Welp, big Chapter Sixty mark. Three more chapters to go as this arc winds down. If this chapter and the next chapter gets good reception, then I'll possibly be able to publish chapters Sixty-Two and Sixty-Three at the same time. Now let's get groovy!
Also, to the Guest Septorax, make an account to DM me. I cannot answer guest reviews in chapters like this. It's either make another account, or join the Shield Hero Discord and find me in the #shield-fanfics channel. You can't miss it.
And in the case where you can't do either of those, the info I provided that explains why you were wrong is in the Glass omake of Chapter Fifty-Eight. As funny as it is, the information I provided is canon. Please read it carefully next time.
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Updated: November 16th, 2020 10:00 A.M.
Chapter Sixty: Peace and Execution
"Ow, careful! That's still tender!"
"Sir Itsuki! You should be glad you survived at all! What were you thinking letting yourself get thrown off of that ship!?" Rachel yelled at the smiling and in pain Bow Hero whom she'd just pinched.
"I mean, I cushioned my fall at the last second with some wind magic. So it's not like my life was in any danger- ow!" He whined as the dark-haired mage pinched him again.
"UGH, BOYS! I can't believe this! It's a goddamned bloody miracle that you pulled a crazy stunt like that off with magic as weak as yours! Knock him out so he doesn't do anything else stupid anytime soon!" Rachel yelled at the doctors treating Itsuki.
"Rachel, come on, you're being unreasonable- ow!" Itsuki yelled when the mage pinched him again.
"Fueh! P-Please don't knock out Sir Itsuki!" Rishia tried to get the shadow mage to calm down so the doctors could finish treating the Bow Hero without any more interruptions. She'd hate for her Hero to get hurt worse than he already was.
It'd been several hours since the Wave of Catastrophe had ended. The heroes and their companions were healing up quite nicely in a large makeshift tent set up by the soldiers. Itsuki had his own corner along with Motoyasu and Naofumi. Ironically, Motoyasu was now the least injured of the four Heroes, since he'd been taken out early in the fight. Itsuki's left arm was in a sling, and Naofumi had casts around his legs. But despite their injuries, they were all in surprisingly good spirits.
"Heh, you know, I'm starting to like Rachel's caring side for others." Bakta joked to Aksel.
"Yeah, especially when it's not directed at us." The two tanks fist-bumped in their respective beds.
"Amen to that."
"Oooh, Aksel! Why'd they have to place us so far apart?" Maya complained nearby. She wanted to cuddle with her knight and see if it was true that kissing didn't get you pregnant!
"Because they don't want you to try jumping into my bed!... Again!" Aksel's face flushed at the memory of Maya waking up and immediately trying to jump the distance between them, bursting several stitched wounds on her side open when she landed on the floor.
"Booooo! You're so mean to me!" The raccoon girl sniffled playfully. Aksel paled as he looked away.
He swore he wasn't a lolicon! He swore he wasn't! Remember dude, she was a kid when you first met her! Just don't give in no matter how much she tempts you too!
Remember! Don't! Give! IN!
"You really need to stop getting hurt like this." Nearby, Raphtalia sat at Naofumi's bedside. Holding one of his hands.
"Hey, I'm just happy that you and Filo weren't hurt this time. I'll take a win like that any day." He gave Raphtalia a grin, making her flush. Her tail started wagging pensively behind her. He was being so nice and caring.
Should she try to kiss him, or-
"Just get it over with already." Eclair groaned on her bed. She was strapped down, again! WHY DID SHE ALWAYS HAVE TO BE STUCK WITH SIR NAOFUMI WHEN SHE GOT HURT AND WAS PREVENTED FROM SWORD TRAINING!? NOW SHE HAD TO WATCH THE TWO BE AWKWARD WITH EACH OTHER AGAIN!
The two blushed. But, after everything they'd gone through that day, they felt a kiss was in order, so they did so.
The maturity of those in attendance was immediately shown, as catcalls and whistles were thrown their way by some of Ren and Itsuki's party members. To nobody's surprise, the loudest of them came from the Spear Hero. Even Elena, the orange-haired member of Motoyasu's party, joined in.
Raphtalia felt so embarrassed and mad that she almost stopped kissing Naofumi to blind everyone with light magic. Almost. But his lips felt so warm and comforting, and his arms were wrapped around her to keep her from moving away. He didn't seem to care about the audience, so she decided she wouldn't either.
Ren was sitting in a nearby chair, observing the scene unfolding before him with mild amusement. Besides having his various wounds bandaged and treated with healing magic and the fact that his right arm was in a sling because his shoulder almost got pulled out, he was fine. Heck, he was more than fine. He felt great. 'We survived! And I somehow didn't pee my pants while fighting that OP woman! This is amazing!'
If everyone around him wasn't laying in makeshift hospital beds, he'd consider it an absolute win.
He sat next to Wyndia's bed, where the dog-girl laid fast asleep. He'd managed to fend off Glass by himself in the end. But it was only because of her supporting him that he'd been able to do so.
He felt a mix of emotions go through him at the thought. But before he could dwell on them, more people entered the tent.
"Lord Shie- MY GOODNESS! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!" Werner, heading a procession of demi-humans alongside Mirellia, stopped in shock at the Shield Hero's condition.
"Where are the soldiers who did this!?" "They shall pay for their abominable deeds!" The various demi-humans behind Werner yelled zealously. One of them even let out a cry of "Death to Melromarc!" as well.
"I almost died. But it was to someone else, not Melromarc." Naofumi answered in a deadpan voice. He glared harshly at the soldiers until their ears fell and the bloodlust left their eyes. Including the one that had yelled "Death to Melromarc."
The last thing he needed was a bloodbath. Especially now since his legs were broken, and he had to rely on non-hero healing magic until he stopped suffering from the effects of Pandora's Box backfiring on him.
With that done, he gave a look to Mirellia, asking without saying aloud 'what the hell are they doing here?!'
"You need not worry, Sir Naofumi. Werner here is among the more reasonable on the Council of Siltvelt." Mirellia said calmly. The fact that she didn't have her fan out in his presence spoke volumes. "He has requested the Council to meet with me again. And in light of recent events, they have agreed."
"... Okay, that's a good thing, but what are you all here for then?" Naofumi asked.
"Well, if you feel up to it, I would greatly appreciate your presence," Mirellia said, a smile gracing her features. "And besides, don't you want to personally let the Council know about your boundless disappointment towards them for what happened?"
This lady was trusting him to come along, even after the last meeting had ended in failure because of him? His opinion of her became even higher than before.
Werner looked down at the ground ashamedly at her words. "I… did not agree to this war, Lord Shield. If what you said before is truly your desire, then I do not wish to fight Melromarc or anyone else while the Waves are occurring. I'm truly sorry for our actions."
The soldiers behind Werner got down on one knee, also apologizing for disappointing Naofumi. Wow, he hadn't had to do a thing, and they were already acting like they were wrapped around his finger.
Naofumi stared at the Shuzaku. And what was this? There was actually somebody reasonable on the Council? That surprised Naofumi quite a bit. Maybe not all the members of the Council were braindead power-hungry morons.
"Yeah, yeah, I know, rude thoughts, yadda yadda yadda." He rolled his eyes at Raphtalia. His girlfriend and her stupid mind-reading powers. She was lucky she was so cute, so he couldn't stay mad at her. The fact that she was almost always right to call him out didn't help though. "Fine, just bring me a wheelchair and we'll come along."
"We?" Raphtalia asked curiously.
Naofumi nodded. "Of course. You're coming with me to help keep me in line, aren't you?" He asked like it was obvious.
She stared, stupefied, and then smiled brightly at him. "Of course!" Her tail wagged happily behind her. She laid a small thank-you peck on his cheek.
Yep, he definitely couldn't stay mad at her.
"Can Filo come too?!" Filo asked excitedly.
"Sure, why not. As long as you behave." Naofumi rubbed Filo and Raphtalia's heads as he said that.
"Yay!" Filo exclaimed in joy. Raphtalia smiled brightly. She still didn't know what felt better, Naofumi's lips on hers, or his hand rubbing between her ears.
That begged the question of what it would be like if he kissed her ears-... ... on second thought, she decided not to think about that now. That would drive her down a line of embarrassment she had no idea if she'd ever come back from or not. Hell, it was taking everything she had not to lose it in front of everyone right now.
Why did kissing have to be so embarrassing when she knew she couldn't get pregnant from that now?!
"What about me?" Eclair asked, her voice hopeful. Maybe she'd be able to find an excuse to leave for a bit and pull out her sword to-
"You and Dou-Lon were pretty injured during that fight. I'd rather not push you two anytime soon." Naofumi answered. Out of everyone, the two had suffered the worst injuries. For Eclair, it was undoubtedly because of her low level. And Dou-Lon hadn't had a class-up, nor had he had any time to recover from the cursed burns he'd received while restraining Naofumi before the Wave. Though Naofumi did note how the Hakuko's stats were way lower than Raphtalia's, despite having an almost ten level advantage over her.
The string of cuss words that Eclair directed at Naofumi in her mind was too vulgar to put on paper. It was only because of the presence of her Majesty that she didn't say them out loud.
Mirellia directed one of the nurses to grab a wheelchair for Naofumi. While he waited, the Shield Hero suddenly looked at Ren. "Do you want to come along too?" He asked, surprising the Sword Hero.
"Yeah. You saved my life back there. It might help in making a better impression of the other Cardinal Heroes in Siltvelt."
"Truly?!" Werner looked at the Sword Hero in shock. "You saved our Lord's life, Sir Sword Hero?!"
"Oh, um… yeah, I guess I did." He looked around nervously. "And no, sorry, but not this time, Naofumi." He said anxiously, looking down at the bed in front of him.
"You sure about that?" The Shield Hero looked a bit surprised at his straight refusal.
"Yeah. I'll stay here and make sure that everyone will be alright." Ren said.
Naofumi didn't question it further, though Werner was looking at Ren with a new aura of respect than before. Good, maybe he would have a reasonable ally in Siltvelt after all. After being moved into a very medieval-styled chair, Raphtalia got behind him and pushed him out of the tent. Filo followed happily behind them along with Mirellia and the others.
There was a moment of silence amongst the Sword Hero's group. Itsuki's party continued to socialize as best as they were able to from their beds. Aksel was trying to talk to Crystal and Karn while trying to ignore Maya's pleas. But the raccoon girl wasn't relenting on trying to grab the knight's attention.
"Are you sure you want to stay with us, Sir Ren?" Welt asked curiously.
"Getting to meet members of another nation sounds kind of cool," Farrie said dreamily. "... even if they were coming to destroy us initially."
Ren looked around at his party. Part of it was that he was too anxious to want to meet with these leaders. But the other part... he allowed a small smile on his face. "You helped me in my time of need. Do you really want me to leave all of you unattended when you're in such bad shape?" He asked.
His party members stared up at him in awe. It honestly made Ren feel uncomfortable. But, in a good way. "Thank you, Sir Ren!" Welt exclaimed happily.
"You're the best!" Bakta yelled.
"Forever and always." Tersia agreed.
"We'll do our best from now on!" Farrie yelled.
"You can count on it!"
Ren blushed. He didn't see it. But Wyndia slightly smiled where she laid. Her hand moved over his, and, out of sight of everyone else, she lightly squeezed it. It honestly shocked him, but he didn't let go of her hand, nor did he try to make a big show of it.
She was grateful. She knew what she had to tell him now… but not now. Later, when it was more appropriate.
For now, she enjoyed resting while her Hero watched over them all.
Going through the village, Naofumi was surprised by what he saw.
The villagers had returned to their homes. Some were cleaning up the mess caused by the Wave monsters. Others were helping to bury the dead.
That old lady from before was sitting down together with some energetic kids, telling them a story. He was again surprised to see how healthy and spry she looked after handling a wave. She paused to wave at him as he passed, before continuing with her story.
"Seriously. Who the hell is she?" Naofumi finally asked. He had to know if Yggdrasil's Elixir had this kind of effect on everyone or not. That might be useful to keep in mind down the road.
"What are you talking about Naofumi?" Raphtalia asked curiously.
Oh yeah, Raphtalia hadn't been around the first time when he met Granny. She wouldn't know the condition he'd found her in. "It's nothing." He said.
"Are you asking about that granny, Daddy?" Filo asked. "She's funny."
Heh, funny didn't describe the half of it. She seemed so kind and caring now. He wondered if he'd been dreaming about her actually fighting in the wave or if it was just his imagination-
"And then the lizardman opened his jaws wide and bit down right at me!" The sweet granny recalled and made an elaborate hand gesture, mimicking a predator snapping its jaws shut. The kids around her gasped and huddled together. "But then, I-"
"Oh my gosh, did you die, granny!?" One of the boys suddenly shouted.
"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN "DID YOU DIE?" YOU BRAT!?" The crazy old hag shouted and threw her hands up. "HOW WOULD I EVEN BE HERE IF I ACTUALLY DIED? DO YOU THINK THAT I'M SOME SORT OF GHOST!?"
"Waaaah! Granny is a ghost, run!" The kids instantly spread out, running off in different directions while laughing.
"... Ho ho. So you think that you can get away from dear old granny? You can certainly try, children, but I must warn you..." The hag stood up, a menacing aura clinging to her like an afterimage.
"You won't get far."
She then rushed after the nearest kid at a blinding speed that would make Filo feel envious, catching the laughing boy instantly, before shifting her attention to the rest.
Never mind. It definitely wasn't his imagination. What the hell?!
Who was this OLD LADY!?
They continued on past the village. A squad of knights stood guard at the entrance. They stiffened at the sight of Werner and his troops, but at seeing Mirellia, they relaxed and let them continue on.
The truce was still up, for now. They only had to make sure the truce remained permanent.
Surprisingly, Filo behaved almost the whole way there. She only said she was bored once, and that was it. It might have helped that Raphtalia allowed her to push Daddy's wheelchair which she seemed to enjoy almost as much as pulling her cart.
As they approached the camp that Siltvelt's army had set up several miles outside the village, Naofumi began to notice squads of demi-humans clearing away leftover Wave monsters. However, as he noticed them, they began to notice him. Stopping, pointing, looking.
Over an hour later, by the time they were reaching the main camp, there were many demi-humans gathering outside the entrance. Forming a path for their God straight into the camp. Many of them waved and cheered. Some knelt on the ground and began praying as he and the party with him passed by. Filo smiled brightly, running up and shaking hands with many of the nice strangers. Some she even recognized as those who had fought under her Daddy's command during the Wave.
"You see, Naofumi. You saved all their lives by taking command." Raphtalia whispered in his ear.
Naofumi blushed. "All I did was tell them to fight the Wave."
"No, your companion is right, Lord Shield," Werner stated with a smile. "Everyone that is here right now is alive thanks to you. Had you not taken command of our armies from Jaralis, many of them would have perished fighting both the monsters and Mirellia's knights."
Naofumi grimaced, honestly not knowing how to respond to that. However, he did feel kind enough to grace the people with a few waves from his chair. They cheered or howled, depending on who they were. More of them knelt down and began praying.
He again felt uncomfortable when he realized they were praying to him. But seeing the happiness on their faces kind of softened the blow. And when he finally entered the camp, he was greeted by uproarious applause from every demi-human there.
The other members of the Siltvelt Council stood in front of a large command tent. Some were smiling. Others were frowning. Jaralis, who stood near the front, was growling. The burns on his face looked more prominent than ever, and his mane was all messy.
Naofumi felt just a twinge of disappointment that the lion hadn't been trampled by his troops. Of course, he wouldn't be that lucky. However, he couldn't help but like the new look on the lion therianthrope. In a way, it reminded him of what he'd done to Bitch.
The two of them would have been a perfect match if they didn't hate each other's race.
"Shall we try this again?" Mirellia calmly asked.
Jaralis, still growling, retreated into the tent. The other Council Members followed, as did Mirellia, Naofumi, and their escort.
Inside, it was only them. Not even the bodyguards stood inside. Filo cocked her head curiously, nodded, and then walked to the side to observe.
"What is this ploy, Bitch!" Jaralis roared after they all had entered. "Why is our great brainwashed God-"
"Silence, Jaralis," Werner stated firmly. "You have already caused enough trouble as it is. The Council agrees on that much."
Those that were still frowning didn't say anything. Those that had been smiling before nodded, serious looks on their faces. Even if their number was fewer than Jaralis and his Supporters, Werner was the representative of the Shuzaku. His weight of influence was equal to that of several Council Members. Now that he finally had a few of his own on his side, he held a majority against Jaralis, if barely.
Jaralis growled. "We cannot allow this, this, Bitch and that Tanuki whore to steal our great-"
"YOU-" The Shield Hero almost leaped out of his chair to strangle the lion with his bare hands if he had to, but Raphtalia gripped Naofumi's shoulder, gently but firmly holding him in place. He cut off the string of cuss words that wanted to come out. He calmed down, but the members of the Council focused on him because of his outburst. He waggled his finger at the scarred beastman and let out a chuckle. "Wow, I almost let you get to me there again. Well done." He lightly clapped his hands in front of him in a mocking fashion while looking at the lion with a condescending smirk.
Jaralis scowled at the display but didn't respond.
"Your Majesty." Naofumi turned to face Mirellia, who stood next to him, after confirming that Jaralis was temporarily pacified. "I apologize in advance. May I have a word with them first before you speak for Melromarc, please?" The Shield Hero asked the Queen.
"Certainly, Sir Naofumi." Mirellia stepped to the side, and Naofumi was pushed forward by Raphtalia. Filo still stood off to the side, watching everything. What was up with that?
Oh well. He had some demi-humans to address. He turned to face them again. "I'm going to be blunt." Naofumi glared at the Council members who stood by Jaralis.
"You all suck."
Ouch. Some of them had the decency to lower their heads in shame. Raphtalia sweatdropped at Naofumi's brutal honesty making an appearance once again. 'He should really work on that.'
"You claimed to worship me before. I don't see it. I told you I didn't want a war, you claimed I was brainwashed and tried to go ahead with it. Then the wave hit, and you tried to organize everyone to attack Melromarc instead of the Wave. The whole lot of you are idiots. You could have gotten everyone killed and you didn't care. If I wasn't stuck in this chair, I'd personally get up and punish all of you right now." He said, glaring at each member individually.
The only one who's head remained upright after that was Jaralis. The therianthrope was still growling. "What's wrong? Am I stepping on your pride too much, kitty?" Naofumi taunted. "I love the new look by the way. Those burns on your face?" The shield hero clicked his tongue in satisfaction. "Mmm, just lovely. They look almost like stripes! Ever thought of shaving off that mane? Maybe bleaching your fur as well? Who knows?" He shrugged in his seat before leaning forward with his hands crossed under his chin. "Your people just might start taking you seriously! Thinking that you could actually be someone important!" His lips spread in a mocking smile directed at the lion. He was really glad for the pointers that Mirellia and Werner had given him on the way here. "Like Tai-Lo-"
"RAHHHHHHHH-" Jaralis tried to launch himself forward to maul Naofumi but was held back by those close to him. To compare him to those worthless HAKUKO! "Get to the point already! I'm sick of listening to your brainwashed tongue speak lies against our people!" Jaralis howled angrily.
"... Oh, there was no point in saying all of that."
The members slowly looked at him, wondering what that statement meant. Naofumi smirked widely. "I just wanted to piss you off."
Raphtalia sweatdropped again. Filo visibly cringed where she stood.
Jaralis's orange eyes narrowed in anger and embarrassment. "Why did you really come here, Shield Hero? What brainwashed lies are they forcing you to say now?"
"Oh, nothing much. Now that that's out of the way, I want to see if you truly understand your position or not." Naofumi said.
"... Our … position?" Jaralis asked in confusion.
Naofumi's face finally became deadly serious. "You will drop this war. All of you will go back to Siltvelt. And those of you who are responsible for Victoria's fate will step down from your positions. That is my order to this Council."
"Ha! And why would we agree to that?!" Jaralis asked, laughing at Naofumi. What a bold move the brainwashed Shield Hero was making!
"Because if you don't…" Naofumi stood up from his chair, making some of the people in the room gasp in surprise. Hadn't their spies reported that his legs got broken during the battle? He looked down at the crowd of demihumans and beastmen before him.
"Then I will take away your army." The gem on his shield flashed brilliantly blue as it changed to the Shield of Hope II.
"Then." The Robes of Michael enveloped his form, making several of the Council Members start to visibly shake and back away. "I will execute all of you like the traitorous, backstabbing scum that you are."
His eyes turned from green to blue. "And then, when I'm done enjoying the view of your heads getting arranged on a neat line of pikes, I will march back to Siltvelt."
Some of the less brave members of the Council began to whine in fear.
"And once I'm there, I will wipe out whatever supporters that you still have after this, along with anyone else who would dare to stand in my way!"
Naofumi slowly sat back into his chair, letting the power flow back into his Shield until it turned back into its default form. He casually leaned back. "Was that clear enough, or would you like me to repeat myself?"
It was a very long pause after that. Even Werner's brain struggled to comprehend what he'd just seen. Mirellia had to hide her face behind her fan, otherwise, her smirk would be revealed. That Tanuki friend of the Shield Hero was becoming one hell of an illusionist. Even Jaralis looked completely fooled.
Naofumi was truly an interesting hero indeed. She was glad she'd allowed him to speak despite his previous blunder.
"Naofumi, are you really sure about this?" Raphtalia asked, pretending to be stunned.
"Yes, I am completely sure," Naofumi said. "We won't have to worry about Melromarc's next wave for another forty-five days, right? That seems like more than enough time to wage war in Siltvelt. If they're so far gone as to attack another country, even while a wave is happening, then they need to be dealt with. Otherwise, who knows what trouble they'll cause the world down the road."
Filo tilted her head to the side curiously. She began nodding to herself.
Seriously, what was his daughter doing?
"You're, you're bluffing!" Jaralis finally spoke. For once, the lion therianthrope actually did look afraid, though he was trying to hide it.
"Oh, I'm not bluffing," Naofumi said. "You saw the battle yourself. Those soldiers are far more willing to listen to me than they are to you."
He continued to speak as the two of them looked into each other's eyes. "They might vote you in, but it's me that they worship. I doubt I'd have any trouble if I ordered them to execute their leaders. Hell, with the way you treat some of them, I bet they'd be eager to do it."
Jaralis growled again. "So what?! You think all of them would listen to you!? We still have those loyal to us who wouldn't be swayed by your brainwashed lies!"
"Maybe so. But tell me, do you really want to test that out?" Naofumi asked, glaring at the lion therianthrope. "Because I have no qualms doing so."
The two glared at each other. Neither side was willing to back down. However, there was fear in the lion's eyes. If a civil war were to break out in the camp, then would it even be possible for him to escape? They'd brought a large army with them. If the brainwashed Shield Hero took control of even half of it, would he be able to fight his way out while being this deep in enemy territory?
"Sorry, I'm late." A new voice entered the tent.
Every member of the Council turned in shock. Even Jaralis.
Naofumi turned his head confusedly at the interruption. Behind her fan, Mirellia's smirk became wider. His timing couldn't have been more perfect. Even though she hadn't been expecting him at all.
Standing at the entrance was a large figure, about eight feet tall. This therianthrope had a large turtle shell covering his back. A tail poked out from behind him. It was like looking at a giant, old, standing turtle. "Oh? Did I miss something important just now?"
"... You…" Jaralis breathed out.
"Who is that?" Naofumi asked.
"The Genmu…" Many of the Council Members got down on one knee. Naofumi stayed sitting in his wheelchair, confused. Raphtalia and Filo also looked confused, so he wasn't the only one.
"Well, either way, I'm sorry that I couldn't get here sooner. These old bones don't move like they used to. It didn't help when I learned that I was the only one left behind to deal with the wave while you folks went to randomly invade one of our neighbors. Goodness, I must have missed a very important meeting on that topic! But I guess it all worked out in the end." The Genmu representative said optimistically.
"... If you don't mind me asking, how did you get here?" Mirellia asked.
"Good question your Majesty! But the answer to it is, unfortunately, rather mundane and disappointing. You had no defenses stationed at the border. It was rather simple for me and my people to cross without hindrance." The Genmu answered amusedly. "I wouldn't have been able to catch up otherwise."
Mirellia sighed, but she gave the old Genmu a smile. "Even if you broke several laws to do it, I'm glad you arrived safely."
"W-W-Why are you here?!" Jaralis finally asked angrily. His stutter was noticeably apparent now.
"Hmmm, an interesting question, why am I here, Shield Hero?" The Genmu looked at Naofumi curiously.
Naofumi's eyes narrowed. However, like Werner, he got the feeling that he was looking at a potentially valuable ally. "Those Council members there tried to go to war with Melromarc without my approval." He dismissively waved his hand at the Council with an annoyed look on his face. "And if they refuse to leave and fix things in Siltvelt, I plan on executing them and ravaging their lands."
"Ah, I see, I see." The old man nodded enthusiastically in understanding, making his head bob up and down in an almost comical fashion. "I guess if that's what our God wants, then me and the troops I brought with me shall support his decision."
Jaralis, along with several other members of the Council, lost all color in their faces. The Genmu representative himself wasn't very threatening. However, he was representative of not only the Genmu, but the orcas, sharkmen, and almost every other underwater demi-human race living in Siltvelt. If he'd brought those armies with him...
It was one thing if the Shield Hero brought civil war using Werner and the other races. It was quite another if that war had the fearsome orca warriors backing up Naofumi. Jaralis scowled, but he couldn't hide the fear in his eyes any longer. "You, you, you CAN'T?! What about our crusade to free the Shield Hero?! What about-"
"So what will it be, Jaralis?" Werner interrupted the cowering lion. "Do you truly want to continue this charade, or should we listen to Lord Shield?" He asked. If the odds weren't in his favor before, they definitely were now.
Jaralis tightly clenched his fists. His knuckles almost became white. The members around Werner prepared for when Jaralis would pounce and lash out... and then the lion therianthrope surprised everyone by turning around and swiftly exiting the tent. Not saying another word.
It was over. He knew it.
The Council Members who had been supporting him looked at each other. Then at Naofumi. When they realized Jaralis had given up, they got on the ground, prostrating themselves.
"Please, forgive us for our sins, Lord Shield!" They begged at the same time.
Naofumi looked down at them with a scowl. "Forgive you? For what exactly? You have a lot that needs forgiving. Victoria's fate is just one turd on a pile of **** that you will have to answer for. Everyone that died here today? You are the ones responsible for bringing them to their deaths."
They prostrated themselves even further. "We're sorry. We had no choice! Jaralis threatened us! Our families would have suffered if we hadn't taken his side! Please, just give us a chance to atone." They pleaded. "We will do anything!"
Naofumi looked down at them for a moment more. It was hard to tell if they were serious, or if they were scapegoating Jaralis for what had happened.
However, it was Mirellia who inevitably stepped forward and broke the silence. "If you want forgiveness, then you will tell your people to head back to Siltvelt just as your God has ordered, and you will leave Melromarc unmolested during your return trip. Then, when you get back to Siltvelt, you will start working on freeing every Raccoon that you have unjustly enslaved. You will also apologize to Q'Ten Lo and any other nations where you have encouraged discrimination against Raccoons or Tanukis. You will pay reparations to Melromarc for all the damages that you've caused. Last but not least…" She let the last part hang in the air. "Once you have accomplished these tasks, you will step down, and have new people elected in your place."
"... You're not going to force them to tell the truth about Victoria?" Naofumi asked.
"For now, that will be something to hold over their heads, in case they suddenly decide that what I asked for isn't a reasonable request anymore." Mirellia curtly answered, glaring down at the prostrated Council Members.
Holy hell. The Queen really was a Vixen through and through. It'd be wise not to get on her bad side in the future.
"I don't know how to feel about this," Raphtalia whispered in his ear.
"I feel great. Anything that makes them squirm makes me happy."
"You're so mean Naofumi."
"Blame them for deserving it."
"... We… we accept your conditions." The guilty Council Members spoke after a lengthy pause, bowing again.
"Good. See to it that Jaralis gets the same message." Mirellia hid her face behind her fan again. "As much as I'd love to see the look on his face, it would require me to be in his presence, and I'd rather not be near him again for the next decade. Two, if the gods are willing."
The Council Members got up, casting one last guilty glance at Naofumi, before exiting the tent.
"All's well that ends well, eh?" The old Genmu chuckled.
"It is, but sometimes I wish you weren't always so late when it comes to important events," Werner said with a sigh.
"And yet, somehow, I always seem to arrive when I'm needed most." The Genmu said wisely before suddenly frowning. "Well, except for this time. You really didn't need my help here today, Shield Hero. You had the whole Council eating out of the palm of your hand. That was quite a show that your raccoon friend put up too. And the speech! "When I'm done enjoying the view of your heads getting arranged on a neat line of pikes." Goodness! It's a wonder that some of them didn't mark all over the floor." He then tensed up and sniffed the air quizzically.
"Oh, wait, nevermind."
Some of the remaining Council Members sniffed, grimaced, and moved further away from that part of the tent.
"Y-you...! How long were you standing outside that tent?" Raphtalia exclaimed in disbelief.
"Oh... let me think... I think I arrived around the time when the Shield Hero started to give Jaralis fashion advice? Yes, that sounds about right." The Genmu representative scratched his chin thoughtfully.
"Why didn't you enter then?" Mirellia blinked in confusion.
"Well, I thought it would have been rude to interrupt. I know how important self-grooming and maintaining a respectful image is. It didn't seem like Jaralis appreciated the advice though. A shame, really. The Shield Hero was definitely on to something there. And after that, this pretty young lady started to show off some real skills with her illusion magic and I just had to see that. Goodness, last time I saw something like that was when little Vicky made a whole garrison of soldiers make a full retreat after thinking that they'd awakened a dragon during their march back when Tai-Lon was King." He reminisced with a smile. "Ah, good times."
Filo nodded happily, and, seemingly satisfied, walked back up to Daddy and Mommy to stand beside them.
"Well, uh, thanks for the confidence but I still think that it wouldn't have been that easy had you not shown up." Naofumi begrudgingly admitted.
"Now, were you really planning on starting a civil war in Siltvelt, Sir Naofumi?" Mirellia curiously asked. "I must admit, even I couldn't tell if you were bluffing or not."
Raphtalia was about to answer, to say that it was obviously a bluff that the two of them had come up with when Naofumi spoke out. "I was being completely serious."
They all looked at him in surprise. "What? I'm sick and tired of dealing with this %$#^."
The world's biggest sweatdrop appeared on Raphtalia's forehead. 'Naofumi… what am I going to do with you?' Sometimes, it was hard to forget that he wasn't all sweet and loving. Piss him off enough and he'd destroy nations for the people he cared about...
Not that she wasn't the same in a way. She would topple dictators if it meant keeping Naofumi safe.
"Well, if that was what was needed, I'm sure we would have supported your move." The Genmu said, standing next to Werner and the remaining Council Members. Surprisingly, he shrunk down until he was around Werner's height. His appearance changed until he looked like an old man with white hair. A tail still stuck out from behind him, but he was no longer in his therianthrope form. "Isn't that right, my friends?"
Werner nodded. "As much as it'd pain me to fight my countrymen… if the Shield Hero commanded it, I would do so." The others nodded in agreement.
"See that, Shield Hero? If you are ever in need of our support, we shall give it, and give it free indeed." The Genmu said with a grandfatherly smile.
"I don't want your support," Naofumi muttered. Raphtalia sighed again, pinching the bridge of her nose, but then he continued. "What I want is for all the damn problems in your country to get fixed. I can't support it right now with the way it is."
"What are you saying, Shield Hero?" Werner asked in surprise.
"It's not just those Council Members who are at fault. Your nation has all sorts of problems. Your culture was what led to Victoria's family getting murdered for being an impure family line. Your focus on only me not only makes me uncomfortable, but it demonizes the other Cardinal Heroes. Some of the first demi-humans I met wanted to kill Raphtalia just because of her race. If you really want me to ask for your support, you're going to have to work on these and the other issues your people have. I don't want to deal with another Victoria turned Altara."
"... Excuse me, Shield Hero." The Genmu Representative suddenly frowned. "I couldn't help but overhear you mentioning the name "Victoria" a few times. You wouldn't happen to be talking about the former Raccoon clan council representative: Victoria Bonaparte, would you?" The Genmu looked very tense, revealing the old tired face hiding beneath it.
Without having to make any demands anymore, Naofumi was able to focus on describing his past troubles with Altara, as well as what he'd learned about how she became that way. He wasn't a very good storyteller and didn't go too deep on the details, despite Mirelia occasionally filling in the blanks from next to him. But even the abridged version made the old turtle sink lower and lower with every word until he was forced to sit down on one of the nearby chairs to deflate even further until not even a shred of energy was left.
When Naofumi was done, the old Genmu and the other Council Members looked down sadly. To the Shield Hero's surprise, a few tears fell down the old man's face.
"I…" He gasped, looking incredibly weak and fragile at that moment. "I was told that Vicky was murdered by assassins… Oh, I am such a fool to think that she'd be given such an easy fate. I am so sorry, little Vicky, I let you down." The Genmu sobbed for the loss of his friend. Werner rested a comforting hand on the old man's shoulders.
Naofumi looked away from the old man, feeling uncomfortable and guilty for delivering the bad news. He didn't expect him to react this way. The old Genmu was weeping as if he'd lost his own child. The two must have been close.
"Grampa, don't cry." Filo suddenly spoke out and transformed into her filolial queen form. Werner and the remaining council members gasped at the display.
"Filo, please-" Raphtalia tried to shush her but the bird quickly approached the genmu elder and plucked a long fluffy tail feather out of her plume with her wing before transforming back and handing it to the surprised turtle.
"Filo knows you miss your friend and that it hurts but you shouldn't cry! Mommy always says that you should try to smile no matter how hard it gets! That way those around you will start to smile too. And then everyone can work together to make things better, like Mommy, Daddy, and Filo!"
Naofumi noticed Raphtalia's grip on his shoulder tighten slightly all of a sudden. He glanced up and saw that her lower lip was trembling while she silently looked at their daughter.
The old man looked at the feather in Filo's hands and then at her and nodded weakly before gently taking it and wiping his tears away with it. "Thank you, child. Your mother is a wise woman. I always try to tell others to do the same thing, but sometimes it just gets so very hard, especially when you see so many people that you loved and saw grow up right before your eyes go before their time… but I'll try to follow your advice."
Filo nodded in satisfaction and ran back to her spot while the elderly council representative turned to face Naofumi again.
"Shield Hero… Mirellia…" The old demi-human looked up at them. "Did Vicky… did she suffer before the end?"
"... She left us with a smile." Mirellia turned away, covering her face with her fan.
"I think..." Raphtalia quietly spoke out. "I think she saw her husband and children right before... She thanked them for waiting for her." She finished numbly. Not trusting herself to speak all of a sudden.
"I see." The old genmu smiled weakly through the tears. "That's good. I am glad that she found peace. Even if it was only at the very end."
After a moment, when the old man had recovered himself, the Genmu bowed to the Shield Hero. "I am sorry for the problems that our country has caused thee, Sir Naofumi."
"We are sorry too." Werner and the others bowed sorrowfully. Learning that Siltvelt really had been responsible for some of his troubles made them feel incredibly guilty. "We truly didn't know."
Naofumi honestly couldn't stay angry. The old Genmu not only looked but sounded genuine. Who could stay angry at a sweet old man like him? Besides Raphtalia and Dou-Lon, he was probably the most genuine demi-human he'd ever met.
The old Genmu stood up straight once more. A resolute look covered his features. "Well, I'd say it looks like we have a mighty task ahead of us, don't we, my fellow colleagues?" He upbeatedly asked the other members, but Naofumi could tell that he was forcing himself now. The news of the true circumstances regarding Victoria's fate had shaken him to the very core
"Indeed. Maybe, perhaps, all these events shall be a good thing in the end." Werner looked to Naofumi again. "If our Lord says that we are in need of repentance, then we shall work to repent."
"Till our claws and fangs are sharpened for the day he needs us in battle." The wolf Council Member said deeply. The others with him said the same thing in agreement. "We promise to not let you down again, great Shield Hero. Nor you, Queen Mirellia."
"Thank you." Mirellia bowed her head gratefully. "Melromarc shall not forget the mercy granted to her people today."
"And, I guess I won't forget about this either," Naofumi muttered. He only did so because Raphtalia was looking at him expectantly. She beamed happily at him. That made saying the words more than worth it.
The Genmu chuckled amusedly. Genuinely this time. It was reassuring to see that the Shield Hero already knew the importance of love in one's life. He'd lived for a very long time, even for a member of his species. Maybe his long waiting was finally over. From everything that he'd seen today and learned from their spies, this Shield Hero was different. And the smiling divine bird that offered him one of her precious feathers to dry his tears earlier was standing next to him, looking up at the Shield Hero with such adoration and love that it only seemed to cement this.
"Hohoho, what a sweet looking child. I forgot to ask. What is your name little one?" He suddenly leaned down to address the little girl next to the Shield hero.
"Huh? Filo is Filo!" She happily replied with a smile.
"Filo, eh?" The old man rubbed her head playfully, making the filolial queen candidate let out a giggle. "That's a fine name. Be sure to take good care of Sir Shield Hero. The road he's on is a long and arduous one."
"Okay, grampa Turtle!" She smiled while his hand lingered over her cowlick.
"So you think he's the one too, hmm?" He muttered quietly to himself before straightening out to face Mirelia. His vigor had recovered once more. "It's always a pleasure to speak with you, Your Majesty. You have always been kind to us despite our differences. I sincerely hope that this is a sign for the start of a brighter future between us and Melromarc." He bowed to the Queen before him.
"I would gladly welcome that future with open arms," Mirellia said with a smile and bowed back respectfully.
"Now, I do believe we have some orders to give out, don't we, my esteemed colleagues?" The Genmu said back with a playful smile.
The others agreed. They really missed home.
Naofumi felt relieved. And Raphtalia kissed the top of his head proudly.
Even if he was flawed… he was still her Hero.
"Ah! That's right!" The genmu representative suddenly perked up and turned to face Naofumi again.
"I almost forgot, there is one more thing. Lord Shield, a little birdie told me that a certain hakuko found its way into your group recently. If it's not too much trouble, would you please pass this on to him for me? He pulled out a slightly crumpled roll of parchment from his sleeve and respectfully handed it to the Shield Hero. "I would do it myself but it would probably be for the best for everyone if we left as soon as possible."
Naofumi looked at it, nodded, and stored it safely into his shield. "I can do that."
They were on their way back to the village when Naofumi finally decided to ask Filo about her odd behavior in the tent. Not that it had been unwelcome for her to actually sit and behave. But it was unusual for Filo to sit and behave while something important was going on.
"Oh, that? Filo was just listening to the meeting and to Fitoria."
"WHAT?!" Naofumi and Raphtalia both yelled at the same time.
Filo cocked her head curiously. "Didn't Filo tell you that Filo's cowlick allows communication with Fitoria?" She asked.
"You mean she listened in on all of that?!" Naofumi yelled, fear gradually showing on his face.
"Well, yeah. Is that a bad thing Daddy?" Filo asked curiously. "Fitoria was a little angry at first, but Fitoria isn't angry anymore. Fitoria approves of Daddy's reasoning to put Siltvelt as a higher priority than the Waves."
"Never mind, it's nothing," Naofumi said, allowing himself to calm down.
At least he knew how Fitoria had heard his earlier speech now. So if he ever needed to speak to her, he could just ask Filo to do it for him. That'd be handy.
Though he was going to be careful of what he said around his daughter in the future. He might be a hero, but he'd rather not piss off a 20 story bird loli capable of turning him into a bloody smear with a single kick.
The next few days passed in a blur. Naofumi spent most of that time in a cot, having his broken legs treated by Mirellia's nurses. But honestly, nothing much really happened.
He held Raphtalia's hand a lot. But that was a given. The Tanuki girl wouldn't leave his side for anything except for food and sleep while he was injured and weak. In a way, it was like having a bodyguard.
A hot, sexy, kissable Tanuki girlfriend bodyguard that tended to him whenever he asked.
It was heaven.
The day after the Wave, the Siltvelt Council kept their word. The members of the Council, accompanied by the Genmu and the army of large warriors that he brought, began marching towards the Siltvelt Border. Mirellia had Shadows keeping tabs on their journey, but frankly, it didn't look like she had anything to worry about. Jaralis wasn't doing anything now, and any appearance he made in public was brief.
It seemed that rumors had begun to spread amongst the common soldiers. Being called a murderer by the physical god of demihumans hadn't helped Jaralis's reputation. It was an empty accusation without any proof that Naofumi made in the heat of the moment, but as it turned out, his word held more weight than he'd realized. The rumors were quickly turning into demands of opening an investigation to properly look into the matter.
Ironically enough, the loudest voices calling for it belonged to those who had formerly taken the lion's side in the conflict. They hadn't even reached home yet and the blame-shifting and the scapegoating had already begun in full force as everyone who had clamored for war tried to wash themselves of the entire thing and swear that they had never supported it in the first place, being coerced in one way or another.
Maybe, if Naofumi was lucky enough, Jaralis would be voted out of office by the time they reached Siltvelt. If he was even luckier, the lion would be assassinated by some zealots that would undoubtedly pop up after the light show he was forced to perform during the wave...
Maybe he should have tried to imply to the soldiers how the lion's head would be the greatest offering to their god? ...On second thought, Raphtalia narrowed her eyes at him when that thought passed through his head so he decided against it. He didn't really want to be a god anyway. It was a troublesome and thankless job with no days off. Being a hero was already hard enough.
But still, the small cynical part of him that still lingered on the distant shores of his mind, wished that something bad would happen to Jaralis. But he doubted that this would be the last time that he saw the lion therianthrope. He was too cunning to go down without a fight. He'd have to be watchful of him in the future.
On the Second Day after the Wave, now that the leftover wave monsters were mostly cleared out, and with the villages in the surrounding areas all in the process of being repaired, Melromarc's army was finally allowed by their queen to march back home. Naofumi and the other Heroes were given monster materials from the Wave Boss and the small fry to absorb into their weapons before they left. Only a small garrison of soldiers, made mostly out of volunteers and the relatives of those who had lived in one of the nearby villages, was left behind to help with the repairs.
Naofumi laid in a cot in a medical wagon with Ren and Itsuki during the entire ride. Raphtalia and Rishia stayed by Naofumi and Itsuki's sides respectively during the return trip. The rest of their parties were in different medical wagons. Ren left every now and then to check in on his party but otherwise spent his time with them.
Motoyasu also stayed in a different wagon. There wasn't enough room for all four Heroes to fit in just one. Whenever any of the Heroes did see him though, they saw that he was busy training with his spear and hunting down the occasional monster that would show up on the road. He looked eager and determined, almost like he was ashamed for his poor performance during the wave and wanted to grow stronger as quickly as possible. But he still stubbornly refused to even humor the idea of the existence of strengthening methods, other than his own, to the frustration of Ren and Itsuki.
Naofumi didn't mind as much as he should have. The peace that came from the sound of the wagon wheels against the road. Having Raphtalia by his side and Filo pulling the wagon they were in. It reminded him of familiar times before things got really bad.
He had the chance to talk to the Sword and Bow Heroes as well, which also helped. They talked over what they planned to do after they recovered. Itsuki said how he was planning on performing personal missions for Mirellia, both inside the kingdom and in nearby minor countries. It sounded like there were plenty of people that needed help and he trusted her judgment regarding how to best use the reconnaissance and infiltration oriented toolkit of the legendary bow since Melromarc apparently had one of the most elaborate and advanced spy networks in the world. There was plenty to learn both from the Queen herself and her shadows in that regard. Though she'd made sure to include in his assignments a couple of nobles in need of a visit.
Now that he wasn't being hunted by anyone, Naofumi wasn't sure what to do outside of grinding monsters and possibly going around as the Nocturnal Doctor once more. However, after being on the run ever since being summoned to this world, he admitted he wouldn't mind staying somewhere for a few weeks. If he could find somewhere peaceful, that'd be even better for him. He felt like he could use a vacation.
Ren, after some time thinking about it, said he wanted to train. The fight against Glass had really shown him how he needed to become stronger. Otherwise, they wouldn't be able to beat her come the next Wave.
Him saying that sobered up Naofumi and Itsuki a bit.
Right, they couldn't forget about that last fight of the Wave. The wave boss had been a walk in the park, but after facing Glass, they realized that there were much more dangerous threats than just monsters out there.
Because of that, they discussed their strengthening methods with each other once more. Now that they had time, they gave each other tips and advice for better optimization of each other's methods. Naofumi mentioned how he always equipped a different shield at night before he went to sleep so it's equip bonus would be unlocked when he woke up the next morning. Ren mentioned he'd do the same thing with a weapon so it'd gather mastery energy overnight.
Itsuki mentioned that his Job Class method, while almost useless at first, became far better over time. Level one gave +1 to the stat. Level two gave +2. Level three gave +3. Level four gave +4. Level five gave +5, and so on. It costed a boatload of materials for the first level, and each level's costs afterward gradually increased as well, but the bonuses each level gave were accumulative. So if they were to focus on one stat over the course of thirty days, the upgraded stat would have an accumulative increase of +465. If they focused on one stat over sixty days, it's bonus would be +1830.
That definitely surprised Naofumi. He'd basically forgotten about that method because one, it required a crapload of materials to increase only one stat; two, he could only do it once every 24 hours; and three, it gave only slim stat increases in the beginning. Last but not least, he couldn't use it to raise his ATT stat.
That last part honestly made up most of the reason why he didn't bother with it. His Yandere Shield was, once again, cutting off another way for him to raise his ATT. Why did it do this to him?! Why was his ATT stat doomed to be near nonexistent?!
Being armed with Itsuki's advice though, he decided he'd put more of an effort into it. If he could use it to further increase his speed, strength, and defense, it'd help him better protect those around him in the future. And that was more important than having an ATT stat. He wouldn't be able to use it until his party could start grinding monsters again. But amongst all the suggestions that they talked over, it was the most helpful one as it gave him a plan for what to do with all the useless junk items and the inedible monster carcasses he'd acquire down the road besides using them on Itsuki's Item Enchantment strengthening method.
At the end of the third day, they'd finally returned to the Capital. By that point, Naofumi felt good enough to walk around on crutches. The next morning at the castle, he received several healing sessions from Mirellia's nurses, and, surprisingly, Motoyasu. Yeah, that one made some heads turn. It turned out the blonde simp also had an affinity for healing magic. He'd been using it on his party members and himself during the last few days. On Rino in particular, since she was still suffering from some of the lingering effects of being Bitch's slave. She had to push herself especially hard to be able to fight the way she had during the Wave. But they had all recovered enough now that he was able to help out Naofumi and everyone else.
Motoyasu's magic wasn't as strong as Naofumi's, since his magic stat wasn't as high thanks to the sharing of strengthening methods, but it was still more powerful than what Mirellia's nurses could do. To the point that, after he was done, Naofumi was good enough to walk around without using crutches.
However, since he still suffered from the effects of Pandora's Box failing on him, Raphtalia and Filo remained at his side to help and protect him.
He had no idea how much longer he'd have to deal with all the penalties associated with using the skill. There wasn't a timer for the debuff this time around to tell him when it'd wear off. It wasn't that he was against the extra family time, but he'd feel much better if he was at full strength and able to actually protect his loved ones again instead of being a burden to them.
"Naofumi, you're not a burden." Raphtalia chided him out of nowhere, startling him out of his thoughts briefly and making him drop his spoon with a jingle.
"Filo will get it!" Filo happily chirped and reached over the table that they were eating at to pick it up and hand it back to her papa. "Here you go, daddy!"
"Huh? I didn't say I was. Oh, and thank you, Filo." He replied in confusion after taking the spoon back and patting Filo on the head to her great delight.
"You have that look on your face that says: 'I feel guilty about being pampered so much lately.' I can tell." The half-tanuki girl sighed and looked at him with a weak smile.
"N-no I don't." He awkwardly stuttered out and turned his head away with a pout.
"Naofumi, you're acting like a child again." Raphtalia scolded him with a smirk.
"I'm no-Mmmph!" He quickly turned back to protest only to get a spoonful of stew in his mouth.
"Hehe, got you." Raphtalia grinned brightly and pulled the spoon out of his mouth, forcing Naofumi to chew it with an annoyed look on his face.
"But seriously though." Her face returned back to that comforting smile from before. "Take it easy. You barely had time to rest after the pope's insurrection before being forced to fight a war and then a wave. And before that, we had to live on the run for several months. I think you deserve a break."
The Shield Hero looked down into his bowl of soup, seeing the reflection of his tired-looking face in the golden broth. He wasn't sure if it was just that the contents of the bowl were a poor mirror, but he looked like a man twice his age. He sighed and nodded before looking back up. "Yea. Yea I guess I could use some time off." He gave her a small, grateful smile. "I'll be in your care Raphtalia, thank you."
The demihuman girl's tail swished back and forth happily as she smiled.
Still, he wanted to be on top of his game as soon as possible, so after lunch was over, he looked through his help guide to figure out how long he'd suffer for. There was some new information about Pandora's Box and its mechanics.
The skill was to be primarily used on monsters. It warned that the user should only use it on individuals (be it human, demi-human, spirit, or the like) whose unforgivable actions made them indistinguishable from monsters. Otherwise, it wouldn't work, and he'd still have to suffer from the backlash of using it for a time. But it didn't specify for how long.
That confused him. The Pope, it was definitely understandable that he was a monster. He'd tried multiple times to not only kill him and the other Heroes but to ruin the lives of many people. What was it about Glass that made her different? Hell, why had she been fighting them in the first place? She had knowledge of the importance of the Cardinal Heroes, so why had she been targeting them…?
Whatever the answer was, one thing was obvious. They had been nowhere near strong enough to fight the fan-wielding woman. It was also obvious that this was not a skill he could just use willy nilly on anyone down the road. They had to deserve it for it to work. And if what Ren had said was true, they'd have to give it their all to grow stronger in preparation for facing her at the next Wave.
But if this was a permanent debuff… no, his Shield wouldn't screw him over like that. He'd just have to hope that the debuff would eventually end.
He talked with the other Heroes some more later that day. And this time, the Queen had decided to join their conversation as well. She wanted to learn more about the Heroes and the worlds they came from. It wasn't so much a gathering of important info as much as the scholar in her was curious to learn more about their worlds. But her Majesty also had a proposition for Naofumi and the other Heroes. It was something that left him with even more to think about.
This evening, he was still considering it over in the back of his mind. But for now, there was something far more interesting that required his immediate attention. Something that'd been a long time in the making.
"Bring out the prisoner!"
At Mirellia's command, a set of double doors at the bottom of the arena were opened. Several fully armed and armored knights bearing grim expressions on their faces stepped out, holding on to chains that bound a very filthy and old looking man. The former Pope's resplendent robes woven with golden threads had been taken away along with his mitre, the other symbol of his status. His feet were bare. He was left with nothing more than some dirty torn up rags that barely covered his decrepit husk of a body.
Balamus had never looked so low in his entire life.
A crowd of people had gathered in the stands. It ranged from nobility to the common folk from the various towns and villages of Melromarc. They yelled and jeered at the former holy figure. Mirellia's shadows hid on the rooftops, keeping a close watch on the event to make sure that no one would interrupt it.
"You killed my husband!"
"You killed my son!"
"You killed my fiance!"
"You killed my uncle!"
"You killed my cousin!"
Most of the yells raining down on Balamus came especially from the commoners. Those who'd had family drafted from their villages for the Church's holy crusade against the Heroes and Siltvelt. They'd died while either being forced to fight Mirellia's knights or while trying to escape the forced draft. There was hardly a person in the crowd who hadn't lost a husband, a brother, a father, an uncle, a cousin, or some other family member to Balamus's ambitions.
With the threat of Siltvelt's invasion, the heroes did not have the time to fully comprehend the sheer amount of damage Balamus's short-lived reign had caused. But to put it simply: the number of casualties exceeded those of the last three waves combined, even taking Siltvelt's losses into account. The graveyards outside the capital had to be expanded, and those unfortunate souls were the ones who were lucky to be simply executed through more mundane means or fall in battle, rather than being burned at the stake for their heresy against the three heroes church and their ashes dumped into a ditch somewhere. Almost all the people there had been affected in one way or another.
Naofumi leaned on a pillar next to Ren, Itsuki, and Motoyasu. They were on a special balcony near the Queen overlooking the coming execution. Neither Itsuki, Motoyasu, or Naofumi had brought their party members. Raphtalia didn't want Filo to witness such an event and was playing with her in the castle. Itsuki and Ren's party members were still being treated for their injuries. Motoyasu's girls were resting.
However, Ren had brought Wyndia with him. She was almost fully recovered, and even if she wasn't, she wasn't going to miss this, even if she had to crawl to get here. She wasn't going to miss the day when her former slave owner, the man responsible for the deaths of both of her biological parents and even her adoptive father, was brought to justice.
"Tie him to the stake!" Mirellia ordered from her throne, which had been moved to the highest balcony overlooking the arena.
The Knights led Balamus to a large wooden stake, that had been hammered into the ground of the arena in advance. Naofumi didn't know if it was intentional or not, but he could have sworn that it was the exact same spot where he'd laid when he first unlocked the Cursed and the Blessed Series. As Balamus was tied to the stake with the iron chains that he was bound with, other knights brought out wooden logs and kindling, piling it around the stake and at his Excellency's feet. Another knight appeared, dousing the logs and the Pope with a liquid from several buckets.
It splashed into Balamus'es face, making him grimace and cough several times. His rags, after being thoroughly soaked with the oily liquid, hung heavily on his body, making him look even more pathetic. It didn't look like tar or oil. But whatever it was, it was likely very flammable.
The Heroes stayed silent, observing the entire set up. Motoyasu was frowning, but not because he disapproved of what was happening. Rather, as he looked down, he couldn't help but remember how the old man had tricked him. He made him hurt others and tried to twist the Spear Hero into a dumb mindless puppet for his own ambitions.
When the knights had finished their preparations, they nodded to their Queen and stepped back. Mirellia then raised her hand as she stood up. The jeers and angry shouts died down. The stands around the arena became completely silent.
"People of Melromarc! My dear subjects! The nobility who remained loyal to the crown! The merchants, craftsmen, and traders who still chose to keep their business here despite everything that happened! The farmers who were forced to leave their lands to fight against their own countrymen! To everyone who is here today or watching from their own towns! Listen to me and listen well! Balamus is guilty of rebellion and treason against Melromarc! And that doesn't even begin to describe all the crimes and atrocities that he has committed! He conspired to kill the royalty of this nation! He conspired to bring other nations under subjugation using the power of a weapon long thought to be lost, a weapon that he hid from the public eye, the Replica!" Mirellia continued the list of Balamus's crimes.
The list was, not surprisingly, very long.
Lying to the people. Brainwashing his followers. Spreading propaganda and rumors to gain more power and influence. Drafting people for an illegal war against their will. Punishing those that resisted his reign. Murdering those that tried to escape from it. Attempting to murder other nobles that spoke out or protected the Church's 'enemies'.
The people were completely silent as their Queen listed Balamus's atrocities one after the other. They stared, hearts hardened against the old bag of crap tied to the stake.
However, one atrocity Mirellia mentioned broke the silence completely.
"He orchestrated and ordered the assassination of Lord Seaetto."
At first, there was stunned silence. And then, the loudest screams of anger and violence that Naofumi had ever heard shook the arena. It was likely that the people were heard for miles outside the Capital. Stones began to fly out from the crowd at the Pope, making him wince and grunt in pain. Not even the Queen could get the crowd to quiet down for some time after that. The shadows and the knights were forced to calm down or lead away some of the more heated participants directly.
To make sure everyone would see what would transpire this day, Mirellia had a crystal orb nearby recording and displaying the event live all throughout her kingdom via other orbs. Perhaps those distant noises that Naofumi thought were echoes were actually the rest of the kingdom being angry about it.
He never met the man. But it seemed Lord Seaetto had been well-loved by the people. To learn that Balamus had been the one who organized his assassination completely destroyed any credibility the man might have retained amongst them.
Mirellia finally continued to speak over the yells of anger. "You not only persuaded King Trash to summon the Four Cardinal Heroes without anyone's permission, but you attempted to murder all four of them! Putting our world in jeopardy of being destroyed by the Waves! For all the other crimes that you have committed, you are more than worthy of death! But for this great crime against our world, I have but to ask, what have you to say for yourself, filth?!"
The people finally went silent, awaiting the words of his former Excellency.
Balamus took a few shaky breaths and slowly raised his head. His body was battered and bruised. He bled from several cuts that the stones had left. But his eyes, now bereft of the spectacles that helped him to hide his true intentions before, were shining clearly and unbroken.
"I..." He licked the blood off his split lip. "I only did... what the true gods of this world would have wanted." He looked right into Mirelia's eyes with an eerie expression of boundless sincerity.
"If you were expecting that I would repent for what I had done..." He gasped and closed his eyes for a moment to slightly reposition himself on the stake. One of his ribs appeared to be broken and was now poking agonizingly into one of his lungs. "Then you were sorely mistaken, Mirellia. I regret nothing. If I had a chance to go back and do it again, I would do the same thing a dozen, a hundred, a thousand times over."
Everyone stared at him. "You may not understand this, but the demihumans are a plague that was set upon our world by the Shield Demon. They breed and grow like vermin. If we simply leave them be, then they will eventually overrun and replace us. The only way to deal with an infestation is total extermination. Long ago, we had the chance to set things right, but the Shield Demon stood in the way, protecting them. Just as this accursed successor of his does!" He glared angrily at Naofumi.
"Oh, but you weren't satisfied with just that this time, were you, Devil!? You came back and began to corrupt not only the knights but the other Heroes too!"
He turned to face Mirelia again with an indignant look on his face. "I could not stand by and allow him to corrupt our great country with his dangerous ideas like he's corrupted you!" Balamus screamed at the end. "I would rather die before allowing such a catastrophe to befall us all!"
Was he stupid? Or was this what his faith had led him to. Even under the threat of death, he wasn't going to deny what he'd been raised with. He was actually being sincere.
Mirellia glared harshly down. "Even after giving you time, you still show no repentance for your actions."
Some of the nobles, watching from the shadows, grimaced. But the majority of the people began screaming down at him in anger again.
Stones came from the stands again, most missed, but more than a few hit his body. No move was made to stop them this time. Naofumi almost felt tempted to join. However, it would have been futile for him to try. Knowing his luck, the shield would zap him for trying to use a rock as a weapon. Balamus gave no reaction to the people pelting him this time. He defiantly looked up without flinching.
"Then it is settled!" Mirellia gestured to the masked executioner, and he dropped a lit torch onto the wood.
The fire spread quickly. Within seconds, it began traveling up the Pope himself. The man, who'd been silent under the rock barrage, began screaming in pain. The crowd began to cheer. Mirellia watched as Balamus twisted and writhed in agony.
Itsuki paled but continued to watch. Motoyasu grimaced but did the same. Ren... looked nauseous, but he didn't turn away either. Naofumi's face was stone cold. The world would be better off without a bastard like Balamus in it.
Balamus was still screaming as the fire completely enveloped him. But then, to the shock of everyone there, his screams morphed into morbid laughs.
The cheering crowd went silent in an instant. Naofumi felt a chill travel up his spine as he looked down at the man in disbelief.
Balamus was choking from the smoke around him but he continued to laugh with a manic look in his eyes. "YOU REALLY THINK THAT YOU HAVE WON!?" The former pope shouted from the top of his burning lungs. "MY DEATH WON'T CHANGE ANYTHING! I WILL ONLY BECOME A MARTYR TO THE CAUSE!"
He continued to laugh amongst the roaring flames. "I CAN ALREADY SEE THEM!" Balamus looked up at the sky with a genuine smile as tears started to flow in joy. "THE PEARLY GATES OF HEAVEN ARE OPENING BEFORE ME! I SEE THEM ALL! THE BLESSED CHILDREN OF THE THREE HEROES CHURCH WHO ALSO FELL IN THEIR STRUGGLES AGAINST THE SHIELD DEMON ARE WELCOMING ME WITH OPEN ARMS! AND THE TRUE GODS ARE SMILING AT ME FROM THEIR GOLDEN THRONES! THIS PAIN IS NOTHING TO THE ETERNAL JOY AWAITING ME!"
Balamus looked at Naofumi again with manic glee. "DO YOU HEAR ME SHIELD DEMON!? THIS IS NOT THE END! THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING! THE THREE HEROES CHURCH WILL RETURN! THE FAITHFUL WILL RECOVER AND BUILD THEIR STRENGTH BACK UP! AND ONE DAY THEY WILL DESTROY YOU FOR GOOD AND WIPE THOSE PARASITES THAT YOU LOVE SO MUCH OFF THE FACE OF THIS WORLD! AND THROUGHOUT IT ALL I WILL LOOK DOWN FONDLY ON THEM! KNOWING THAT I HELPED THIS BEAUTIFUL FUTURE TO COME FORTH! AHAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA-"
"That's enough!" Mirellia narrowed her eyes.
"Open the doors! Let the second execution commence!"
On the opposite side of the arena from which Balamus had exited out, a set of double doors was opened. What came out brought shocked silence. The other Three Heroes all lost color in their faces.
"No way… she isn't..." Itsuki whispered in horror.
Two men, almost twice the size of the knights that escorted Balamus to his execution grounds, dressed in the garb of Zeltoble's Dark Guild executioners, stepped out into the light. Between them, they held the enchanted chains that bound a horrible creature that they led forward onto the arena.
Naofumi took a shaky step back and started to hyperventilate. His eyes widened and he felt his hands start to shake as he looked down at what was brought out.
The writhing, wriggling abomination looked like a massive blue-white worm. Everything about it was wrong. Its pale, luminescent flesh glistened with sticky slippery moisture and each motion of its long segmented body stretched it uncomfortably thin. Like it was on the verge of being ripped apart to reveal something even more horrible underneath its skin.
It let out bubbling groans and deep suckling breaths as it crawled forward towards the food it smelled nearby. Something that appeared to be saliva dripped out of its mouth, the insides of which looked like a bottomless black chasm lined with an endless number of razor-sharp teeth shaped like broken glass.
A title hovered over its head in purple text.
When Balamus's eyes focused on it through the flames, they widened, and his laugh died on his lips before turning into a scream of genuine, deep, primal fear. "NO! NOT THAT! PLEASE NO! I BEG YOU! ANYTHING BUT THAT!"
"What..." Naofumi swallowed hard and slowly turned his head towards the other heroes, trying to keep the powerful visceral feelings tearing his body apart under control. "What the hell is a Soul worm?" He finally asked.
"Holy hell," Ren said. Not answering his question. His face took on an even greener shade. He looked like he was trying very hard not to vomit.
"She's not just going to kill him. She's going to shred his soul from existence." Itsuki said, stunned at the appearance of the monster.
"That's like, permadeath. That's deader than dead men." Motoyasu's face was incredulous.
As Naofumi processed that, Wyndia spoke in a hard voice. "After everything that bastard has done. The Gods would be better off not having to deal with someone as horrid as him."
If the Heroes felt even a shred of guilt before, Wyndia's statement got rid of most of it.
After all, there were some things that could not be forgiven.
The handlers brought the Soul Worm closer to Balamus's charred body. Somehow, he was still alive amidst the pillar of flames. The closer it got, the more the monster tugged at the chains of its handlers.
"NO! GET IT AWAY! GET IT AWAY FROM MEEEEEEE!" Balamus screamed in abject terror and struggled against the chains binding him in futility.
"May this be an example to anyone who thinks they can kill the Cardinal Heroes and get away with it! For your crimes, and for your relenting unrepentance in the face of death, you shall be erased from existence! May the True Gods never have to see your face, scum!"
The crowd began to chant. It was like being in a colosseum. "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!"
Itsuki turned his face away. Motoyasu covered his eyes. Ren put a hand over his mouth but continued to watch for Wyndia's sake. Only Naofumi remained unchanged. He didn't care if Raphtalia would disapprove of how much he approved of this or not.
As far as he was concerned, Balamus deserved everything that was coming to him right now.
"Kill him! Kill him! Kill him! Kill-"
At last, Mirellia gave the final gesture.
The executioners released their grip on the chains. The Soul Worm let out an unholy noise of excitement as it rushed forward.
"NO- AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" An otherworldly scream, unlike anything that Naofumi had ever heard from any living thing, came from Balamus. Naofumi and Ren watched in almost stunned fascination.
The Soul Worm, saliva leaking from it's gaping maw, let out a sucking sound. Then, an ethereal substance, Balamus's very soul, continued to scream in despair and terror as it came out of his body, and flew through the air into the gaping maw of the monster.
And then the real horror began.
As the soul touched the Soul Worm's open maw, it's broken glass teeth began moving rapidly, shredding the damned soul apart. More saliva flew everywhere as it feasted.
The screams from the crowd earlier at Balamus being at fault for Lord Seaetto's assassination paled in comparison to the screams Balamus's soul unleashed as it was ripped, shredded, chewed, and annihilated. Screw what he'd thought earlier, nothing Naofumi had gone through before could have prepared him for this. He nearly hurled onto the balcony. He wouldn't wish this on his worst enemy. Not even Bitch.
Motoyasu put his hands over his ears. Itsuki looked like a cat on the verge of running away.
Ren put the gemstone of his sword to his mouth and vomited into it. This was too much for him.
Eventually, the screams of agony weakened. Then, they disappeared altogether as the last of the soul was shredded into the monster's open maw.
Biscas T. Balamus was no more.
What followed after that was the heaviest silence of all.
The body in the fire sagged, and then suddenly turned to ash. The chains landed on the ground with a loud heavy clatter before vanishing out of sight beneath the pillar of roaring flame.
Finally, a noise came as the Soul Worm let out a noise of contentment that sounded oddly reminiscent of a burp. The executioners from Zeltoble, nodding in satisfaction, picked up the monster's chains and dragged it back towards the doors.
The Cardinal Heroes stood where they were. None of them made any move to help the former pope throughout the whole event. Though traumatized, they'd done as Mirellia asked. The Queen looked around, observing all her people. They sat, at first, in stunned silence. And then, when their brains finally registered the justice dispatched upon Balamus, they stood up and began to cheer once more.
With his death, justice had more than been administered for their loved ones.
"Let this be a warning to all those who would dare threaten the safety of our world!" Mirellia shouted. "And you, the followers of the Three Heroes Church, as well as those who help them!" She looked at the recording crystal broadcasting all over her kingdom. "Wherever you may be hiding now, wherever you may think you're safe to sow chaos and destruction, remember this day when you reveal yourselves! For just like Balamus, you shall pay for your crimes against this kingdom, and against our world!"
The crowd cheered loudly at that. The Queen still looked tense though. The decision to erase Balamus from existence had been hard for her to make. Even with everything he had done, it was not something to be taken lightly, erasing someone from existence. That was a decision no person should ever have to make.
That was a power that should have only been left to the Gods.
She only hoped that was their desire since she'd have to carry the weight of this decision until the day she died.
"And now, with that traitorous scum out of the way, it is time we celebrate the successful handling of the Wave of Catastrophe, as well as our newfound peace with Siltvelt!" Mirellia proclaimed. More cheers sounded from the crowd.
"Open the castle! Bring out the musicians! Everyone is invited! We shall celebrate new beginnings, and a new age for our Kingdom!"
For those wondering, Balamus actually did full-heartedly believe in his religion. But because of the flaws of hate, greed, lust, power, and other things that had seeped into said religion, we inevitably reach an end result. One where Balamus himself can't even see how far he's fallen until it's far, far too late.
For the curious Christian out there, a title from the Bible I'd attach would be "Son of Perdition." The same title applied to Cain and Judas Iscariot. It not only means Son of Satan/Lucifer. It is a term applied to those who will receive no forgiveness, in this world, nor the world to come. For they sinned not only against man but against God. They knew and saw God, and still, they rebelled. While their souls won't be erased, their punishment is much the same. Being cast out of the light and presence of God forever.
In that vein, Balamus knew that the Shield was not a Devil, he had seen the Shield Spirit himself, and yet he still rebelled and remained unrepentant in the face of death. Balamus, though it pained me to give you a punishment only God should decide:
May the shredded atoms of your soul rot for all of time and eternity in that place which shall never be touched by the light of your Gods.
Offended Big Birb
"So... what's your favorite animal?" Itsuki asked.
The four Heroes sat casually around a table. In attempting to get to know each other better, they were asking the usual questions. Favorite weapon? Favorite show? Favorite gotcha game? The like.
"Mine. It'd have to be Filolials." Naofumi answered.
"Since they're so similar to Chocoboes?" Itsuki asked.
"Yeah. That's part of it." Naofumi agreed.
"Interesting. I thought your answer would be Tanukis." Motoyasu said, a smirk on his face.
Naofumi glowered at the blonde man. "Does everything have to be girls with you, simp?!"
"In my opinion, dragons are the coolest thing ever." Ren suddenly said, cutting off the potential argument.
The other three looked at him. "What do you mean? Filolials are way cooler than Dragons." Naofumi argued back. "They can use magic. They can pull lots of weight. And the best part, if a hero raises them, you can end up having a very cool and sweet daughter!"
Nearby, when Filo heard that, she perked up happily.
"Yeah, but Dragons can do all that… well, I don't know if they can transform into a daughter, but regardless, they can also fly and breathe fire. Their scales are hard to pierce and resistant to magic and physical attacks. They hold every advantage over Filolials in terms of combat prowess and adaptability." Ren gave a reasonable argument. "Filolials are supposed to be birds, but have you ever seen one that could fly?"
"I guess you're right about that." Naofumi eventually relented with a sigh.
"Thus, Dragons are the coolest species to walk the world," Ren said, happy he'd won.
"I second that!" Motoyasu raised a glass high. Itsuki and Naofumi both found themselves laughing in agreement.
"Filolials are totally lame compared to Dragons!" Itsuki said.
"Yeah. Why don't we see about getting pet dragons soon!?" Motoyasu suggested.
"Do tame dragons even exist in this world?!" Naofumi asked. "You'd think they'd be expensive?"
"Who cares?! With the backing of the crown, we could afford at least a hundred of them!" Motoyasu said excitedly.
Ren nodded quickly in agreement. "Yeah, that makes sense." A hundred, no, a thousand dragons at his command. His eyes glinted.
He'd truly be unstoppable as the great Dragon King! Bwuhahahahaha-
"Daddy! How could you!" Suddenly, Filo ran up to them with tears in her eyes.
"Whoa, it's okay Filo. Even if you're not a dragon, I'll always love you." Naofumi said lovingly.
"No daddy! That's not it!"
Suddenly, the castle started to rumble. Looking out the window, a massive silhouette could be seen approaching the castle at an alarming speed.
"You made Fitoria mad!" Filo yelled.
Ren, Naofumi, and Itsuki paled as they recognized the rapidly approaching silhouette.
'Well shucks, and I had such a good feeling for this batch too.' Fitoria thought as she came closer and closer. Her face held nothing but rage. 'Time to spin the wheel again. Maybe I'll be lucky and finally get that five-star shield hero.'
"W-Wait, Fitoria, it isn't what it looks like-" Naofumi tried to say.
"Time to get another batch of Heroes ready!" Fitoria screamed.
"AHHHHHH!" Naofumi screamed.
"AHHHHHHHH!" Itsuki screamed more fearfully.
"NOOOOOOOOOO!" Ren's dragon army! He'd never live to see it brought to life!
"OOHHHHHH!" Motoyasu let out a scream of arousal. Stars were in his eyes.
As all four were crushed underfoot as well as the castle, their last thoughts were of their weird companion and his angel fetish appearing now of all times.
Not the Worst Thing Put into the Weapons
"So, um, did you really vomit into your sword during the execution?" Naofumi asked.
The other Heroes appeared shaken after coming out of the last omake. Motoyasu's eyes were still blissed over in joy. Ren looked somewhat relieved that his dreams of a dragon army hadn't been taken away entirely.
"Um, yeah," Ren admitted. Thinking about that though made him nauseous. "That was… something."
"Why did you vomit into your weapon?" Itsuki asked incredulously.
"I couldn't hold it down anymore, okay!" Ren defended himself. "Besides, would you rather I'd puked all over the balcony we were on!?"
"I'd rather you hadn't puked at all! That's disgusting!"
"You try holding it in while watching someone's soul get devoured like those cheap noodle cups!" Ren yelled back.
"Anyway, um, this might sound odd, but did doing that unlock any weapon?" Naofumi asked.
The other two slowly looked at him, wondering if Naofumi had grown a second head or not. "What?" Naofumi asked.
"Did you seriously just ask if I unlocked a Vomit Sword?" Ren asked.
"Hey, with all the other weird things our weapons can absorb…" Naofumi trailed off.
"... no… it didn't." Ren slowly said, grimacing as he'd actually double-checked his Sword Menu to make sure. Fortunately, the Vomit Sword did not exist.
"I think even our weapons have standards when it comes to things that'll be unlocked," Itsuki said with a grimace.
"That probably hasn't stopped past Heroes from trying though."
The Three looked to the still blissful looking Motoyasu. "Didn't he say in a previous omake that he'd make love to his spear?" Ren asked.
"Yeah… yeah, he did," Naofumi muttered.
The three of them became nauseous again. If the past Heroes were just as bad as Motoyasu, who knew what god-forsaken things they'd put into their weapons.
There were just some things that were never meant to be absorbed by the weapons.
Till Next Time