo had a worried expression on her face though as she conversed with Fitoria. Warning Naofumi they weren't out of the woods yet.

"Urgh…" Ost, where she'd been standing alongside Karn and Crystal, collapsed to her knees, holding her hands over her chest. Naofumi's skepticism was immediately replaced with concern.

"Ost!"

"Naofumi, that… that attack… wasn't enough, to reveal the way forward." She spoke shakily.

Naofumi was confused, as well as worried. As the smoke cleared, it was obvious Itsuki's attack had killed the heart. But no passageway out of the room had been revealed.

"Really?" Itsuki sighed. Perhaps he hadn't been the MVP quite yet.

BaThump!

Suddenly, the remains of the heart beat once.

"There's… there's no way…" Raphtalia said in shock. "Even though we destroyed it entirely."

BaThump! BaThump! BaThump! BaThump!

Before their eyes, the pieces began reattaching themselves together rapidly. New skin and muscle grew over, and two new eyes popped out. Within seconds, the heart was beating just as strongly as before. And because it had been killed, Itsuki's debuff spell was no longer active on it.

Before they could think to attack, a forcefield appeared around it again, and heat beams fired from its eyes at their small group.

"&^%$!" Naofumi summoned more shields. Blocking the barrage once again. The stronger heat beams tore through the shields like paper. He could feel his own Whale Core Shield burning his hands despite its heat resistant properties.

"I… I was wrong?" Ost looked confused and saddened. Even though they'd destroyed the head and heart at the same time…

"...!" Another mandala-like pattern appeared on the floor around the heart. At this point, Naofumi did not feel like sticking around to see what it'd do this time.

"Okay, that's enough! Everyone, fall back!"

"Got it!" "Right!" Filo and Raphtalia retreated as Crystal helped the Turtle woman to stand up. Naofumi brought up the rear as Itsuki fired off a few more skills, causing loud explosions amongst the ranks of familiars that flooded the room in front of them again with the heart's revival.

"...!" The heart unleashed its magic attack. A beam of energy weaker than what the head used. But by then, they were already gone, it instead destroyed the barriers Naofumi had put up to cover their retreat.

By the time the smoke cleared, the group was nowhere in sight.


It wasn't until they were nearing the sinew walls that Naofumi spoke up again.

"Did you see any paths open up during the time the heart was killed?!" He asked Itsuki.

"From what I saw, nothing happened besides its heart regenerating." Itsuki replied bitterly. They'd gone all that way, and it was yet another roadblock in their path.

"Damn it." At least they knew they were strong enough to take on the heart. Though Naofumi really didn't have much confidence in being able to protect a large group of people against it after that battle. Even with buffed stats and the thing debuffed, he'd barely managed to protect everyone.

"And you, did you really have to accidentally grab the heart's attention back there?!" Naofumi snapped at the silver-haired spearwoman. "We wouldn't have had to go through that if you'd paid better attention to where you were stepping!"

"I… I'm sorry." Crystal hung her head in shame.

"Don't blame her. It was an accident, Naofumi." Itsuki said, defending his friend. "But next time, please be a bit more careful. That was a fight we could have avoided." He then said to her worriedly.

"I-I'll try." Crystal stuttered, still not willing to face the Bow Hero.

Naofumi decided to drop it. Accidents happened, and they knew a lot of the heart's attacks now. Though how they were going to reveal the path forward…

"Heroes…"

Besides, Naofumi had other things to worry about. "Are you ok, Ost? What happened to you back there?"

"..." Ost shook her head. "I'm sorry. When you killed my main body's heart and head, I felt something... I, I believe that the sealing ritual might be necessary in opening the path to the core after all…"

Naofumi frowned. He didn't know how to feel about Ost dodging his question. "I thought L'Arc didn't need to seal his world's Tortoise in order to kill it." Itsuki said confusedly.

"Yeah, well I don't think L'Arc had a psychopath that'd taken control of his giant tortoise." Naofumi shook his head. Was it possible that this Kyo fellow could change the mechanism for revealing the path to the Spirit Tortoise's core? Or was it just needlessly complicated to begin with?

"Either way, we're going to kick this thing's butt and find him. I'm not giving up till after that." If the heart was going to be stubborn about keeping them from going forward, they'd just have to be more stubborn than it.

And fortunately, both Heroes had plenty of stubbornness to spare.


"Ah, Kid- Naofumi." L'Arc said happily as Naofumi and his group appeared from behind a corner. "We were looking for you."

Naofumi looked at L'Arc, tilting his head to the side. Raphtalia and Itsuki also did the same thing, not saying a word to them.

"Hero Naofumi?" Glass asked.

The three began to approach the pair. A cold chill went down L'Arc's spine. "Kiddo, this isn't funny." What was going on? Why weren't they talking back?

L'Arc gripped his scythe in his hands tightly. Something about the kiddo in front of him felt… off…

As Naofumi(?) came closer, he saw the kid had a weird grin on his face. His Shield was also in a form he didn't recognize. Raphtalia(?) and Itsuki(?) were grinning too, holding weapons like their own, but not their normal weapons.

L'Arc unconsciously took a defensive stance, and Glass held out her fans to prepare to attack. "I don't think that's them." The Shadow accompanying them muttered.

With an eerie laugh, Naofumi(?) charged towards the pair.


Author's Notes:

I planned on this being a longer chapter to deal with this all in one. But well, it was becoming a little too long. Needless to say, I decided to cut it halfway here.

Next week, I can promise that if everything works out, the Heroes will finally come face to face with Kyo. And then, we can reach the climax of this arc. Trust me, I'm just as ready for it as you are. For now, enjoy the omake, and yes, MaxPrime and Kisami, you two were correct.


Hero Clips!


When You're Too Strong: Part Two


They were nowhere near powerful enough to dig through the Tortoise's hard shell. Not even Fitoria was able to put a crack in it.

Thankfully.

Seriously, as Naofumi thought about it, it would have been really bad if she was able to break through the Tortoise's extremely high defense stat. Because then not only would they be crushed, but everything inside would be crushed as well. Including the Heroes they were trying to save.

Odd, Naofumi felt like he'd cursed himself by having that thought. Why did he feel a cold shiver going down his spine? Just because he'd thought it didn't mean it was actually going to happen, right?

"Are you ok, Naofumi?" Raphtalia asked worriedly.

"Daddy's sweating like crazy." Filo pointed out.

"Is there something troubling you, Shield Hero?" Ost asked.

"I… I'm not sure." He looked at Itsuki, who was sweating just as nervously as him. "Are we thinking the same thing?"

"If you're thinking about the fact that Fitoria might accidentally kill us by breaking through the Tortoise's shell, then probably." Itsuki responded.

They were both thinking it, huh? That probably wasn't a good sign.

And sure enough, before anything else could be said, the ceiling around them caved in.

Yep, they should have seen this coming.

"Ahhhhh!" Fitoria roared as she brought her foot down on the Tortoise's back.

Crack!

The attack was so powerful that it's entire shell caved in. She continued the assault, crushing the Tortoise's protective barrier so forcefully that she broke through its immense defense stat and layers of flesh and bone, destroying the guardian beast's core in the process and ending the fight once and for all.

Ha. It'd been too simple. Fitoria didn't know why she hadn't done it sooner.

"Yay! Fitoria continues to show that she's the most OP person in the world!" Her flock cheered.

"You're damn right about that!" Fitoria proudly posed before the large carcass in front of them. The Filolials continued to cheer.

"Gwah! (Shall Rikka awaken this beast with the power of her Tyrant Eye now so it can fight for Rikka-?)" The same black feathered Filolial from before, now wearing a weird white eyepatch over her right eye, was cut off by another slap from Fitoria.

"No." The Queen of Filolials stated evenly.

"Gwah…? (But why though…?)"

"Because Fitoria will not have you infecting the other Filolials with your antics again. You have no underworld powers. You are just a Filolial."

"Gwah! (No, Rikka is the bearer of the Tyrant's Eye! Just watch, Rikka shall make sure the world goes up in flames alongside her love, Dark Flame Master-" Fitoria slapped her again, this time, a bit more forcefully.

"No."

"Gwah… (Wahhh, that hurt…)".

Fitoria shook her head before facing the rest of the flock. "Enough of this, it is time for us to celebrate!"

"Gwah! (Yayyyyyyyyyy for Fitoria, the strongest being in the world!)" Her flock cheered. The bird queen proudly posed, just for them.

And thus, they all lived happily, ever-

"FITORIA!" "YOU IDIOT!"

Fitoria and the Filolials looked up in surprise. All four heroes stood ethereally in the air above them now.

Huh? Why was Fitoria getting a sense of deja vu here?

"You just had to kill us again, didn't you?!" Naofumi shouted angrily.

"Again?" Fitoria cocked her head to the side.

"Why did you kill us?! Now Ren here will never have the chance to be saved by his dog girl!" Motoyasu slung an arm over the still depressed Sword Hero. Wait, now that he thought about it, Wyndia had likely been killed too. As well as everyone else.

Now no one was going to get their happily ever afters!

"Oh… oh, sorry, Fitoria forgot again." Fitoria chuckled awkwardly.

"HOW THE ^%$# did you forget about us being inside the freaking Guardian Beast?!" Itsuki asked angrily.

"I know Filolials have bad short-term memory, but this is ridiculous!" Naofumi threw his arms in the air in exasperation. Well, the ghostly appendages that were his arms.

"Wait, isn't the shell supposed to be impenetrable to Fitoria's attacks in canon?" Motoyasu suddenly asked. "And isn't she the same power now that she was in the actual story?"

"Yeah," Naofumi replied bitterly.

"So how the hell did Fitoria break through its shell?" He asked.

As the dead Heroes pondered this, time rewound itself to fix the ramifications of that mistake.

Because yes, the shell of the Spirit Tortoise is so tough that not even the OP Fitoria can crack it.

This also means that, unless you were more powerful than Fitoria, no one should ever be able to break through the shell while the Guardian Beast is still alive.

And if you grew more powerful than Fitoria this early on in the story and did that, well, it would not only be extremely unrealistic, but the character would likely deserve being called out for the piece of garbage that they are. And the Council would gather to decide the fate of the author who wrote it.

There's your life lesson and writing advice for the week. Have a good day.


Till Next Time

Allen