[About] : Hey, my name is Pretty Lazy - just another novice writer on the platform. I come to present a "what-if" scenario concerning of the idea of the Four Cardinal Heroes actually coming from the same world, rather than different ones. That is to say, what if Naofumi, Motoyasu, Ren and Itsuki were already friends before their summoning to Melromarc?
Unfortunately, the answer seems to be "the power of friendship prevails".
Turns out if they're friends from the get-go, a lot of shit can get steamrolled really easily if I'm not careful - and that really isn't the type of story I wanted to tell, nor does that doesn't seem like an interesting story to expand on. As a wise man, who probably had one too many moonshines, once said, "[the enemy] should have won, he was so much stronger, it doesn't make sense, the power of friendship is bullshit, why does it always win?!"
That's the reasoning behind the AU. In order to give it the narrative of conflicts needed to have an interesting premise, I decided to take some executive decisions with some of the aspects. Of course, I'll be trying my best to keep as much things in line as logically possible, but don't be surprised if I cut corners on the canon. I'm prioritizing storytelling over canonicity, so I sincerely hope you enjoy this little story of mine.
Four Heroes, by Adam Rook, is another take on this concept, so I'm not the only one that has their own plan. It's quite worth the read since we tackle the two narrative in different ways. If you didn't like how I went about things, perhaps you might like how my writer friend does. We both collaborate on Remnant Heroes, a crossover fanfic with a similar concept of having the four heroes be friends with each other before the story begins. That story is particularly a RWBY Crossover where the protagonists actually originate from the world of Remnant rather than world-hopping over there by some means.
[Arc 1] Synopsis
Naofumi, Ren, Itsuki, and Motoyasu were once apartment roommates, but they find themselves all summoned to a land called Melromarc, being heeded as the Four Cardinal Heroes. Excited to fulfill their roles, it soon became clear that not everything was what it seemed, discovering that this fantasy dream alongside friends was actually a crumbling nightmare in disguise.
Volume 1 / Chapter 1 / Unusual Summoning Ritual
If he had to be honest, Motoyasu did bring weirder things into their apartment, but this probably had to take the cake for how random it was.
Four boys had been standing around a dining table, staring at the old-looking book that almost caused the legs to collapse.
And yet, despite having the clock tick down upon their silence, they were no closer to acknowledging what this object truly was in the first place. It was brought to everyone's attention when Motoyasu had accepted the package at the door when a delivery had been specially shipped over to their address, but it didn't contain a specific name.
And so, the standoff on who had been the one to order this clearly-expensive book began.
The first culprit was Naofumi Iwatani.
He was 20 years old and a sophomore in college, being the original renter of this apartment. He loved reading books, but Ren never saw him plow through a giant textbook for fun before and honestly speaking, he would have owned up to buying the package by this point. He was the type of person that wouldn't like situations to reach this point.
The second culprit was Itsuki Kawasumi.
He was 17 years old and was a high school student, being Ren's closest friend out of everyone here. They knew each other for long enough that he knew that Itsuki would be the type to try and buy one of these out of curiosity, but he seriously doubted if Itsuki would have committed actual money onto this heavy book. He always liked to dive into stories using video games, rather than litterature.
The final culprit was Motoyasu Kitamura.
He was 21 years old and attended the same university as Naofumi, only to different degrees and departments. He was fond of buying things to give to girls, being someone who was rather popular with them. Although Ren never saw him officially get into a relationship, it wouldn't be unexpected for him to order this for a gift. However, he was the one to bring this to everyone's attention, cueing the moments that led to now.
And Ren Amaki didn't consider himself a culprit.
Being the youngest of the group and attending the same high school as Itsuki a year behind him, everyone knew that Ren's background had been one of considerable wealth. If anyone had money to spend lavishly on random junk like this, he would have the one that was able to do so. Unfortunately, ability and desire were two entirely different things.
And besides, he would believe that if he ordered a book, he would know about it.
Between the roommates, Naofumi finally spoke up.
"Maybe… we should look inside?"
Everyone else looked over, debating to themselves if that was the right play here. It was entirely possible that this was sent to them as a prank, but they all considered who in their lives might have done such a thing and there was ultimately no conclusion that was made out of it.
"I mean, sure?" Itsuki responded. "Honestly, I don't know why we've been holding it off for so long."
"It looks like it's going to rip the moment you open it," Motoyasu said, voicing concerns.
"And yet, you thought it was a bright idea to almost break our table when you slammed it on?" Ren growled. "I rather the book be broken than the piece of furniture that we eat meals on everyday."
"Listen, that was a mistake! My hands slipped, alright!? How was I supposed to know it would crash down like that!? It's a lot lighter when it's in your hands!"
"Naofumi, just open it already and get this mystery out of our minds," Itsuki groaned.
He already took the book into his possession before his friend said anything and started flipping over the cover. "I'm already a few steps ahead of you."
The rest of the roommates gathered quickly beside Naofumi to see what this book had in store for them. They weren't particularly interested in the stories that it might have, but considering the circumstances, it was mostly worth the curiosity to see what type of book this had been.
Naofumi had seen books like these a few times before, but they were all tomes in some of the visual novel games that he played in the past. This was the first time that he saw such an intrinsic design for a book before, ranking high on the amount of details it had. Despite that, there was no title or even an author on the cover, but only one of these questions would be answered on the opening page.
"The Records of the Holy Weapons. That's the name of this book, but there's no credentials to the creation of it. You would think that someone with a great cover would try to leave their name on it, but that isn't the case here."
"Nothing on that?" Itsuki tilted his head. "Maybe there's a publisher?"
Naofumi shook his head. "Not even that. It's just the title and it goes into the story."
"That's a bit weird," Ren mumbled. "Can books even get out to the public like this?"
Motoyasu shrugged. "Who's to say that it even went through a publisher? If you asked me, I would have been convinced that this was a one-of-a-kind book. I mean, look at it! You can't convince me that it's not!"
Naofumi continued reading.
Flipping through the pages, he could tell that a lot of work was put into its illustrations and writing. It hadn't even been typed, as if it was trying to replicate the era of medieval times. He can't even imagine how long this might have taken, if all of the book had the same level of care put into it.
He started summarizing the contents out loud for the others.
It started off with the book telling the readers about a grim prophecy that was meant to doom the lands of this fantasy world. Great waves of destruction would soon wash away all existing life, onslaughting the people until nothing was left. To escape this fate, they would call upon four heroes, each stemming from a different world.
Each hero had their own special weapon that they would use to fight back against the mindless destruction and prevent anyone else from dying.
Those weapons had been the sword, the spear, the bow, and the shield.
"Huh?" Motoyasu noticed that Ren flinched during Naofumi's briefing on the book. "Hey, Ren? Is there something wrong? You didn't get a sudden headache or stomach cramp, did you?"
"I… I'm fine..."
Ren couldn't explain it.
It felt like there was something grabbing onto his heart, tightening with every beat, whereas another mysterious force prevented him from breathing properly. Sweat, though subtle and small, dripped down his forehead as a slight buzzing noise started to oddly fade into the background.
He wasn't sure what happened, but the moment his mind tried to follow the source, the effects already began to lift themselves upwards.
"Ah, Ren probably hasn't touched a book out of his own free will recently! He's probably getting some allergic reaction from it!" Itsuki jested, not noticing the severity of his reaction. Motoyasu laughed at the joke too and so did Ren, trying to keep his consciousness away from the unusual reaction.
Naofumi, however, was a bit more careful of his friend.
"Hey, uhm, are you sure you're fine, Ren? Your face kinda looks a bit pale, if I had to say something about it."
Itsuki stopped and inspected Ren more closely. "Y-Yeah, now that you mentioned it, Naofumi…"
"No, I'm fine! Really!" He turned his face away. "I-I just think some of the food I ate this morning wasn't settling well with me! I'll get some rest afterwards."
The three friends stared at Ren before glancing at each other confusingly.
He knew he should have probably headed off to bed immediately, but something in his gut was telling him that this book was somehow bad news. It was as if the words themselves caused this reaction to happen to him. Having interest in it was quite an understatement.
After Ren positioned himself normally, Naofumi kept on reading, keeping an eye for his friend, just in case if he was randomly deciding to push himself for whatever reason.
Starting where he left off, the heroes themselves were ones of great personas, blessed by the powers of their weapons.
The Sword Hero was a person of great strength. The Spear Hero was a person holding undying loyalty. The Bow Hero was a person who knew of absolute justice. The Shield Hero was a person that defined the meaning of protection.
"Now that I think about it," Motoyasu said, beginning to snicker, "seriously!? Shield Hero!?"
"W-Why?" Itsuki raised his eyebrow. "W-What's wrong with having a shield?"
"They scale terribly in Emerald Online. Sure, they might start off useful, but by the time you reach endgame, shielders basically become dead weight in a party!"
"Shields? In Dimension Wave, they weren't exactly the strongest weapons, but they definitely came in handy for some boss fights." Itsuki glanced over to Ren. "What about Brave Star Online? I heard that the game has shields in it and it's full virtual reality, isn't it?"
"I don't want any part of Motoyasu's delusions and tangents," Ren sighed, trying to keep his focus on the book. "Now can we return to the topic at hand here?"
Motoyasu winced, whistling in another direction. "You could have been a little less blunt about it, but I guess that's Ren for you."
Naofumi tried to ignore the banter of his friends and kept on flipping through the rest of the pages. There were some parts that he would have preferred to leave out, such as the manipulative princess that tried to entangle herself throughout the affairs of the heroes and evidently caused some of the conflicts between them herself. It just didn't seem so important to the story, only appearing with a few mentions here and there.
Other than that, it was a bit interesting, considering how all four heroes had shared the seat of the protagonist, a plot point that he hasn't seen all too frequently in his novels. He'd wish there were more of these types of stories since many of them simply end up focusing on one of them by the end.
However, when Naofumi flipped over to the next page, he gasped.
He thought something went wrong, if books could ever get errors like computers, because after the whole introductory pages were finished, it became blank. Page after page, Naofumi kept searching, but there weren't any signs of writing throughout the rest of the book.
His friends had been skeptical of the book's legitimacy.
"Is it really empty?" Itsuki asked.
"Well, I think so. I can't find anything else here. It just suddenly ends."
"The story didn't even kick off yet!" Motoyasu pulled back and brought his arms behind his neck. "Well, that was a waste of time."
Naofumi checked the entire book once more after hitting the final page, but there was still nothing new.
Ren, on the other hand, felt a bit relieved if he had to be honest, but his pounding heart wouldn't settle down, so 'relieved' may not have been the right word to describe his emotions. It might have been his head, spiraling slightly into a dizzy state, but he froze when he heard a voice.
"Come and save our lands."
He didn't know who it could have been. The others didn't sound like they heard it.
"Come and save our lands."
The tone of the voice seemed to have been filled with melancholy, but Ren couldn't imagine who it was that could have been talking. It sounded nothing like his friends, but it was already difficult to figure out the mere gender of the speaker.
Ren tried to pay attention to the next potential wave.
He quickly realized that was a mistake.
The feeling that he was trying to describe had been 'dread'.
"Be summoned and save us, Cardinal Heroes!"
A loud screeching sound exploded throughout everyone's ears and they all fell down to the ground, as if gravity was trying to crush them underneath its weight.
"G-Grah! W-What the hell is going on!?"
"I-I don't know, but make it stop! Please!"
"M-My head feels like…! It's going to split…!"
Ren tried to keep himself conscious for as long as he could, but his friends started dropping onto the ground, unable to fight against the pain and mysterious force. He couldn't understand what was happening to them, but he couldn't even start thinking about possibilities. His mind was too distracted by the overbearing, unnatural screams.
It only took a few more seconds for Ren to slowly collapse onto the hardwood floor. His body felt like it was sinking deeper into the surface as if some substance was absorbing even an inch of himself before it sent him into some type of suspended space.
He didn't know what happened.
Trying to still hold on, his memory and his consciousness started to slip away and it eventually gave up entirely. All Ren remembered was how easily his body let go.
Almost like drifting into a dream…