I finally watched the rest of Season Two since I've managed to write to the end of Diligence. I also went ahead and watched what has come out for Season Three so far. I can say that while I'm unhappy with the things they did wrong as well as the things they left out in Season Two, I still found myself able to enjoy it. The music was good, the characterization for some side characters was on point. And I was surprised by the feels I got on scenes, especially at the end of the thirteenth Episode with the cast visiting Ost's grave. I might have to do a one-shot based on that scene in particular based in the afterstory of this fic.

As for Season Three… it is better than Season One. Which makes it infinitely better than Season Two. I love it. It makes none of Season Two's mistakes. It is handling the new characters very well. The pacing is on point with Season One's coverage of the first four LN's (so not including the Cal Mira Episodes, which was the fifth LN), and on top of all that, THE MUSIC IS STILL A BOP!

Seriously, go watch it if you haven't yet. It will be worth your time, guaranteed. You are doing yourself a disservice if you like what I've done in my fic but don't want to watch this season of the anime. And again, what it is showing is what happened in the LNs. So you all will finally discover why I was inspired to do what I did early on in the story.


Chapter Eighty-Two: Final Showdown: Part Two: Diligence


"Blood Flower Strike!"

The Interdimensional Shadow Drake that had been charging forward was cut clean in two. A second later, Kizuna appeared behind the monster as its entire body disappeared into shadowy mist.

A trail of the same substance could be tracked across the battlefield amongst the soldiers fighting behind the Hunting Tools Hero. It was not her first kill, nor would it be her last.

Kizuna couldn't do a damn thing to stop the bloodshed between both sides. But she could at least prevent the monsters from making things worse than they already were.

"First Form: Pitfall!" Another Drake monster tripped into the earthen hole Kizuna made in front of it. As it tried to pull itself out to attack the Hero, a small penguin jumped onto its back and karate-chopped its head.

"PEN!" SLICE!

Chris's flipper, which was covered over in ice, acted as a deadly blade and cut through the monster's shadow essence like it was wet clay. The drake didn't even have the chance to cry out in pain as its body dematerialized into shadowy goo.

"Good job Chris! Keep up the good work!" Kizuna gave her son a thumbs up.

"Pen!" Chris jumped onto her shoulder, looking around at the chaos around them diligently.

A fearful cry came from behind the Hunting Tools Hero and she quickly turned around to find a Sickle knight who was about to be killed by a Luvar soldier. The knight appeared to be wounded and was holding his right hand over his bleeding side.

"Fishing!" Kizuna's weapon changed into its signature rod form and the line lashed out, grabbing the knight and pulling him back just before the enemy soldier's weapon stabbed into the ground where he'd been.

Before their foe could recover from his subsequent surprise, Chris slammed his flipper into the chestplate of his armor, knocking him back onto the ground. A subsequent chop to the head knocked the enemy soldier unconscious.

"T-Thank you, Lady Kizuna!" The knight she saved bowed to her. Still keeping a tight grip on his wound, he was escorted by another pair of knights back towards the back line where a field hospital was set up.

"We keep on getting a lot of small fry. But where the hell is that Wave Boss hiding?" The Hunting Tools Hero asked loudly over the sounds of battle.

"None of ours have spotted anything yet!" Glass approached then, dragging a squad of bound Luvar cavalry knights behind her. She was also closely followed by the Sickle soldiers these cavalry knights had been fighting. The men and women all shivered in terror behind her. "And neither have theirs."

Kizuna couldn't do a damn thing about the bloodshed, but Glass could, and she did. Even exhausted as she was, the Fan Hero was more than strong enough to knock out the enemy soldiers and intimidate the others into surrendering when their attacks barely left a scratch on her body.

It wasn't the whole army. But every little bit helped.

Kizuna nodded and turned to look forward again. She wanted to focus on the next group of monsters she'd spotted earlier, but another squad of Luvar's soldiers had already disposed of them and were charging to attack her next.

"Take them down! Take them down!"

"We must defeat Sickle!"

"PEN!"

Too bad Chris was still there. He jumped off Kizuna's shoulder and slammed both fins into the ground. The ground under the group of enemies then turned to ice, causing them to slip and fall.

While they were getting back up, they didn't even realize Chris had dove into their midst until it was too late.

"What the-"

"It's just a penguin!"

"How is a penguin this strong?!"

"AHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

The enemy charge fell into confusion and then terror as Chris beat them all up one after the other with either his flippers or more ice magic. In the meantime, Kizuna found another group of monsters attacking some gem commandos. Her hunting knife glowed brightly in her hand as she dove into their midst.

"Instant Blade: Sunflower Strike!"

The group of lesser shadow dragons burst into clouds of gore as one. The inky-black ichor that composed their bodies was left hanging in the air in the form of several sunflowers.

"Look, brother! It is the Hero of the Hunt! She has come to aid us, no doubt!" A pompous voice was heard from one of the gem commandos that Kizuna had just saved.

"Indeed, brother! What great fortune! Surely this is a sign that our cause is righteous and that this battle will-" A second pompous voice began to respond.

Cole suddenly appeared behind the pair, slapping the back of their helmets with his weapon. "You dolts! Nobody speaks like that these days! Speak properly while we're in the middle of a battle!"

"Urgh, sorry, force of habit." One of the two brothers said.

"But it's so much fun to do." The other sighed.

While the two brothers rubbed the backs of their helmets, a small smile appeared on Kizuna's face. "Cole, is that you?"

"It is." Corrin's royal adviser looked at the Hunting Tools Hero, taking off his helmet to reveal a sweat-adorned face. Before he could speak though, he saw something coming down from above and directed a hand up towards the sky.

"My name is Cole Diamante. My friends, heed my call and form a spike to tear my enemies asunder! Shining Stones: Earth Spike!"

The advisor's armor glowed with gem energy as the ground in front of him tore itself open. As soon as it did, a large earthen spike launched itself into the sky, skewering the Wyrm monster that was about to dive down toward the Hunting Tools Hero.

Kizuna looked up at the falling remains of the monster and then back down at Cole. "Thanks for the assist, Cole. But you should really skedaddle out of here and hide in the backline somewhere. You're the highest-ranking commanding officer that's present here at the moment. If something happens to you, your commandos will be left in disarray."

"Nonsense. I might have lost track of Emperor Corrin and Lord Ryoma in this mess, but I am still capable of fighting alongside my men." With the immediate threat above disposed of, Cole focused on Kizuna again. "Did things go well with Kyo? Is that why you and the others appeared to help us?"

The girl could only grimace in response. "I'm afraid the Wave split us up while we were at Kyo's mansion. Naofumi and his allies are still there fighting him now."

"I… I see…" Cole's face fell. "So we still have to deal with this battle and the Wave."

"Have you tried calling for a truce until the Wave is over?" Kizuna pressed on.

"Lord Ryoma did try. But Xander is not responding to our attempts at communication. He is pressing his men to attack even with the monsters targeting both sides." Cole said gravely.

"I knew he could be ruthless. But to this extent…"

Kizuna almost wanted to scream in frustration, but she held it in as, nearby, some of Cole's men fell back so their weapons could recharge. Another line moved forward to take their place, firing into the crowd of monsters again.

"Well, the sooner I deal with the Wave Boss, the sooner this Wave will end, and the sooner you'll be able to focus on Luvar. Have any of your soldiers found anything bigger and nastier than these monsters flying around?!"

"No idea, to be honest, this whole thing is so messy that-" Cole began to respond.

"Um, if I may interrupt." One of the two noblesse soldiers from earlier spoke up. "I think my brother spotted something in the skies below the Wave Cracks at the back of Luvar's army earlier. What was it that you saw again, um… bro?"

"It looked like a giant dragon. Kind of reminded me of the Demon Dragon, only it had two large wings instead of four." The second brother answered, putting a hand to his chin in thought. "I thought I saw it devour a whole ship whole, but then I had to fight another monster and by the time I looked again, it had vanished."

Kizuna frowned even more.

"It was pretty high up in the sky. That could be why no one else has spotted it yet." The second brother added. "Sorry, I wasn't able to see much else."

The gem noblesses turned around as their comrades yelled for assistance. The two began firing their Gem Lightning Rifles into another wave of monsters trying to overwhelm their position.

Cole pulled out another ofuda, and as he listened to the voice on the other end, he grimaced. "The situation above is still too hectic. I'm afraid I can't call in a transport to pick you up. I'm sorry, but I don't know how to get you up there."

"... it's fine." Kizuna grinned. The hunting knife in her hands changed into a bow in a flash of light. "If I find it, I'll just have to bring it down to my level."

"Pen!" Chris walked up, dragging the group of beat-up soldiers behind him in a large pile of moaning limbs.

Glass also walked up, pouring another Soul Healing Potion on herself to recharge her energy and fill in the wounds she'd sustained. "Come on, you two, it looks like the Wave Boss we're hunting is a dragon!" Kizuna said excitedly.

Glass and Chris nodded their heads and followed Kizuna away from Cole and his soldiers. With the Hunting Tools Hero dealing with all the monsters in their way while Chris and Glass put down every enemy soldier that made a move to attack the plucky girl.

Cole smiled just a little bit, feeling warmth and reassurance coming from the grin that Kizuna held… and yet, it still looked forced upon closer examination.

This battle must have been getting to her. They all had to help end things as soon as possible. But Cole had no idea where Xander was even at.

It was clear that the enemy would continue their attacks unless their general ordered them to stop… or otherwise died on the field of battle. But there were only a handful of individuals among the coalition army who were strong enough to stand against the rogue Lapis crown prince. Perhaps if Glass or one of the other Heroes found him…

Curses! He should have asked Kizuna to try and target Xander as well. Guess that's what he got for being so focused on the battle at hand.

Before Cole could ponder too much on it though, another one of his ofuda activated at his side. One that brought him only temporary relief. "Your Majesty, thank goodness, I was starting to wonder-" He started speaking into it.

"Cole, I am granting you temporary authority over our forces. I am about to engage Xander in a duel and won't be available during that time." Corrin's voice interrupted him.

"Y… Your Majesty?" Cole replied in shock.

"This needless fighting has to stop. I'll do my best to reason with him. But if I fail… make sure you and Ryoma focus on the Wave. I'll be counting on you two."

"Wait, Your Majesty, call in the Heroes! They're here! They can-" Before Cole could finish yelling his response, the ofuda connection shut off.

"Gods," Cole gripped the ofuda in his fist tightly. But then he was forced to focus on the battle once again as the troops in front of him needed immediate orders and guidance to continue their battle.

Before long, Cole found himself at the forefront of the fighting again, assisting against both the Waves of Monsters and the Book Country's elite foot soldiers.

It was just one thing after another, wasn't it? Cole swore to himself that upon this battle's conclusion, he was going to have some choice words with his Emperor for such reckless behavior. The king of Sickle was clearly a terrible influence with his own reckless actions.

But first, they all needed to get through this alive.

"So, it has finally come to this." Xander dismounted from his war horse.

The large beast was led away by another one of his soldiers, as it was bleeding from a wound on its side. One that Corrin had inflicted with a magic spell to force the beast to stop.

Most of the magic attacks directed at Xander and his steed had failed to do much, if any damage before this. But Corrin's level was much higher than average, with only Ryoma surpassing him in that regard among the Lapis forces.

"Xander, brother, I don't want to fight you right now." Corrin walked forward. The noblesse commandos he'd been leading were taking on the monsters surrounding the two army leaders. Giving them a circle of peace in the chaotic battlefield.

"I know I escalated the conflict earlier with what I did, but there are innocent lives in the way now! Some of these monsters are moving towards Luvar's Capital! This needless bloodshed is pointless!

"Please, at least let us call for a temporary truce so we can focus on the Wave!

"The last thing I want is for civilians to be put in harm's way by the Waves of Catastrophe!"

Soldiers around them continued fighting each other, as well as the monsters raining down from the sky. Blood and shadow littered the dirt. And in the distance, Luvar's remaining defenders were activating defenses against the oncoming hordes of monsters.

"Needless… yes, all this truly is needless, isn't it?" Xander took his helmet off of his head, before dropping it to the ground next to him.

His stern face could not hide the far-off look in his eyes. Eyes that were directed everywhere but at his younger brother.

"It is needless! Please, Xander! Listen to reason!" Corrin pleaded. "There has been enough death today!"

"You speak of the lives of civilians… and yet, what about the smaller communities of Lapis, brother? Even the ones that are barely a stone's throw away from Lazuli, your empire's glorious and unbreachable capital. The ones that had been reduced to cursed dens of undead." Xander asked.

Corrin recoiled as if he'd been struck. "Where were you and the Cardinal heroes when the Waves tore those peaceful towns and villages apart?

"Did you figure it was acceptable to sacrifice the lives of those people while hiding in the safety of your walls? Could you not spare even an iota of your fleet to help them out?"

"..." Corrin hung his head. "I know. I failed to protect them, Xander.

"For all of our boasting, Lapis does not have the strength to fill in for the power of the Cardinal Heroes. We enlisted the help of Vassal Heroes, but even then, it wasn't enough.

"The loss of every one of those lives to the Waves weighs more on my soul than anything else.

"That is why I beg of you," Corrin looked up again, a look of desperation in his eyes. "Please do not allow that to happen to your city! Please, just end this fighting so we can protect our world together! Like we did before!"

"No… not yet." Xander threw his Replica Spear away. From a scabbard at his side, he drew a long, thin blade. "There is still a lot you have to learn, brother, before you can understand the truth of this world for yourself." Xander's eyes finally fell on Corrin. They watched his face with a firm resolve and pride that refused to bend.

"Br… brother…" Corrin's voice sounded sad. He removed his helmet as well before tossing it aside and unsheathing his own blade. A diamond katana passed down by the royalty of Lapis from generation to generation.

A blade that had been named Yato. Corrin found it ironic how if their situation had been different, Xander would have been the one who'd inherited the blade. "Can I at least ask why?" The emperor made one last attempt to stop the inevitable.

Xander did not answer his question. Instead, he raised his weapon in front of him. "Come, Corrin! Let us see who will still stand! The sheltered world you wish to cleave to so desperately! Or the ruthless world I've come to see for myself outside of Lapis's walls!"

"If you truly value this world that much, then fight me now with everything you've got!"

"... fine then," Corrin replied, his voice resigned.

Xander leaped forward, the ground beneath his feet cracking as he brought his blade down.

Corrin raised his own weapon and took the full might of Xander's first attack on the diamond blade, standing tall in the face of his brother's onslaught.

Their duel to the death had begun.


"Now, DIE!"

Kyo brought his large foot down.

Rishia's, Aksel's, and Maya's lives were about to be snuffed out before everyone's eyes.

Thwack!

However, a ballista-sized glowing white arrow ripped through Kyo's right shoulder, making him stagger backward again.

"Don't you dare lay a hand on them."

Rishia twisted her neck as much as she could to try and find who'd just saved them. Only for her eyes to widen… and her face to fall. "No… Itsuki…"

The Bow Hero staggered forward. He still stooped under the Gravity Field that Kyo had summoned, but he was able to move.

Itsuki's eyes glowed a light purple and were focused entirely on the Book Demon standing before them. A hooded cloak that looked elven style fell from the Bow Hero's shoulders, attached to a set of pauldrons that'd never appeared before.

The Bow clutched in Itsuki's hands was devoid of all color, with only its gemstone glowing a light purple. Strange eldritch symbols littered its surface.

Nearby, Naofumi collapsed to the ground as the Gravity Field as well as Kyo's pages both pulled him down, making him too weak to stand. And the Shield of Hope II faded away, changing into the Spirit Tortoise Heart Shield.

Raphtalia began to slowly shuffle her way across the battlefield to the Shield Hero's position. But Naofumi's eyes moved from his girlfriend to the Bow Hero standing all by himself. "Itsuki."

"Don't worry, everyone." Itsuki nodded without looking away from his target. "I'm still me. I've been practicing on my own in case this became necessary. So I'm not planning on becoming some self-righteous martyr today."

"I'm just going to kill this monster and end this so we can all go back home. Please, trust me, I have not been sitting idly by all this time to save you guys at the last second. I'll just be using my last resort to handle things from here."

After what'd happened in Lapis, he had thanked Rishia for comforting him again... but he hadn't promised not to use his Cursed Series again like before.

He'd realized that he might have to pull it out again in the future. So while she'd been busy training the others, he'd spent time by himself in a secluded area, carefully pulling it out and thinking up ways to use it without losing control. Remembering how he'd initially been in control when he first used it in Lapis.

He eventually settled on trying some lessons he'd learned from Granny in controlling the flow of life force in his body and found it the most successful. Those same lessons were what he was using now to keep himself in control at that moment.

"Well now…" Kyo's maw split in an openly malicious grin. "Isn't this interesting? I never did realize that we shared the same Cursed Series. Perhaps that was why I found you to be particularly annoying among your peers.

"Although… I am intrigued. Why is it that yours has a different color associated with it? And it gives you a wardrobe change too?"

"Does it have something to do with the layer of life force that you've coated yourself with? Are you using it to shield your feeble and fragile mind from this form's corruptive effects? Or is it just because of the differences between our worlds?! How fascinating! I am definitely going to research this phenomenon later!"

"Shut your mouth, you monster." Itsuki scowled in response. "My Cursed Series is the Bow of Justice! Not whatever lies you're spewing out from your rotten lips! And I'll be using it right now to bring you down! Brainwashing Arrow!"

The blonde fired another arrow out of his bow. It looked different from the other ones from before, yet Kyo didn't even react when it disappeared into him.

"Hmmm… oh, was that meant to do something?" The Book Demon asked snidely after a moment.

Itsuki's face twisted in shock. "What…? You resisted it?! HOW!?"

"I did feel as if some foreign thoughts tried to enter my mind. Hell, I even thought about killing myself for a moment there." Kyo's dragon face smirked widely while Itsuki's face drained of color. "I thought about giving up and taking my own life and all that. But hearing voices in my head is nothing new to me. And since they were really annoying, I just pushed them away."

"As for your weapon… Bow of Justice, you say? Hmhmhm, I guess you haven't hit your Rank III yet to find out what your true Cursed Series is. Oh well. That only guarantees that you'll be too weak to bring me down."

The purple glow in Itsuki's eyes deepened a little. An orange glow appeared around his Bow. "Wanna bet?

"Explosion Shot!"

The area Kyo had been standing in a second ago exploded in a blinding and deafening flash. Naofumi and the others had to put their hands over their faces to protect their eyes.

"Hahaha! Ow, that actually stung! But! You are still too weak to bring me down!" Kyo appeared next to Itsuki, with a part of his arm missing from the latter's attack. It did not seem to slow the Book Demon down one bit though.

The Bow Hero turned to the side, looking surprised.

SMASH!

Kyo's fist slammed into the Bow Hero's chest. Knocking him back and up in the air. "You're going to need more power than that if you want to take me down by yourself!" Kyo cackled.

While still flipping up in the air, Itsuki aimed his Bow at the Book Demon. "Thunder Shot!"

The arrow left his weapon at just the right time, flying down and exploding against Kyo's chest. This caused the dragon to howl in pain and excitement.

Itsuki fell back into the ground of the crater again. His Bow raised and charged with another skill as Kyo shot forward. "Eagle Piercing Shot!"

The large bird of prey enhanced by cursed flames screeched as it shot toward Kyo. But the Book Demon batted the attack to the side, not even paying attention as it exploded in a ball of cursed fire against the crater wall. He then headbutted the Bow Hero with his horned head.

Itsuki took the attack to his face again and was launched through the air into another wall of the crater, where his body left a deep indent in the smoldering hot stone.

Mere seconds after that though, the Bow Hero staggered out of the hole, good as new. His bones cracked as his Cursed Series regenerated the damage he'd taken.

Kyo began to cackle again. "Ah, so you gain regenerative properties with your Cursed Series as well then?! No wonder you're just taking my attacks instead of trying to dodge! Then again, running around while being affected by gravity that is a hundred times greater than normal can't be easy! Perhaps this duel will turn out to be interesting for us yet!"

"Spread Strafing!"

Itsuki didn't bother with a response as multiple arrows were fired rapidly from his bow one after the other. Kyo first tried veering left and right to dodge, then as the last few homed in on him, his pages moved in-between to catch the rest of the attack, and the arrows exploded against them.

"Flame Arrow!" The first skill was followed by a flaming arrow that destroyed all the pages Kyo had used. And right behind it came Itsuki, who swung his Bow at Kyo's side like a club.

Crack!

Several ribs broke from that attack, and the massive Book Demon stumbled back, one arm clutching his side. Despite that though, he began laughing even more maniacally.

"Ahahahahaha! Now that's more like it! Show me more Bow Hero! Show me what other new tricks you have in that bag of yours!" Kyo stood back up, his ribs having already healed.

Itsuki's scowl deepened as his eyes took on another deeper tinge of purple. "Saint Arrow's Rain!"

Kyo's pages moved up to block the skill that rained down on him. At the same time, Kyo moved forward, his hands and wings covered over with purple fire to melee with the Bow Hero.

Naofumi groaned in tiredness as he watched the fight progress.

He tried to think of a way to overcome the Gravity Field everyone else was still stuck in. This was really insane! Not even Rishia was able to stand in it like before, and it looked like the girl was struggling like crazy to stand up and assist Itsuki.

"All Z-Zweite Aura." Naofumi finally managed to chant.

However, despite Kyo looking as if he was completely focused on Itsuki… "Anti All Zweite Aura." He still canceled out Naofumi's support spell. "Now, now. No cheating. This is an honorable duel between me and the Bow Hero! And no, I haven't forgotten about you folks, so be patient. You'll get your turn to die soon enough!"

Naofumi's fist clenched the ground beneath him. "D-Damn it. Come on, Itsuki. Bring this bastard down already so this spell will end."

The Bow Hero was trying his best. He was taking Kyo's attacks like a champ and brutally retaliating every time in turn.

"Bunker Shot!" KABOOM!

Kyo crawled out from the cloud of smoke on all fours. Half of his head was missing, exposing the Book Demon's monstrous skull while its contents dripped out on the scaling-hot ground, yet he was still cackling as his clawed hand slammed into Itsuki's gut. Sending the Bow Hero flying back while crushing the lower part of his lungs.

"RAAAAAAAGHHHHHH!" Kyo's chest puffed up before he let loose a torrent of cursed flames in Itsuki's direction.

"Tornado Arrow!" A tornado of black wind enveloped the stream of fire, dispersing it completely. "Shining Arrow!" A pale light spread skill then fell from the sky, forcing Kyo to fall back and block it with his pages once more.

"Those spread attacks of yours still don't amount to much, even when you're being fueled by your Cursed Series, huh?" The demon mocked.

"And your own skill repertoire is still so useless that you decided to settle on fighting us with just your bare hands." Itsuki countered.

"Hmhmhmhm. Fair enough. This useless tome was never designed with offense in mind. Perhaps if it'd had a different wielder… well, no matter." Kyo shrugged it off, smiling widely as their battle continued.

The two exchanged another flurry of blows and skills with one another. Any damage they took healed over quickly.

Itsuki's eyes darkened bit by bit the longer he fought like this.

Deep inside, a part of him knew that he should be dodging more. That he should be keeping Kyo at range so he didn't have to take so much damage in return.

Itsuki might have been healing from it, but that didn't mean his body wasn't going to feel it later. The effects of having your bones broken and your organs punctured and/or crushed over and over again on repeat did not just vanish just because the damage was being healed automatically. He was going to have to go through all this pain again later when he unequipped his Cursed Series.

… and yet…

Right now, he really didn't care.

He inflicted the largest amount of damage on the demon when he was close. It was harder for Kyo to block or deflect his attacks when Itsuki was firing them in his face at point-blank range. So even if the Bow Hero was going to hate himself later, he'd rather go through all that pain instead of being unable to take Kyo down at all.

"Meteor Shot!" BOOM!

Kyo staggered back. Another portion of his chest, as well as the wings on his right side, had been blown off by the powerful skill. Kyo smirked as his lopsided form stood in front of where Rishia and Aksel were still struggling to move on the ground. And where Maya had finally come to and was moaning in pain.

Itsuki scowled deeply. "JUST DIE ALREADY!" He screamed in frustration.

His eyes took on another shade of purple, but he grit his teeth and continued to keep his breath steady and rhythmic. The amount of life force moving through his body was nothing compared to what Rishia could draw on, but it was enough.

As long as he followed Granny's teachings and kept his mind empty and tranquil, there would be nothing for his Cursed Series to latch on to and corrupt. Don't let your mind wander. Focus only on the target in front of you. Destroy it and then lock this bow away again without looking back.

Rishia was there this time. He knew he couldn't lose control with her around, or else he would never be able to forgive himself! All of his training had led to this!

"Now, now, Bow Hero! Losing your temper is the fastest way to lose, don't you know? Now, why don't you bring out the big guns?" Kyo asked in a mocking tone once again. "That Meteor Shot of yours is certainly powerful. But you must have something stronger than that, right?"

Itsuki nearly paused, but then, he scowled deeply as he selected the option on his HUD.

He didn't care about the effects of using it. He had to take this demon down, now! Before he was forced to unequip this bow, or else lose sight of himself forever!

"Ranged Shot!" Itsuki fired the arrow almost directly above him. The angle of his bow positioned only slightly towards Kyo.

"Huh? What kind of attack is-" Kyo began to ask in confusion.

"Flash Arrow!" Itsuki fired another arrow from his bow right at Kyo. But before the arrow could hit the dragon, Kyo swept his pages in front of him to intercept it.

Too bad this arrow wasn't meant to actually hit its target.

The arrow exploded like a flashbang grenade right in front of the demon's face. The blinding light slammed into Kyo's eyes, causing him to howl in pain and fury at being blinded for the second time in this fight.

"Change Arrow!" Itsuki pointed up at the skill he launched earlier, just a second before it finally made impact. "Shadow Bind!"

The arrow hit the large shadow that Kyo was casting on the ground around him. The Book Demon's movements immediately stopped as his body became paralyzed. And by then, Itsuki already had another arrow nocked on his bow. "Bind Arrow!"

The arrow slammed into Kyo's gut, and his whole body was brought down onto the ground. Bound where his shadow had been.

"Foolish Sinner! Your transgressions have filled the cup of iniquity to full! Writhe in pain as you're roasted alive, and as your dying screams are converted into the cries of a raging bull!"

"I call forth The Bull of Phalaris!"

A giant, grey-horned bull, one even bigger than the last one he'd created for that Church Shadow long ago, appeared above the bound dragon. Its weight crushed the ground around it.

Not only that, its appearance was accompanied by spikes protruding out of the ground. As well as cursed fire singing the area where it appeared. This bull was not only larger but far more menacing than it'd been previously when Itsuki had been a lot weaker than he was now.

"S-Sir Itsuki! No! Stop!" Maya yelled, her face filled with fear at the sight of the skill.

Naofumi was shocked, and he began to cuss to himself. "Itsuki, stop! That skill is too close to your friends!"

The Bow Hero didn't pay attention though. His mind was entirely focused on the target in front of him.

Itsuki slowly opened his fist. Similarly, the bottom of the bull opened up, spilling more cursed fire out of it over the ground like the gates of hell. Kyo's body was raised off the ground. Heading into the hot fiery insides of the massive execution skill.

"There shall be no mercy for those that go against Justice," Itsuki murmured.

Without even hesitating, he closed his fist.

Kyo was silently thrust into the grey bull. And the bottom of it closed up.

"Rahhhhhhh!" The golden bull let out a screech. Its eyes glowed bright gold.

Flames, dark flames flaked onto the ground around it like snow.

Itsuki stumbled as he unequipped his Cursed Bow. The purple glow that'd been in his eyes vanished like mist on the wind.

He… he'd done it, right?

Kyo was finally-

"Aha… Ahaha… Ahahahahaha!"

Itsuki's eyes shot open, and he looked up to see a large, clawed hand rip its way out of the top of the bull.

In mere seconds, Kyo came back out. He had burns and holes all over his body. And all four of his wings were missing as well as large patches of scale-covered skin on his back.

But beyond that and his insane laughter, he looked to be doing just fine.

"Fufufufufu. Gotta say that was quite the execution skill you had there! Man, what a rush! I actually thought I was going to die for a moment!" Kyo continued to cackle.

"H… Huh?" Itsuki stuttered in shock. "How… how are you still…"

"Alive?" Kyo mocked. "I'll admit, had I not cast any defense buffs on myself while I was inside that cute little construct, I would have died… Or maybe I wouldn't have." Kyo's large shoulders shrugged. "You never really know unless it happens after all, am I right?!" The rest of the bull faded away as Kyo landed on the ground again, still laughing his head off.

Itsuki's blood boiled.

His Cursed Bow appeared in his hands again, and the purple in his eyes deepened as he raised it at Kyo. "&^%$ THAT! IF THAT'S HOW YOU WANT TO PLAY IT, THEN I DON'T CARE ANYMORE!

"I'LL KILL YOU EVEN IF I HAVE TO DIE TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN!" The malicious aura around the Bow Hero began to intensify. "I'M NOT ALLOWING YOU TO HARM ANY OF MY FRIENDS EVER AGAIN, YOU SON OF A BITCH!"

"Yes. Of course. Give in to your pride and all that nonsense. Raise the rank of your Cursed Series and defeat me like a true Hero." Kyo said, his voice dripping with devilish amusement. "But before you do that, I have just one question for you.

"How are those friends you want to protect so desperately holding up right now?"

Itsuki was so confused by the statement, that the aura around him faded somewhat. "Huh, what do you… … mean… … … …"

The Bow Hero's gaze moved from his opponent to where his friends had been lying on the ground.

Right where Kyo had been standing before Itsuki had used the execution skill on him.

"It… Itsuki…" Rishia mumbled out in pain. Her hand reached out towards the Bow Hero.

The skin of her hand had been charred black and blood was seeping out from it. All the exposed parts of her body were covered in burns, including her face.

Cursed burns… that Itsuki had inflicted on her because of her being so close to the Bull of Phalaris.

"Axe… Aksel…" Next to her, Maya desperately tried shaking the unconscious tank lying over her. The man had somehow found the strength to crawl over the raccoon girl to shield her from the bull's cursed flames. His handsome features were blackened by burns.

The tank didn't respond. Maya started to cry as she couldn't even move enough to hug him. "AKSELLLLLLLLLL!"

On his HUD, Itsuki finally saw how low the trio's Health bars all were. As well as the cursed statuses that they'd been inflicted with.

It hadn't been because of any of Kyo's attacks…

Itsuki stumbled back as if he'd been punched in the gut.

'What… what?'

'WHAT?!'

No, he, HE COULDN'T HAVE!

BA-THUMP! BA-THUMP! BA-THUMP! BA-THUMP!

His heart began to hammer hard in his chest.

His eyes singled out Rishia. Their surroundings changing from the hellscape around them.

He saw Laylee lying on her stomach. A pool of blood formed under her.

Laylee's pain-filled eyes stared back at him.

A soundless noise came from her ruined throat. A bloodied knife lay on the ground next to her.

Why…

Why had this happened…

What was going on?!

Her bloodied hand reached out to him. Her body clinging to life.

Itsuki's mouth opened, a scream of devastation coming from his lips as he ran forward, his hand reaching out for his best friend's outstretched one.

But it was already too late.

The life in her eyes faded as her hand hit the ground.

"NO, SHIELD PRISON!" Naofumi tried using the skill to encompass Kyo and buy Itsuki the time he needed to evade.

However, while the ball of shields managed to surround the wingless Kyo, it shattered almost immediately after its appearance. Not even slowing him down in the slightest.

And Itsuki just stood there, unmoving, his face painted with not only shock but trauma as well.

KAPOW!

The Bow Hero was launched backward through the air. Burns covered his face and chest.

Kyo smirked as his tail whipped from side to side in feral anticipation. The purple fire it'd been covered with extinguished itself. "Guess you failed to protect your friends at the end there, Bow Hero." Kyo mocked.

"Still, that was a good duel. Perhaps I should have feared you over the Sword Hero after all."

Tears appeared in Itsuki's eyes even as his body flew one last time into the side of the crater. He slammed into the wall, crying out as his body let out a sickening crunch before falling to the ground.

Several of his ribs had broken. As well as one of his arms and possibly his leg. Pain was coming from everywhere in his body.

He blacked out from the pain soon after falling to the ground. But not before one last thought ran across his lips.

"Rishia… no…"

He tried so hard. He worked so much to overcome his failures and weaknesses, and yet… he'd hurt the girl he loved once again.

He'd made the same mistakes as before.

Who was he kidding? These last few months of progress… he'd fallen back to square one all over again.

He'd not only pulled out his Cursed Series and reneged on his promise… he'd hurt his friends with it again.

He'd hurt her with it again.

Itsuki couldn't have hated himself more at that moment. His mind fell into oblivion as fresh tears ran down the sides of his face.


Therese was a menace.

"Bejeweled Ruby Blaze!"

The front of one of the ships that had been chasing Ethnobalt before was completely engulfed in a powerful explosion of flames. Therese flew over it, her Gem Armor giving the energy needed to sustain her flight as the crew desperately began trying to put out the fires.

Therese landed behind them though, another gem spell already crafted in her hands.

"Shining Stone: Thunder Rain!" Raising her hands up to the sky, a giant lightning bolt split through the Wave Cracks around them. Disintegrating any wave monster unfortunate enough to get in its way before crashing into the hull of the ship.

Boom! "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Several enemy soldiers were thrown overboard by the explosion. Others were knocked out by the shockwave or straight up killed by the powerful magic, enhanced further by Therese's own accessories as well as the gem armor made specially for her.

She didn't pay much thought to what she'd just done, nor the experience notifications that lined her HUD. The ship was already keeling over in the air and was going to crash soon. So Therese jumped overboard, activating her gem Armor's flight abilities again to deal with the rest of Luvar's remaining fleet.

Some of the ships tailing Ethnobalt had peeled off to deal with the magic Gem user. Yomogi stood at the bow of the Invincible though, facing those still chasing them while trying to make herself heard.

"DAMN IT! HOLD YOUR FIRE! CAN'T YOU SEE WHO I AM?! I AM YOMOGI ETHNINA! THE DEMON LORD'S-"

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Another volley from the ships exploded around and against Ethnobalt's hull. The rabbit man coughed up more blood as he flew past another Wave Crack. He was trying to shake off their pursuers while avoiding grabbing the attention of monsters that were continuously pouring out from the glowing cracks all around them.

Yomogi scowled as she used a sword skill to slice apart a Wyrm that came flying at them. "They're not listening!" She then used her sword to deflect a cannonball that would have hit her to the side, destroying a falling Drake in the process.

Ethnobalt grunted as he turned his ship portside. "All Cannon Fire!"

The remaining two ships chasing him separated at the volley of cannon fire. None of his attacks hit one of them.

However, the fact they had engaged in evasive maneuvers made the Boat Hero realize something as he sped forward again. Outpacing the return volleys of their enemies.

Yomogi was about ready to just attack the Luvar ships herself when Ethnobalt spoke up.

"Yomogi, I think that the enemy is not aware of who either of us is and just think that we're regular troops piloting one of Sickle's Invincibles."

"Okay, and?!" Yomogi yelled back to him. "How is that supposed to help our situation?!"

"They don't know that I'm the Boat Hero. And, to be honest, I'm curious to find out how much more powerful those ships are compared to my current weapon form." Ethnobalt responded as he veered around another Wave Crack.

Yomogi didn't understand, and so she held onto the railing for dear life as Ethnobalt veered again.

If they were indeed ships, then that meant they were another form he could copy for his weapon.

He'd just have to get close enough to touch one of them with his hand.

An attempt that'd very much be suicidal if he tried it head-on. Hmmm, how to do it…

He almost passed into a Wave Crack as he made a very tight turn in the sky. However, the ships following him veered well clear of it, as well as the monsters coming out of it.

Seeing that gave Ethnobalt the last piece he needed for his plan.

"Hold on!" He yelled.

"I'm already holding on to something- HYYYYAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! WHAT THE &%$# ARE YOU DOING?!" Yomogi suddenly screamed in terror, her arms gripping the bow of the ship for dear life.

As he dodged another volley in the air, Ethnobalt directed his ship straight up, toward one of the cracks in the sky. Without so much as a thought as to what he was doing, he sped his ship right into it.

"NO! WE'RE GOING TO BE TORN APART BY MONSTERS AND-" Yomogi began to shout.

The transition between scenes was nearly mind-boggling. Yomogi felt like she'd just been turned upside down in an instant.

One moment, they'd been over a chaotic battlefield in the middle of some snow-covered plains that had formerly been mountains. Two armies were going at each other's throats while Wave monsters tore both sides apart and ships in the air engaged in duels with one another.

The next moment, they were flying above a large medieval city. A grand majestic castle stood in its center. Its purple banners were gleaming as legions of knights and adventurers fought the dragon-type monsters on the walls and in the streets.

Yomogi stared down, almost mesmerized by the world that Naofumi and his allies were assigned to protect.

An Interdimensional Shadow Drake landed in front of her, letting out a roar as it prepared to attack. But Yomogi instinctively slashed into it with one sword, preparing a skill with the other sword, but…

The monster died from the one attack. Dissolving into shadow in front of her.

"What… what is this?" Yomogi asked.

"The Wave on their side of the world," Ethnobalt answered, smiling a bit in relief as, looking back, he saw no sign of the two Luvar ships having pursued them. "The monsters here aren't nearly as strong as what we're having to face since this world is still so early in the Waves."

"How are we facing the same monsters though?" Yomogi asked. "Don't the Waves pour in monsters from one side of the world to the other?"

"That… is an interesting question," Ethnobalt said, looking deep in thought. "To be honest, I have as of yet to figure that one out. Indeed, some monsters that come through are from other worlds. And yet most of them aren't.

"You can tell which ones came from another world since they don't dissipate into shadowy ichor when they perish." Ethnobalt finished his thought.

Yomogi would have commented further, but her attention was drawn to a large explosion in a part of the city below. And after a moment of scanning the area, she spotted a blonde man in blue-shaded armor wielding a Spear in his hands.

He was fighting off the monster hordes alongside other powerful figures. One of them was surrounded by what looked like lightning. And another one was slicing monsters apart with two weirdly shaped blades in her hands. Others fought around them, yet those three stood out the most.

Yomogi watched for a moment. Awed by the sight of a Cardinal Hero and his companions in another world, fighting to protect the city from the monster hordes.

And then, finally, her attention was drawn back to Ethnobalt when she realized he'd been trying to tell her something. "What?" She asked.

"Move closer to me! I'm about to change to a much smaller weapon form!" Ethnobalt yelled again. The rabbit man was flying towards another wave crack. The weaker monsters bounced uselessly off the hull of his ship.

Yomogi was confused, but she complied. Running next to Ethnobalt as he directed his ship back through another Wave crack. And-

Right as he did so, his ship changed from the Invincible to his signature floating platform.

Yomogi stood on it, to her surprise. But Ethnobalt was falling down towards the decks of one of the ships that'd been pursuing him. With the floating platform falling beside him.

The two ships had paused outside the Wave Crack he'd disappeared into. It looked like they'd been debating whether to follow in or not and had been dealing with the monsters flowing out to attack them when Ethnobalt touched the side of one of the ships while freefalling.

Weapon Copy Activated!

The Invisible has been Unlocked!

Wait, that was its actual name?!

Had Ethnobalt not been falling to his death right now, he would have died of cringe from realizing that Aksel's little joke from several days ago turned out to be true.

Thankfully, he got over his disappointment pretty quickly as he changed to the new weapon form he'd unlocked.

Yomogi's floating platform transformed. Becoming a perfect replica of Luvar's latest top-of-the-line in airships.

The Invisible

Equip Bonus: Skill "Stealth Plating", +10 Agility

"Huh, it looks like I finally have a stealth skill of my own now," Ethnobalt commented as he looked over the specifics of his new weapon form. To his disappointment, its attack stat was barely stronger than the Invincible weapon form he had. Clearly, even if those ships did have a lot of attack behind them, his weapon still wouldn't give him as much as them.

On the bright side, he found this new ship had an even higher defense stat as well as a higher agility stat. It'd make traveling from place to place within Sickle a lot faster and a lot safer.

"Alright, let's try this again." Ethnobalt, now that he had the new weapon form equipped, rose up behind the two Luvar ships.

The soldiers on them had finished dispatching of the monsters and the ship's captains were just about to give orders for them to turn around and join the hunt for Therese when Yomogi rose up on the deck of one of their ships in clear view of the soldiers.

"What the-"

"Isn't that Lady Yomogi?!"

More questions were hurled by the soldiers, which were immediately silenced when Yomogi spoke in an authoritative tone to them.

"Soldiers! What the hell are you doing?! Have you gone insane?! Are you blind?! Can't you see that there's a Wave going on?!" The bull-headed girl yelled at them.

"Wh-Yes! Of course! We were warned in advance though that this was a possible contingency and-" One of the ship's captains began to respond.

"I don't give a ^%#& what you were warned about! Our gods damned Capital City is being invaded by monsters! Why are you not going back to defend it?! Why are you instead wasting our valuable resources and precious time here fighting Sickle and their allies in the sky!? Are you trying to lead our forces to suicide?!"

"B-B-But Lady Yomogi, General Xander gave us strict orders to-"

"&%$# XANDER! All of you are going to focus on the Wave! NOW! Work alongside Sickle and Lapis if you have to! We can figure out what to do next after this Wave ends! But if you continue to throw our ships away into the meatgrinder like this, then I am going to see to it that all of you morons are court marshaled myself!" Yomogi roared at them.

In short order, the captains and crew of the two ships complied with her order. They sped off in the direction of Luvar's Capital, finally seeing for themselves how some of the monsters were on the outskirts of the city as well.

"Well done. They didn't even realize there was an odd gemstone protruding from the front of my ship." Ethnobalt said happily where he was standing at the helm. Ah, even if he was still disappointed that this form still wasn't very strong attack-wise, it was nice to fool the enemy like this.

If only it could have had a better name. Ohhhhh, he was on the verge of dying of cringe again. Why, Kyo? Why did you have to name it the Invisible?

"Hmph, come on then, Boat Hero. We need to get the rest of Luvar's fleet to stand down." Yomogi ordered.

Ethnobalt complied. Flying off to where the majority of the air battle was still taking place.

Hopefully, they'd be able to get more of the ships to stop fighting.

Where Therese stood in the air, with at least ten Luvar airships surrounding her, ready to do battle, she paused.

Odd, she got the feeling that something big was about to happen. But where was it coming from?...

As she pondered on it, the ships she was about to face all turned tail and fled.

She found that really confusing, but then, she finally realized where that nagging feeling was coming from.

It was coming from the gems of her armor. They were telling her to turn around.

She turned in the air, and it was a good thing she wasn't holding a weapon, as her hands opened in shock.

"No need to worry. Help has arrived!"

"Gah!"

Therese almost wanted to bawl from relief.


Kyo continued to howl with laughter. Riding high on his victory over the Bow Hero.

Naofumi continued to stare at Itsuki's prone body.

"No, Bow Uncle…" Filo cried softly where she still lay uselessly on the ground in her Filolial Queen form.

"M… Miss Filo." Dou-Lon laid a gentle hand on her wing.

Kyo continued to laugh maliciously. "So was that all you lot could muster?!"

His wings gradually regrew out of his back. Fresh scales covered over his various injuries. All the damage he'd taken over the course of his one-on-one duel with Itsuki was healing before all their eyes.

"Come on! Don't tell me you're done already! I hold the wrath of the gods within me now! It'll take far more than what the Bow Hero used to kill me!

"Or have you all really given up on stopping me before my main body is finally completed and I destroy everything in this world?!" Kyo continued to howl with maniacal laughter.

Maya was crying below her boyfriend. Rishia began to cry as well, her face lowering to the ground as she could do nothing this time around to help anyone out.

She was in so much pain. Physically, mentally, emotionally…

They'd been thoroughly defeated. There was no hope left.

Naofumi's blood boiled in his veins.

He really hadn't wanted to resort to using that shield, given that it was at a higher rank than it was before. But… damn it, if none of his other Shields would work, then…

"Naofumi…" Raphtalia was almost next to the Shield Hero now. Her ears were flat on her head and tears formed in her eyes.

She'd hated having to watch what'd transpired while being unable to do anything about it. She'd hated that she could only cling to Raph-Chan right now while Filo only had Dou-Lon to comfort her. She hated that she'd spent so much energy just trying to reach Naofumi, to try and come up with a plan, only for the darkness from before to appear and surround him again.

It seemed so unfair. Why did things have to be like this?

Why did Kyo have to reveal those Cursed Series? Why did her worst suspicions have to be confirmed? Why did she have to prevent Naofumi from making a worse mistake than what Itsuki had just done when it would have been better to just try and end Kyo's life as quickly as possible?

Filo continued to cry while Kyo laughed. Dou-Lon teared up too.

"I'm sorry, Miss Filo. Even after all that time, I'm still not strong enough to help." The hakuko man hung his head in shame.

"Aksel, please, wake up!" Maya cried into the knight's chest. "Aksel! AKSEL!"

"Sheesh, can you stop screaming? This is getting really annoying, you know." Kyo directed a harsh glare at the raccoon woman, but her cries didn't lessen.

Naofumi saw this all happening around him. It only made his anger and hatred bubble up all the more.

He forced his battered and tired body up to one knee again. He opened his weapon menu on his HUD. His gaze hovered over the Shield of Wrath III.

He mentally braced himself for what was about to happen. But to be honest, he couldn't picture himself controlling that shield still. It was likely that if he equipped it right now, then everyone around him would get hurt, or worse, killed.

He hesitated. Hovering over the option for several seconds while Kyo continued to slowly approach.

"Naofumi, wait…" Raphtalia pleaded tiredly.

"It… Itsuki…" Rishia's hand curled up on the ground. "I… I don't…"

Naofumi grit his teeth as he prepared to choose the cursed shield form.

There was no other option left, and-

You… are the ocean's gray waves…

Kyo's laughter stopped.

Naofumi stopped just short of selecting the Cursed Shield and equipping it.

Filo was lying on the ground in her human form now. Trapped by gravity like everyone else. But despite that, she'd started singing of her own accord. Even with the tears falling down the sides of her face.

Destined to seek… life beyond, the shore… just out of reach.

"What… what are you doing?" Kyo took a step back, feeling confused.

The song felt… weird. Strange. Like it was digging into the very depths of his mind, calming the inferno blazing within him.

Naofumi, who'd struggled just to remain on one knee, found himself able to slowly stand now. His anger receded as well.

The… field of gravity around them was weakening?

No, he still felt extremely heavy. Was it because Kyo was losing his focus on him then?

Yet, the waters, ever change…

Flowing like time… the path is…

The blonde girl sobbed.

Yours to climb…

Filo's song continued. Sounding broken at times and pausing thanks to the intensity of the emotions and pain she was feeling along with the sobs wracking her chest. Yet she was still trying anyway.

Trying the last thing that came to mind to try and stop the Book Hero without having to kill him and make Fishing Auntie sad.

"You! Where did you learn that!?" Kyo's eyes widened in realization as he howled at the young girl.

In the bright… light… a hand reaches through…

Filo didn't answer. She was still singing the song she'd learned in this world. The song was said to be able to counter the Demon Dragon's power.

Kyo put his hands over his ears. Naofumi found himself able to stand fully now. Even though he could hardly walk, his eyes had stilled, moving to Filo. To his daughter.

The song had calmed the anger in his heart if only a little bit. "Filo… thank you, honey."

Naofumi brought his shield menu up again, determined to do what he had to while his daughter bought them time. It was time to figure out how powerful that cursed shield of his was. Before he could brace himself, however, he felt a hand falling on his shoulder.

He turned to look behind him and saw Raphtalia.

The half-tanuki girl was standing up too, and Raph-Chan clung to her shoulder. The pair had tears in their eyes from Filo's singing. And they were staring intently into Naofumi's eyes.

A double-edged, blade… cuts your heart in two.

"Naofumi… please stop… don't, I… we can't…" Raphtalia whimpered.

The Shield Hero had thought that she was going to say not to use his Cursed Series. But instead, what came out of her mouth next hit him even harder than that ever could have.

"We shouldn't, no, we mustn't kill him."

Naofumi felt his anger spike up again in response to the sheer audacity of Raphtalia's words. "Why?" He forced out the word through gritted teeth.

"Because we promised Kizuna, and…" Raphtalia swallowed hard but she continued to look into Naofumi's eyes. "And because every time I look at this person now, all I can see is you.

"The you that would have been if something had happened to me or Filo."

"Rafu…"

Waking dreams… fade away…

Naofumi stared at his lover. Struggling to understand her words as she looked away, tears falling down the sides of her face.

Embrace the brand… new… day…

The thought of using that shield vanished from his mind as he turned towards the Book Hero again.


"... Naofumi, do you have any family, perchance?" Kizuna asked in a tense tone.


Kyo had escaped. Worse, he'd escaped with the remaining soul energy that the Spirit Tortoise of this world had harvested. They had to find where he'd gone and capture him as soon as possible. The group of three went to examine the portal Kyo had used to escape.

"Yay, Filo helped Daddy and Bow Uncle save Sword Uncle!" Filo cheered happily as she danced around.

"Why is she calling the heroes uncles?" Farrie asked curiously.

"Probably because she thinks of them as Sir Naofumi's brothers now," Tersia answered, chuckling to herself.

"Mmhmm!" Filo paused in her dance to nod happily.


"Yeah, a little brother, what about it?" Naofumi replied.

"Is he a troublemaker?" The girl pressed on.


"So you will stand in the way of my justice?"

Keel shook at hearing the Bow Hero's voice come out so dark and twisted. But he stood his ground. "That's right! As long as I breathe, I won't give up! That's what Raphtalia would do!"

"... I see…" Itsuki slightly lowered his bow with a conflicted look on his face. Keel held his breath, wondering for a moment if Itsuki was regaining his senses. But it was a false hope. The Bow Hero raised his cursed weapon up again. "Then I shall punish you first."

Naofumi opened his mouth to protest but hesitated. "... he used to be one. But again, what about it?"

"Imagine that, one day, some friendly-looking people knock on your door. They seem polite enough. However, they tell you that your little brother did some horrible things to them. That he was a murderer, a rapist, etc." Kizuna said in a calm tone. "They have no proof. Only their word. Would you believe them?"

Kizuna shook her head. "Look, Naofumi, Rishia. I can at least tell that you two believe what you're saying is true. But I can't do the same based only on your word alone. There could be something more to this that neither of you realize. It could be some sort of misunderstanding or a conspiracy at play. And even if Kyo has done what you described, he could be compromised somehow. Maybe he's been brainwashed or possessed by something or someone. Maybe he's being threatened into doing this? Maybe it isn't Kyo at all but an imposter using his likeness? It could be all that and more.


"... Don't you wonder what caused his change in personality to happen in the first place?" Raphtalia responded after thinking for another moment. "Everyone who we've talked to about it seems to say the same thing. That he used to be a little rough around the edges, but that they could always rely on his help and expertise in the past.

"That he used to travel around the world to apply his knowledge in a practical manner and help various people that he encountered.

"He tried to help Ethnobalt with being more useful in combat. He urged Kizuna to learn how to learn the local language instead of only relying on her weapon to translate speech. And the way you told me how he took in the news of his retainer having gotten captured.

"And what about the way he had apparently elevated said retainer into her position of power from a nobody? Kizuna said Yomogi used to be a slave and an orphan, same as me. Lastly, we have what Itsuki told us about how oddly restrained and sympathetic Kyo acted when he spoke to Kizuna at the international conference through one of his mimics.

"Don't you feel like something doesn't add up here?"

"Just like when L'Arc, Therese, and Glass tried to kill us before?"


"COME ON!" Naofumi yelled as he stepped within L'Arc's striking distance. "You already know the story of how I was betrayed in the beginning, don't you?! I told you that's what happened to the Shield Hero, right?! If you were really our friends, you should remember that I've already gone through all this bull &^%$ before!

"If you actually want to kill us, then make the first move damn it! Don't be a &^%$ing coward trying to hide behind some lame excuse about caring for your world!"

"If you want to betray me, do it because you want to!"

Naofumi gripped L'Arc's wrist, forcing him to point the blade of his scythe towards the Shield Hero's face. "Naofumi-" He said in shock.

"Itsuki's right! If you really want to murder your friends in cold blood, then just do it already you selfish bastard! Attack me and save your people!"

L'Arc trembled more and more with each sentence Naofumi yelled at him. And with that action-

"DO IT, you bloody spineless coward-"

"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" L'Arc raised his scythe high in the air above him.

"Wait, L'Arc-" Therese reached for L'Arc, yelling for him to stop.

But he brought his scythe down...

Stabbing it into the whale next to where Naofumi was standing.

The rest of Therese's scream died on her lips after seeing the look on L'Arc's face.

"I CAN'T!" L'Arc screamed, his visage twisted into a grimace of pain with bitter tears streaking down its length.


Raphtalia's argument honestly caught Naofumi off guard, and Raphtalia looked up at him again. "Don't you wonder what could have happened to change Kyo from one of Kizuna's friends into the monster that he is now?"

"I…" Naofumi blanked. He didn't have an answer.

"For all I know, it is possible he is doing this just because he wants to and intended to from the beginning. But what if there really is some kind of big and important reason why Kyo is doing what he's doing?

"Maybe he really is acting to save their world, but doing it in a needlessly cruel way because he thinks that it's the only way? Or perhaps, since he's a Hero… he might have a Cursed Series affecting him like Glass or yours."


"That's the thing with these weapons. They're a curse for us. If I were to guess, Itsuki attacked Naofumi that day for more than one reason. And as bad as that was, it's even worse when we lose control while they're equipped. It's like we become the epitome of Wrath. Pride. Greed. Lust… Envy." A dark shadow passed over Motoyasu's face briefly.

"I'm not exactly sure why we become like that. But it's always like you're fighting with someone, something, some darkness in your mind for dominance. And when you lose control of it... Imagine suddenly getting dunked in an ocean of some silky, oily, black tar that's also boiling and on fire." Motoyasu narrowed his eyes with a grimace.

"I don't know if that's how Naofumi and Itsuki perceive it as, but that's how it works for me. But the scariest part is not getting dunked in the curse. It's sinking into it. With each passing second, going deeper and deeper into that ocean until, before you know it, there is nothing but a suffocating void of blackness all around you. No way to tell up and down or how to get out.

"You struggle desperately, clinging to the few vestiges of your sanity, trying to remember who you are and for whose sake you fight for. And you're maybe barely able to pull your head out for a second only to immediately be dragged back down and start over again."

The children listened to the spear hero's explanation with bated breaths.

"And while you're down there in that pitch-black abyss, that darkness is in control. It twists your desires, and makes you act with no sense of morality. It doesn't matter who you're surrounded by or what you were doing. All you can think about is what the darkness provides. And what it could do to give you more power."


Naofumi saw Mynes all around him. All of them looked at him in fear. From the wall. From the gates. From the streets and in the buildings. They were all looking at him. All of them were scared of him. More than one laid on the ground dead. But there was still more to deal with. More for him to burn. 'Hate…'

His Rage was strong. Stronger, he'd bet, than the fury of any living creature. Even that of dragons. Why had he ever thought to hold on to that weak feeling of hope when it could be so easily extinguished? He should have relied on his hate long ago. He could always have his hate. And no one could stop him from hating others.

"Naofumi! Please, stop. This isn't you-" Naofumi turned, trying to punch Raphtalia. But Raphtalia wasn't there. Yet all he heard was Bitch.

'Is this another one of that Bitch's tricks?!' He thought angrily. Had she learned to turn invisible just to mock him?!

"Please, Naofumi, at this rate, you're going to kill everyone. Even those who want to help you. Please, just change out of that Shield-" Raphtalia was invisible. Trying to get through to him. Trying to get him to recognize it was her.

'THERE!' Naofumi jumped forward and to the right. Tackling the invisible Raphtalia to the ground.

"Ahhhhh!" Raphtalia screamed. Naofumi's cursed flames were burning her again.

"YOU'VE TRIED TO TAKE EVERYTHING AWAY FROM ME FOR LONG ENOUGH YOU BITCH! I HATE YOU! I HATE THIS WORLD!" Naofumi yelled as Raphtalia reappeared below him. But he couldn't see anything anymore. He was becoming too blinded by his own hate. His own rage. His own desire for destruction.


"I can't speak for what the hell might be motivating Kyo in particular, but everyone else present here was desperate and terrified of dying horribly. Your friends were also afraid that they'd never see you again. This vague piece of text was the only thing resembling a shade of hope that they had after all the other crap they went through thanks to your disappearance. And they did what they did because they cared about their world, they cared about their people, and most importantly, they cared about you and how much you'd cared for their world and their people.

"I can't condemn them for what they did, considering the circumstances. Hell, if it was for the people I cared about, I would do worse things in their shoes. Raphtalia, Dou-Lon, don't interrupt, you both know I'm not lying." Naofumi said, turning to stare at the two.

His girlfriend and loyal retainer shut their mouths. They stepped back again and allowed the Shield Hero to continue as he turned to look at Kizuna again.

"It's easy to judge people from high above on the throne of your own idealism, but desperate times push people into desperate and shortsighted actions. Even people like you and me."

"I-..." Kizuna grimaced. "I'm not trying to judge anyone here, I just-"

The girl swallowed hard as her face went through several emotions. "I'm just sad that things had to end up this way." She finally forced out.


"The riddle is this." Kyo made a wide sweeping motion across the room with his hand. "What is that man meant to do? Should he go through with his task as he was sworn to do no matter the consequences? Or would giving his life up for the sake of the people be the right thing?

"What would you do if you were in this man's shoes?"

Ethnobalt closed his eyes and frowned deeply. This was quite an unorthodox riddle for sure. And the man's situation was unpleasant, to say the least.

It was certainly a conundrum.

The Boat Hero continued to float in place silently. Minutes passed but the Book Hero did not hurry him on, instead choosing to patiently wait with his back facing the Boat Hero. Kyo idly watched the grains of sand in the hourglass falling down one by one, counting towards the next wave.

...

Eventually, Ethnobalt opened his eyes again. "I think… that what the man needs to do is try to find a way to break his curse before doing anything else. Becoming a martyr is something that you're allowed to do only when there are no other options left. That is my answer."

"Hmhmhmhm!" Kyo began to chuckle again. "Truly, your intellect is second only to my own, esteemed Boat Hero."

"Did I get it right then?" Ethnobalt cocked his head curiously.

"Who knows?" Kyo shrugged helplessly. "Truth be told, I haven't been able to figure out what the answer is yet myself. But… I did draw the same conclusion as you have."

The Book Hero spread his arms out in front of the hourglass. "It's not so simple, however. Think about it. It's a curse that was placed by the Demon Dragon himself. You would need power that is at least equal to or greater than it in order to break it."

"Like the legendary weapon's power?" Ethnobalt took a shot in the dark.

"Hmm…" Kyo looked thoughtful for a moment but then crossed his hands behind his back again and shook his head. "No, not even that would be enough."

"But… what greater power is there?" The boat hero asked in confusion.

"What greater power is there indeed…?" Kyo pondered out loud as well before taking a step forward and touching the hourglass.


Naofumi felt it as many different memories. Some which he'd witnessed, others he'd only been told about, passed through his mind. One after another, everything began to click in place, forming the big picture in front of him. One that he was too blind to see before, due to his anger clouding the edges of his vision.

"Stop! Stop it you stupid girl!" Kyo howled in fury.

Filo began to sob even harder. Her song wasn't calming the Book Demon in the slightest, it was only angering him more.

It felt like that day when everything had gone wrong. When she ran away from home because of how much Mommy and Daddy were hurting…

She had seen that same hurt reflected in Kyo's eyes before the battle even started. And even with his transformation, she could still see the hurt he was trying to hide. The Book Hero was hiding behind a carefully crafted facade to keep everyone from knowing the real person underneath.

The person who'd lost all hope of being able to save anyone.

And no matter what she tried, she couldn't reach through to him…

Filo's singing stopped as she began to sob into her wings.

Naofumi breathed in deep. "I see."

He hugged Raphtalia to himself, briefly surprising her.

"N-Naofumi?" She asked.

"Rafu?" Raph-Chan tilted her head while wiping a tear from her eye.

When Naofumi pulled back though, he was smiling softly at them. "You're right. Let's try to take him in alive."

Naofumi took another deep breath, and his free hand patted Raph-Chan and then Raphtalia on the head before he looked at them both with a serious expression.

"Get yourselves ready."

Raphtalia didn't say another word. She merely nodded her head and shakily raised her vassal weapon up to fight once again, a determined glint entering her and their daughter's eyes.

They could both stand now. But everyone else was still on the ground. The song Filo had been singing seemed to be the key. But they had to give her what she needed to sing the whole thing to her heart's content.

Naofumi knew. It was time he made his choice…

His eyes glazed over for a moment.

The Shield Hero felt the familiar veil of darkness surrounding him for the first time in a long time. Looking around, it was as if time had frozen once again.

Or, at least, it was moving slower than before. He wasn't sure how it worked here. Kyo's movements towards his daughter seemed slow and sluggish. Rishia lay almost unmoving on the ground next to Aksel and Maya. And beyond that, the edges of his vision were dark, hiding Itsuki and the Otherworld Heroes from view.

That darkness moved in, further and further, covering the environment around him until he could only see Raphtalia smiling softly beside him.

And then, she was swallowed by that darkness too. Leaving the Shield Hero standing in a dark void.

Alone… but not for long.

"Well now, it's certainly been a while since we last talked." Naofumi's doppelganger finally appeared in front of him. A teasing smirk danced on his face. "What is it now? Are you backing out of the resolve you developed back when you first faced the Spirit Tortoise?

"I don't think you're experiencing a panic attack right now. Though, then again, you've gotten a lot better at handling and expressing your emotions lately. So you must be here on your own volition."

Naofumi didn't speak yet. And the doppelganger began to chuckle even more. "Fufufufufu. Let me guess, you're here now to call upon me. To have me take control in the vain hope that I'll choose to only target Kyo and not the others in your family.

"Get real! You know that isn't how hatred works! That isn't how WRATH operates in the slightest!"

"It is everything! It is all-encompassing! It is blinding to even the littlest bit of good in the world! It consumes everything in its wake and ruins the lives of all those it touches!

"If you think you can restrain me from unleashing it, then-"

"I'm ready." Naofumi finally said.

"What… what did you say?" Naofumi's cursed doppelganger said in disbelief. The weight of darkness around them lightened somewhat. "You're ready? Ready for what?

"Do you really think it's that simple?!"

Naofumi looked back into the eyes of his reflection. "I know… I know that I'm not over the way the world treated me before. I know that it'll take years for me to come to terms with what people like Victoria, Aultcray, or L'Arc did, even though I want to fully forgive them and move past it…

"But I also know that I'll never be able to forgive people like Balamus or Malty… to forgive that bitch for what she tried to do that night, and for everything else she's done or planned to do to me and everyone else I care about since then.

"To try and murder her own sister. To betray her family to the Church and try to murder Motoyasu and the people of the village using others…

"And while I'm at it, even if he's dead, I'll never be able to forgive that bastard Idol Rabier for what he did to Raphtalia after she lost her village. Never, not even in a million years.

"And, beyond what people like Balamus did, I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive the world for forcing me to kill Ost. To see firsthand what my desire to attack led me towards…"

"If that's how you feel, then why?" Naofumi's doppelganger asked.

Naofumi continued to look at his doppelganger unblinkingly. "Because I'm ready to accept these facts now. To accept this Wrath as my own, and not as the wrath of some cursed personality that my weapon made to help me have a reason to continue fighting for the world.

"I no longer need a reason. Raphtalia is all the reason I ever needed. Filo, Raph-Chan, Eclair, Melty, Dou-Lon, Motoyasu, Ren, Itsuki, Ost, their friends, as well as Kizuna and Hoshi and everyone they care about in this world… they're just all the more reason for why I want this. Why I need to do this.

"You said last time that it takes every part of you to be Diligent, right? That's what I'm going to do then. I'll accept this burden. I'll accept my Wrath as a part of me. I'll accept that I can't go back to the naive otaku I was before.

"I'll accept it wholeheartedly for the sake of those I love."

"Yet… even if you do accept it… it'll still be hard. You'll be on this path till the day both worlds are saved… you'll have to come to terms with everything on your own, without me around to take up parts of it for you.

"Can you really accept that?" Naofumi's cursed doppelganger asked.

"Let's be real." Naofumi shrugged. "I stepped onto this path the day I was summoned to this world. I might as well stop fighting myself and embrace myself for who I am, right?"

"Also, can I really consider myself alone when I have so many great people around me now?"

His doppelganger was shocked at his response. But then, he chuckled. "To be precise, you stepped onto this path that night when all you wanted to do was protect Raphtalia and escape the Capital, no matter what it took.

"That was your first TRUE act of Diligence on your behalf. An act that came because of what you wanted for her, and not for yourself."

...

"And... you're right. You're not alone now. Not anymore, at least."

The darkness around the pair began to fade. The cursed attire the doppelganger was wearing began to transform. Changing into something a bit more… mellow.

Cursed demonic attire was so overrated. This was so much better, even if Naofumi wouldn't get access to it for a while yet.

"You 'do' realize what that all means, right? You understand what happens next?" The shining figure asked.

Naofumi nodded his head. "I do. I know this won't be easy. And that I'll likely fail and experience more grief many more times before this is all said and done. I'm not perfect, nor will I ever claim to be.

"That doesn't matter to me though. As long as I keep trying, as long as I'm still breathing, I'll save our worlds. And I'll save as many people living in them as I can."

"I'll protect everyone so the people I love will be able to smile and laugh alongside their friends and families for the rest of their lives."

The doppelganger chuckled as a much friendlier smirk formed on his dissipating face.

"Now you finally get it."

The cursed doppelganger, the one Naofumi's weapon had created long ago, back when he'd fallen into Despair in the aftermath of the Sacred Duel… the one who'd housed parts of the anger Naofumi himself held till that moment… finally disappeared.

Its purpose had been fulfilled.

The Shield Hero studied his new mental surroundings.

The darkness around him had faded, but not completely. Yet it was almost as if the light and the dark were in balance now.

Naofumi would have to live with this darkness within himself… likely for the rest of his life. It would not go away until the day he forgave Myne for everything she'd done.

Which was something he knew would never happen so long as she was still breathing.

Yet as light could not deny the darkness, neither could darkness deny the light. His hatred did not overrule his desire to want to protect others. To reach out and care for those who couldn't help themselves anymore. And that was why he'd been chosen as a Hero. His innate character flaw did not take away from the fact that he was a good person deep down. Much like the other Cardinal and Vassal Heroes.

And right now, there was somebody less fortunate than him who needed help even if he would never admit it due to his anger and pride.

Naofumi breathed in deeply. Taking in the new twilight-like state of his mental landscape, with the light and dark around him intensifying, until…

Everything was in its proper place.

Conditions Met! Blessed Abilities Increased!

The Shield of Hope has transformed…


"Miss… Miss Filo…" Dou-Lon said in fear.

Kyo was hulking above them now. It seemed like what little effect her song had had on his mind earlier had vanished.

"What's the matter?! Too tired to sing anymore, little birdie?! Or are you just too scared?!" The draconic creature howled in anger.

Filo couldn't speak through her crying. She just couldn't find it in herself to sing anymore.

Not when Bow Uncle had been badly hurt. Not when Mommy and Daddy and Tiger Guy and most everyone else they loved were about to die. Not when Fishing Auntie and her friends were going to be really sad by Book Guy's death if things continued the way they had been.

And not when Book Guy himself still held that pained look in his serpentine eyes right now.

"Book… Book Guy is in pain… Filo can tell…" Filo whimpered.

"Me?! In pain?! What nonsense are you spewing out now? I'm entirely healed up and ready to go another round!" Kyo howled viciously.

"No, not that kind of pain, but the one… in your heart… Book Guy doesn't want this… Fishing Auntie never wanted this…" Filo continued to tremble and sob.

"... it doesn't matter what anyone wants." The dragon's figure stiffened somewhat and one of his claws brushed over his chest where the two cursed tomes were fused to his heart. For once, his voice spoke without the demonic undertone. "One's desires are nothing without the power to back them up. And if obtaining that power requires me to give my own desires up, then so be it."

...

The dragon's pensive look was quickly replaced with one of a predator. "But enough of that. Let's see if I can urge your 'daddy' to take this fight more seriously by torching you! I know for certain that he has his own Cursed Series and I want to see it!"

"Urgh, no!" Dou-Lon struggled to stand, but he still couldn't even get on his knees.

Kyo laughed, a wall of fire built up in his mouth. One that glowed hotter and hotter, until…

"DIE!"

Cursed fire poured over the ground in front of him.

With that, the Book Demon's next bit of fun would surely begin and he would get an opportunity to grind the Shield Hero to dust-

"Honey, are you okay?"

Kyo's fire breath stopped as his head whipped to the side.

Filo and Dou-Lon were resting on the ground well away from where his breath attack had landed. Naofumi was on his knees next to them, checking them over to make sure that they were alright.

"H-Huh?!" Kyo's head looked between the area where his breath attack had struck and where they were now. "HUH?! How the hell did that happen!? I didn't sense any illusion magic being cast earlier!"

Naofumi didn't immediately answer him, instead, he was looking down intensely at his daughter and right-hand man. Both of them looked up at him with wide eyes. "S… Sir Naofumi?" Dou-Lon asked in surprise.

"Daddy?" Filo also said in the same tone.

Naofumi smiled as he rested a hand on the hakuko's head between his ears. "I'm sorry that all your training hasn't amounted to much against Kyo, Dou-Lon. However, that is my fault, not yours. Know that you haven't shamed yourself in the slightest."

"S… Sir Naofumi." Tears entered the grown man's eyes.

"I'll be making sure that when his gravity spell is weakened enough, you'll have all the openings you need to fight at your full potential." Naofumi finished, looking into his eyes determinedly.

The Hakuko stayed silent. His eyes were quickly filling with more tears and disbelief at what he was witnessing.

"D-Daddy…" Filo had tears in her eyes too, and was looking up at her Father. Her Father who held a different air around him compared to what she'd been seeing from him lately.

"Filo… I'm sorry I told you earlier to fight to kill him. I should have recognized that you and Mommy were trying to hold back against him for Kizuna's sake." Naofumi told her gently.

"B-But Filo couldn't reach through to Book Guy with her song…" Filo began to cry again.

However, Naofumi embraced her gently before wiping her tears away. "It's okay. Let's try again. This time, Daddy will help you too instead of getting in your way."

"You can sing to your fullest now, knowing full well that Daddy's going to do his best to bring Book Guy down without killing him," Naofumi told his daughter with a smile.

"D… Daddy means it?!" Filo asked hesitantly.

"Yes, Daddy means it." Naofumi's smile grew wider as he rubbed the top of his daughter's head, eliciting a giggle from the girl. His eyes briefly fell. "I'm sorry that it took Daddy a while to realize it. Daddy will make sure to make it up to you and Mommy though. I promise." Naofumi stood up, turning around to face Kyo again as he said those words.

Filo's happiness rose to levels rarely seen before. She was openly crying again alongside Tiger Guy, but both were crying for a different reason entirely.

"Seriously!? What the &^%$ is going on?!" The Book Demon scoffed. "First Rishia Ivyred and now you?! Why do you all wait until the last possible moment to pull out these &^%&$^# trump cards out of your &^%$?! It sure would have helped that loser over there if you had done it earlier!"

The dragon pointed behind him with his tail at where Itsuki's unconscious form was lying limply. "Are you not a fan of him either? You should have said so! I would have gladly wrung his neck and-"

"Enough." Naofumi cut Kyo off. "I'm not pulling this out of my anything. Nor is this some cheap trick of mine. Just look here." Naofumi then gestured to the shield on his arm.

Kyo scowled, but his eyes were drawn to the Shield Naofumi currently had equipped and…

What the… had his Blessed Series always looked like that before?!

Conditions Met! Blessed Abilities Increased!

The Shield of Hope has transformed into its true form: The Shield of Diligence!

Shield of Diligence

Abilities Locked

- Equip Bonuses: Skills: "Hope Asunder" "Change Shield (expand)" "True Pandora's Box"

- Special Effects: Magic Defense Up (Large), Strength Up (Large), Shatterpoint, Eternal Springs of Diligence, Armor of Michael (improved), Ray of Hope, Gabriel's Veil, Blessing of Raphael

The upgraded shield came with a host of different benefits! It even retained what Naofumi had gotten from using the strengthening methods on the Shield of Hope II! Its defense stat wasn't as powerful as the Spirit Tortoise Heart Shield or his Cursed Shield. But its magic defense stat was beyond what those two shields had combined!

That was how he was standing right now. Not because of life force or some hidden magic or something similar. Rather, it was through pure magic defense. In the middle of the blue shield, which had expanded in size to be able to cover the front of Naofumi's whole torso, was the image of a dove in flight.

With the shield giving off a bright flash of light, the Byakko Armor Naofumi had been wearing finally transformed into a new set of gear entirely.

A white, fluffy robe fell down behind him. The edges of his hair took on a whitish tint while the irises of his eyes turned a bright, rich blue. The Robes of Michael fluttered in the breeze behind him in all their glory.

Behind Naofumi's shield, his breastplate had changed as well. It had not only become white, but it had the crest of a dove in its center, just like the shield. New armored greaves and gauntlets appeared over his arms and hands. A helmet like that of a paladin's appeared over his head.

His new ensemble had a name and its own variety of effects to boot.

Blessed Michael's Byakko Armor

Equip Effects: Defense Up (Large) Wind Resistance (Max): HP Recovery (Low): Magic Recovery (Weak): SP Recovery (Weak): Ally Wind Magic Power Up (Large): Magic Defense Up (Max): Curse Resistance (Large): Speed and Agility Up (Large): Dexterity Up (Large): Life Force Recovery Up (Medium): Soul Power Recovery Up (Small): Pain Mitigation (Medium): Four Holy Beasts Power, Automatic Self-Repair

Without even needing to voice it aloud, a burst of energy came off the Shield Hero's form as Ray of Hope activated. Multiple rays of light split off from the single ray, and Kyo actually yelped and instinctively moved to the side, barely avoiding being hit by one of the beams.

The remainder covered over all of Naofumi's allies there though. Healing the cursed injuries everyone had sustained, whether from Kyo or accidentally because of Itsuki. Even Itsuki, who had fallen outside the Gravity Field, was covered over by the blessed energy while Hoshi and Akane had been working to heal the Bow Hero's injuries.

The pair as well as Daitan turned to look at the source of the light. And their eyes widened with awe. "What is-"

"Is that guy glowing?!" Akane asked in surprise.

"This light… it feels really warm," Hoshi muttered. "Like… like everything is going to be ok."

Looking at his stats, the Monochrome Hero's gray eyes widened as he noticed two things.

One, his defense and magic defense stats had increased by a lot. Second, his endurance and stamina stats had also seen an increase.

He did not realize then that these were thanks to Gabriel's Veil or Blessing of Raphael raising these particular stats. However, after pointing it out to his two friends, they found the same thing had happened to them.

They'd later find out that everyone who'd been part of Naofumi's party system at the time he had that Shield equipped received the same benefits. They just received a smaller boost as it scaled off of stats, which the others had more of compared to them.

As everyone's cursed wounds vanished, Naofumi felt as his life force depleted and the pain of everyone's cursed injuries washed over his mind for just a moment. But then the chest plate he was wearing began to glow and replenish the life force he'd lost. And the mental pain and agony disappeared as his helmet glowed in sync.

Huh, so that's how that special effect worked? He suffered no defense debuff this time either, though he guessed that if his life force became too low, due to the cursed injuries being too powerful, then he'd take a debuff and possibly pass out if the pain was too great as well.

Still, it made him appreciate the training Rishia had given him all the more.

"What… what is this?!" Kyo howled in rage. "What is this uncalled for bull &%$#?! WHERE IS YOUR CURSED SERIES?!"

"Book Hero," Naofumi responded while looking the dragon in the eyes. He tossed several Healing Crystals from his Shield to his allies. "You tried to offer me mercy earlier. Allow me to return the favor now." In the corner of Naofumi's vision, where a timer normally appeared there was nothing to tick down anymore.

Because true Diligence did not have a timer. Hope could expire, but Diligence never would.

"Mercy?! Do I look like I want mercy?!" Kyo roared. "I don't care about that right now! What is up with this stupid power-up you suddenly got?!"

"I didn't suddenly get this." Naofumi stepped forward, approaching the Book Demon.

"Actually, you could say I've been working myself up to this for months. Going back and forth and back and forth, over and over, and over again."

To the side, Raphtalia's eyes shined with happiness.

Finally, the memory of the Shield Hero she'd seen that day… the memory of him breaking through all those soldiers to help her out…

That same Shield Hero was here now. In the flesh.

"But now, I've made up my mind on what I want. I WILL save this world and my own. Even if you don't believe it is possible anymore, I still do. And I'll prove it by saving you first, even if I have to drag you into the light kicking and screaming all the way out of that cave of nihilism that you've built around yourself."

"Save me…? SAVE ME!?" Kyo howled with rage. "YOU FOOL! THERE IS NOTHING LEFT FOR YOU TO SAVE! EVERYTHING IS DOOMED TO BURN, WHETHER BY ME OR BY THE WAVES! YOU IGNORANT STUBBORN IMBECILE!" A wave of dragon breath spewed from his mouth towards the Shield Hero.

"E Float Shield!"

The skill shield appeared in front of Naofumi. The magic fire breath didn't so much as singe it thanks to the new shield's much higher magic defense stats. The offensive gravity field did nothing to damage it either.

"DON'T YOU GET IT!? NONE OF YOUR EFFORTS WILL MATTER! EVEN IF YOU BEAT ME HERE, YOU'LL JUST DIE LATER ON! NONE OF THIS MATTERS!

"Ṅ̵͕͖̤̟̭̍͌̀̆Ò̷͔̭̭̳̏N̶̢̤͉͕͉͆̔̕É̵͈͎̬̼͠ ̵̟͊́ͅÕ̵̢̪͈̘̺̒̆̎̚F̸̰͑ ̴̢͓̻̥̣̔̾T̴̤̩̝͌Ḩ̵̧̛͎̭͋ͅḮ̵̹̏S̶̞̟̣̓͝ ̶̣̈́̈̚ͅ&̷̲̩͆̒͌̿ͅ^̸̜̞̒̃̈́͗̚%̴͕̩̍̃̀ͅ&̵̻̻̮́͊̀%̴̢̝͔̰̑̃͆̒ͅ$̷͔́͐͌̒͊#̴̻̺̤̻̮̉͂́ ̵̨͇̑̄̀͝M̶̪̰͇̖͐Ä̶̬́͊Ţ̷̡̺͎̻͐̅̂T̵̢̥̿̾Ě̵͈͎͂R̶̢͇̥̓͘Ş̸̖̱̲̋̈́̓̕!̷̫̀̋͑̈́̕"

Kyo's fire breath cut off, but then balls of purple fire began to appear in his palms.

"Then what are you fighting so hard for?" Naofumi responded coldly, his eyes not leaving the book hero's mismatched pair. "If nothing matters, then why do you keep on struggling, instead of just rolling over and dying?"

This made the Book Demon pause in his assault.

"If none of this matters, then why care about it so much? What will fighting us prove right now?"

"I… I'm... I'm fighting… for..."

Kyo shook his head and charged forward, raising both his fists as well as his wings to slam them down onto Naofumi. If that Blessed Shield of his made his magic defense so high, then he'd just break it through pure physical brute force!

"RAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Kyo howled in fury.

Naofumi moved the skill he'd summoned in front of him. Those who were conscious were watching him with anticipation. Wanting to see how he was going to fight the Book Demon now, and-

"Change Shield: Shield of Wrath III."

Right before Kyo's attacks landed, Naofumi's Cursed Shield appeared to block the attack.

Shield of Wrath III

Abilities Locked

- Equip Bonuses: Skills: "Change Shield (attack)" "Iron Maiden" "?"

- Special Effects: Defense Up (Large), Dark Curse Burning, Strength Up, Sabatons of Wrath (medium), Demon's Wrath, Royal Shield (Wrath cursed), Shield Bash (Wrath cursed), Vulcan's Retribution

What followed was a blast of cursed fire that covered Kyo over entirely.

"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" The Demon Lord's angry howl turned to cries of pain and agony as he stumbled back. It felt like his entire body was melting under the wave of cursed flames that were consuming him. His wings burned to ashes, only to steadily regrow and burn again as the flames lingered.

"S-Sir Naofumi?" Dou-Lon said in shock.

"Daddy?!" Filo yelled in worry as well.

"Naofumi!" Raphtalia was the last to call out the Shield Hero's name, fear coming into her eyes as the illusion of the Shield Hero she'd seen that day as a young child shattered entirely.

However, when Naofumi turned his head to look at all of them, he still looked like himself. His eyes had changed from blue to a cyan color. Black, fiery red sabatons had appeared over his feet. Spirals of fire weaved around his form like a sentinel. His hair had darkened in color again but still retained its white tint on the tips. The Cursed Shield floating by him looked like it had the body of a horned head demon engraved into the center of it.

There was nothing holy about it whatsoever.

However, it was not covered in Cursed Fire. And the glow from it was overshadowed by the glow from the Blessed Shield on Naofumi's arm. As if it was being kept in line. Naofumi was smiling as well, and not in a cruel way. "Don't worry, I have no intention of killing him.

"I just need to rough him up a little first. Get him to listen to what I have to say and all that."

Even when Naofumi spoke, there was no demonic undertone to his voice.

In short, it was still him. However, the others continued to look at him in shock.

A timer had appeared in the corner of the Shield Hero's vision. The timer for how long he could keep Wrath out without losing control.

It was only because he had his Blessed Series equipped that he could do this. Back when he, Ren, and Itsuki had faced the Spirit Tortoise for the first time, that'd been why he'd stayed in control while his Cursed Shield was out. Because his Shield of Hope II had been enough to counteract his Shield of Rage II and keep him sane back then.

However, ever since unlocking Wrath III and coming to this world. All his attempts on the side to try to practice wielding both at once had resulted in failure after failure.

Because of the stronger cursed shield, he could only keep it out for a few seconds. And having only the Air Strike Series back then, he couldn't move it around and manipulate it as he wanted to, so it'd be useful in a fight.

Having E Float Shield fixed that part of the problem. He could now maneuver it around however he wanted. And now, because his Blessed Series had finally reached the form it belonged to all along…

30:00

Thirty minutes of control was granted to him instead of a few seconds.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

That was more than enough time to bring this demon lord down and drag the foolish Book Hero stuck inside of it back out.

The fallen Book Hero had begun to heal his injuries with magic by this point, instead of only relying on his natural regeneration, to make the cursed burns covering his body disappear.

Naofumi turned to face Kyo again when the latter managed to finally catch his breath. "Here is what's going to happen now."

The Shield Hero pointed a finger at their adversary. "I am going to beat you within an inch of your life for everything you've done. Ost and everyone you killed in our world will be avenged.

"But when I'm finished with that, I'm going to knock you out of that transformation of yours, drag you by the hair back to Sickle, and force you to bow your head down all the way to the floor, to make you apologize to your friends for all that you've done.

"I don't know if all of them will forgive you or not, but I know that Kizuna will at least. After that, your fate will be decided by her."

The Book Hero sneered as the last of the cursed flames covering his body died out. "You must have missed out on her voicing her thoughts on this matter if you think that way.

"I'm a monster, remember? I don't deserve to live.

"She… she finally hates me."

"No. She doesn't." Naofumi responded with full confidence in his tone. "She was momentarily upset and said things she didn't mean to. But that's all. Everyone does that every now and then. Including myself.

"Wherever she is now, I'm fully certain that she feels incredibly guilty about what she said. And that she desperately wants to apologize to you for it and try to make you join her side again. And again. And again. No matter how many times or how long it might take. Because she would never abandon one of her friends, no matter what."

The dragon scowled and snorted in response. "Only because she is a foolish and stubborn girl who doesn't know when to give up, even if she is in way over her head!" More fireballs appeared around him, but then Naofumi spoke again.

"Indeed. But so is the woman with whom you are in love with."

...

"What are you talking about, Shield Hero?" The two serpentine orbs met Naofumi's own, shock reflecting in them. The fireballs around him vanished.

"Right, of course. Allow me to correct myself." Naofumi continued with a small nod. "The woman who you are too ashamed to love because you feel like you don't deserve her."

"Yomogi, right?"

"R̴̡̟͇̻͂̔̉̅̐À̶̰̲̆͒̉̒H̷̱̽͌H̷̹͔̒̕͠H̵̗̱̔H̶̲͊͒̈Ȟ̷̙̙Ḩ̴̫͍͕͒́͛̇̚H̸̩̆͆Ḩ̸̜͙̮͎͆́̍̕H̵̦̬͝H̵͔̆H̶̙̥̎̀̊Ḩ̴͎̯͎͛̕H̸̛̟̲̾H̸̼̖̤͚͗͆̌H̶̭̞͓̜͕́H̸̠̪̩͆Ḩ̷̛̺̤̍́͝Ḫ̵̀̂͗H̸̪̹̼̋̚͝͠Ḧ̷̜͇̎Ḥ̴̣̠͝H̴̠͕̚Ḩ̸̮̲͖͖͛͌H̸̨͕̲̫̍͋̉͠͝Ḥ̷͉̆̌̍͘͘ͅ!̸̡̛̼͈͉͎́" Kyo roared in anger as purple cursed flames on his body reappeared again. Without even trying to respond, he sent a swarm of pages at the Shield Hero.

Naofumi raced forward into the swarm of pages. Blocking them off with both of his shields.

He gave an encouraging nod and smile back to Raphtalia, gesturing for her to follow him into battle.

Raphtalia, though still surprised by Naofumi's newest transformation, smiled as well as she charged in right behind him to be his sword.

The happiest expression ever was plastered on her face.

Where she lay on the ground, Filo breathed in deeply before transforming into her humming fairy form. A proud smile was on her face as well.

Daddy was no longer fighting to kill. And Mommy was able to wholeheartedly fight alongside Daddy.

Filo couldn't have been more proud of her parents as her power-up from Daddy allowed her and Mommy to stand and fight in the Gravity Field. And her various sets of vocal cords worked together in harmony to form something new out of the song she'd learned from a lone bard in Sickle.

You, are the ocean's, gray waves!


Author's Notes:

You know that when the title of the fic is dropped as a chapter title in the climactic battle that things are about to get good.

I would have saved this chapter title for the next chapter, but that one's chapter title is in Latin. And I was convinced to shorten the chapter title for this one to just one word.

I also have to say, that I love how everything has built up towards this moment. This really isn't just a sudden shift for Naofumi. This has been building up ever since before the start of this grand arc thanks to the actions of other characters. And I look forward to all of you seeing the grand climax of what it has all been building towards in two weeks.

Until then.


Hero Clips!


Not So Good At Names


"Yomogi, can I ask you a question?"

"What is it?"

It was shortly after the two Luvar ships had left. Ethnobalt had been flying his newest ship towards another part of the battlefield when the rabbitman suddenly spoke to Kyo's retainer.

"I was just wondering… did Kyo actually come up with the name Invisible for these ships?" Ethnobalt asked, barely hiding the twitch in his right eye.

He was still super annoyed about it. He could almost hear Aksel cheering loudly in the background about someone finally sharing in his twisted sense of humor. The thought made his skin crawl, though he pushed the feeling down as Yomogi answered his inquiry.

"No, he didn't."

Ethnobalt felt immediate relief.

"I did." Said relief didn't last long as Yomogi followed with those two words.

Ethnobalt's eyes bugged out. "What- YOU DID?! WHY!?" He yelled in shock.

"Well…" Yomogi shrank in size, looking embarrassed." That was because Kyo originally wanted to name this ship The Invincible Mark Two on his blueprints. I suggested The Invisible instead as a joke to try and get him to think of something else, but he actually agreed and went along with it."

"I tried thinking of plenty of other names, but he didn't accept any of them. The Invisible was the perfect name in his eyes and it stuck even after production started."

Ethnobalt actually felt a part of himself die on the inside. "And here I thought his naming sense would have improved after we parted years ago." The rabbitman sighed.

"Mhm. Kyo's still pretty basic when he comes to names for objects and people. For example," Yomogi suddenly pulled a familiar green potion bottle from her robes. "Kyo calls these Green Buff Potions."

Ethnobalt pulled up his HUD to appraise the bottle. And indeed, Status Magic labeled it as a Green Buff Potion.

"He also has Wind Spell Vials, Sword Copies, Spear Copies, Guardian Beast Enhancement Drugs, and if I saw on my HUD correctly when he used it on the Kazuki homunculi earlier… Demon Dragon Syrum."

"His naming senses really haven't improved at all." Ethnobalt sighed to himself.

In fact, Kyo's naming senses were starting to remind him of a certain someone…


"Oh my gosh, will Side Couple #3 just stop screaming for a second?! I'm trying to have my big moment here!" The Book Demon yelled at the still-crying Maya and Aksel. He looked all healed up and ready to battle again.

"Oh? You labeled them that too?" Naofumi asked curiously.

"Obviously." Kyo rolled his eyes. "Compared to Side Couples 1 and 2; all they ever do is love on each other and get in the way of fights. They're so &^%$^&% annoying! Why couldn't you have just left them behind for another set of characters?!"

"Eh, they have their moments." Naofumi shrugged.

"I'm sorry. Side Couples?" Raphtalia suddenly interrupted, looking confused. Actually, everyone else there looked confused too.

"You know, Itsuki and Rishia are Side Couple #1, Glass and Kizuna are side couple #2." Naofumi clarified for his wife friend. "Also, we're called Main Couple #1. Ren and Wyndia would be called Main Couple #2 if they were here."

"What… wait, why are they called side couples?!" Raphtalia asked frantically, trying to force down her immediate embarrassment. "And besides, knowing your logic, I would have thought Rachel and her husband would be Side Couple #3 since they married before Aksel and Maya even got together!"

"Oh, that's easy. We know next to nothing about Rachel's husband." Naofumi answered. "Compared to that couple, Aksel and Maya are farrrrrr more fleshed out. Maybe those two could be added as Side Couple #4 after we get to know Garfield a little better."

"Fueehhhhhh!? But me and Itsuki aren't even together yet!" Rishia yelled from her spot on the ground.

"And it's because of that you're not Main Couple #3 yet. Though that spot might go to Glass and Kizuna at this rate since you two are moving so slowly compared to them." Naofumi told her, stunning the girl into speechlessness.

"Then again, Side Couple #4 or Main Couple #4 could end up going to Therese and L'Arc after this battle. Not sure if I'll want to lump that boy into a main couple slot though... Eh, we'll just have to see how that goes." Naofumi shrugged again.

"Yes! Finally, someone who gets it!" Kyo yelled gratefully.

"... Eh?" Dou-Lon just looked confused next to Filo on the ground.

"Don't worry about it Tiger Guy #1. Maybe someday you'll be as smart as me and Naofumi." Kyo responded to the hakuko male's confusion.

Naofumi smirked in delight. "I always did think that'd be a good name for him."

"Oh, Gods, there's two of them now." Raphtalia finally facepalmed in realization.

Technically three, since Kizuna's naming sense was also pretty terrible. Naming a penguin Chris because he was born on Christmas. And weren't there also those ancient heroes who named those old races on the Cal Mira islands the Japanese equivalent for Rabbit or Squirrel or Dog?

And that was the moment when everyone realized that summoned Heroes from Japan just sucked at giving good names in general.

"Rafu!"

Except when Naofumi named his shikigami Raph-Chan. That was a golden name no one would ever dispute in the many generations to come.

Long may we worship her greatness.


Till Next Time

Allen