Sorry everyone, for the long absence! The reason it took me so long is that there are going to be TWO chapters today! And here is the first chapter of today's update!

Chapter 37: Preparation, Part 1

EMIYA, Naofumi and everyone stared at the map on the table in front of them.

They had just decided to return to Melromarc. However, making a decision is always easier said than done. Their biggest problem right now is how to return to the country.

Right now, the group was sitting in the living room of a secluded house Mayor Damian Kaur had prepared for them in the suburb of Zeltoble Harbor. The man had deemed it too dangerous for them to stay in his mansion; with the number of people coming in and out of there everyday, there's a high chance that someone would have noticed a bunch of unfamiliar people walking around there. And worse, if they happened to encounter the Sword Hero, the most famous person of Zeltoble at the moment…

"So, we cannot use the normal trade route to return to Melromarc."

EMIYA snorted at the words coming from Naofumi. "You're stating the obvious, Naofumi."

"I don't know about that, actually," Motoyasu raised his voice. "I mean, they're expecting us to return, aren't they? So if we take them by surprise and choose the way they never expect us to choose, there might be a chance we would get into the country safely!"

Naofumi shook his head. "That only works in cheap shounen manga. There's no way they're not going to check everyone in and out of the country carefully before letting them pass."

Motoyasu hesitated. "Well… we can disguise ourselves, right? The Legendary Weapons have a transformation function!"

"Yeah, but what about the others? It's not like they have a super powerful planet-created weapon to hide themselves!"

EMIYA decided to defuse the situation before it escalated further. "Motoyasu's idea has some merit. However, we cannot risk it here. Besides, going back in the normal trade route means we're going to march straight into enemy territory. From what I know…" he traced a line on the map around the area surrounding Mirso Village and the border gate, "…at least this whole area is already under the Church's control. The citizens in Mirso Village seem to believe quite blindly in the indoctrination of the Church from what we have experienced there."

Next to him, Akari nodded in confirmation. Motoyasu had to grudgingly agree, although he still didn't look very happy about it.

"How many troops do they have?" EMIYA looked at Akari. The Shadow girl closed her eyes.

"From our estimation, they have about 50,000 troops."

Motoyasu nearly jumped off the chair he was sitting on. "Fifty - sorry, what?!" he sputtered. "How are we supposed to fight against that big of an army?! It's more than ten times as big as the Wave we've just fought off!"

Naofumi glanced at Motoyasu in annoyance. "Thank you, captain obvious. That's why we're sitting here, talking! We're here to find a way to overcome that, not to cower in fear and shiver in a corner!"

Eclair raised her voice. "That number might be big, but that's just about two-thirds of Melromarc's manpower. The rest is still on our side, and we have Her Majesty, too. If she can return in time to take control of the rest of our military force, we are going to have a big enough army to fight against them. Of course we would need to resort to guerilla tactics, but we can still hold off against them for a long time."

"Th-then, should we just, I don't know, ask Zeltoble to help us?" The Spear Hero said with a hint of hope in his voice. "You know, they have a big army, and they have Captain Fargus here!"

EMIYA's eyes glared dagger at Motoyasu. "Motoyasu. So to you, war is something that you can talk about that casually? Don't you remember what happened during the two World Wars?"

Motoyasu seemed taken aback by the question. "Huh? No! How could something like that even happen…?!"

"Wait," Naofumi suddenly butted in. "You mean, the two World Wars didn't happen in your world?!"

When Motoyasu shook his head mutely, EMIYA sighed. No wonder why Motoyasu treated battles, wars and everything so casually. The Spear Hero came from a world that didn't suffer much from the terror of wars, so it was understandable why he could think of everything as a game so easily and readily.

"Motoyasu. You don't know how terrible wars could be. People die in wars. One country hunting us down is already enough; now you want to pull another country into it?! Not to mention, Zeltoble getting involved is going to pull other countries in the world into the war as well! Thousands, no, scratch that, millions of people will die! Do you think you're able to take responsibility for that?!"

It seemed Motoyasu understood now the weight of the words he had just said. His face went pale as a sheet, and he stopped talking and returned to silence with his head hung again.

"There's something I'm still wondering about," Now it's Welt's time to raise his voice. "I know that the Church holds a lot of power in their hand, and they basically control the country with their indoctrination, but we're talking about Cardinal Heroes here. Not to mention, the Queen and the King are also very powerful; the King is the Seven Star Hero of the Staff, and Her Majesty is well known throughout the world as the most powerful Ice Witch in the history of the continent. What kind of power do they have in their hand that made them so confident the Pope decided to do this before even preparing properly?"

That was also the question that was lingering in EMIYA's head since he arrived at Zeltoble, and he thought he might have had the answer for it. But before he could say anything, Akari already raised her voice.

"It's because they have the Legendary Weapon Replica in their possession."

That name made everyone blink—except for Eclair. The swordswoman suddenly went deathly pale, as if she had just remembered something incredibly terrifying.

"The… Legendary Weapon… Replica?" Naofumi looked at the Shadow in question. Akari nodded.

"It is the result of our ancestor's attempt to copy and harness the power of the four Legendary Weapons. The weapon itself holds the power of all the four Legendary Weapons that you're holding, Sirs Heroes. It might be considered the most powerful man-made weapon that has ever been made in this land in history."

Eclair's eyes bore into the Shadow's eyes. "But wait… Isn't the Church of the Seven Star Heroes in Faubley the one in charge of keeping it safe? How can the Church of the Three Heroes have it now?"

The Shadow girl shook her head. "About half a month ago, the Replica was reported to have been stolen from the Church of the Seven Star Heroes and replaced with a fake. But I don't think who possesses it even matters; not many people know this, but the Church of the Seven Star Heroes is just a front of the Church of the Three Heroes to conduct their shady businesses in Faubley. Ever since they separated from the Sect of the Four Heroes, they have been trying to replace it and take over as the main religion of Faubley, and more or less, they have succeeded in a way. We suspect that even this thievery is just an excuse for them to transport the Replica to Melromarc in order to prepare for the coup."

So that's the weapon he used to murder those two nuns in the cathedral, EMIYA thought. He felt stupid not to try to destroy that thing when he had a chance back then. But to be fair, everything happened too quickly, and it's not like he had time to do anything other than running away.

Then he spoke out the opinion he had been having in his head since he saw the weapon at the cathedral. "But you told me that no attempt to replicate the Legendary Weapons had been successful so far, didn't you? So it might not be that powerful, after all."

Akari nodded. "Indeed. That Replica is not a perfect creation, just as you said, Emiya Shirou-sama. There is no way its power could compare to that of the authentic Legendary Weapons, and the amount of magical energy needed to even swing it once is so massive no one in history has ever been able to use it as a weapon. However, it is still the closest humankind could achieve in replicating the Legendary Weapons. It has free access to all the skills that you have in your arsenal, just like a real Legendary Weapon. Not to mention, the Church has been gathering the magical energy of their followers in this Replica for hundreds of years. That amount of magical energy is more than enough for a competent fighter to overwhelm even a Hero in combat. And if the wielder has a lot of people following him and uses the magical energy from them…"

"All the skills…" Motoyasu bit his lips. "Even… the Curse series…?"

Akari shook his head. "I don't know what exactly it can do, but if what people said about it was true, then we have to assume there is a chance it can use that, too."

Everyone looked at each other. They still couldn't forget how terrifying the Curse Spear in Motoyasu's hand had been during the Wave. If the Church had in their hand something like that…

"Tch…" Naofumi clicked his tongue. "If only we could get past the border, we might be able to go to Reichnott Territory… We might be able to find some help there…"

Everyone followed Naofumi's index finger, which was pointing at a spot on the map. The tiny dot is at the center of a region called "Van Reichnott Territory", which was near Ryute Village, a place that the Heroes were familiar with.

"This is where I worked to fight off an epidemic during the last month when we prepared for the Wave," the Shield Hero said. "If we go here, there's a high chance that they're going to help us. Well, at least higher than other places, I hope. I don't think they're going to sell off the people who literally saved their lives," he added when he saw the faces of the others.

EMIYA looked at Naofumi. The Shield Hero might be the most dependable one among the other Cardinal Heroes, but he was still too naïve sometimes. There are always people in the world who are ready to stab you in the back as soon as they find it convenient, no matter what you did for them before.

"Yes, but the problem is that we cannot get past the border gates," Motoyasu rolled his eyes, and even Naofumi had to agree with that obvious statement.

"How long does it take for the Queen to get back from where she is now?" he looked at Akari.

"About ten days or so," the Shadow answered. "She's on the way back from Siltvelt, but she can't go through the border gate, either; she's taking the route through Ivyred Territory to gather the army there first."

Something lit up in EMIYA's mind. "The Ivyred Territory? This one?" he pointed at a region in the northern part of the map. Akari nodded.

"Yes. This region is under the government of Lord Bernard Ivyred. The family and the territory had been in financial trouble for a while because of their neighbor town, but a month ago, the Bow Hero arrived and killed off the governor of that rival town. Since then, the daughter of the family has been following the Bow Hero as his companion. They are loyal supporters of Her Majesty, and if we conscript troops from there, we don't think that they're going to refuse."

EMIYA pondered. Then he nodded at Akari. "Then please tell the Queen that we're meeting her there. We'll see her in… hm, a week might be enough."

"Oi, Shirou-san, I know that you're the oldest and most experienced among us, but you should have seen that there is no way we can get there, haven't you?" Motoyasu raised his voice. He traced his finger on the border between Melromarc and Zeltoble. "We cannot go through the border gate; everywhere else is mountainous. How are we supposed to cross the border to get there?"

Instead of answering Motoyasu, the ex-Counter Guardian looked at Captain Fargus, who was sitting on the other side of the table. "Capt'. You know more about this country than any of us here. Is there any significant obstacle that we might find on that mountain range?"

The pirate captain sighed. "Other than the fact that the nest of the Griffin King is up there, none. It used to be a connecting route between Melromarc and Zeltoble, until twenty-five years ago, when the Griffin King suddenly appeared out of nowhere and made a base there. Since then, no one could go up there and come down alive."

"And no one bothers going up there and cleaning things up?"

The Axe Hero shrugged. "It hasn't come down and attack any place with people yet. So there's no reason to risk people's lives coming up there to provoke it. If it ever comes down, I'll deal with it. But for now… yeah, it's just up there terrorizing people. No one has ever gone that way for years."

"Then it means there's not gonna be guards on either side to look for us," EMIYA nodded. "We're going to take that route to go back to Melromarc."

Naofumi stared at EMIYA as if he had just grown a second head. "You're gotta be kidding me. You've heard the Captain, right? No one has returned from there for years. There might not even be a road on that mountain now. And now you're saying that we charge headlong into that?"

"Yes," EMIYA said simply. His eyes were firm and confident, and everyone knew that the decision was final; there was no turning back.

The Shadow nodded back. "Understood. I'll deliver your words to Her Majesty. See you in a week, Sirs Heroes."

Then she disappeared in a puff of smoke. Motoyasu stared at where the girl had just been a second ago, intrigued.

"How could she do that all the time? I mean, that disappearing and appearing trick. It's so creepy."

"Ninja magic, or something like that," EMIYA rolled his eyes. "Don't bother thinking about it; we'll never know."

"Shirou-san, get back to the point!" Naofumi snapped. "Why did you decide to do that?! I don't know about you guys, maybe you're strong enough, but if what Captain Fargus said was true, we're in no way prepared for something like that!"

"Then we'll need to get you prepared in two days," the Sword Hero said simply. He stood up from his chair. "Naofumi, has everyone in your team reached level 40 yet?"

Naofumi blinked. "Well, yeah, in the Wave… Actually, Eclair is at level 65, but…"

"Good," EMIYA didn't let him finish. "Then we're going to let your party have their class-ups."

The group stood in front of the Zeltoble's Dragon Hourglass.

"We don't usually hold the class-up service here, but you're the special case, since Brother Sword here personally recommended you," Captain Fargus looked at Naofumi with a cheeky smirk. "Of course it's not going to be for free; we expect you to join us in the next Wave that's going to attack Zeltoble, kid. But considering how powerful that Hydra was in the most recent Wave, you'd have to work much harder, I say."

Naofumi glanced at the corner of his vision, where the new countdown clock had just appeared when he registered himself to the Hourglass. "Yeah, sure, whatever. There're still five months left to think about it, anyway."

"So… what should I do now? Just stand there and put my hands on the Hourglass?" Raphtalia asked. She was the one who volunteered to get the first class-up, and right now she was standing on the pedestal obliviously, not knowing what she was supposed to do. Eclair, the only person in Naofumi's team who had experience with classing-up before, answered her.

"Yeah. When you do that, a screen would pop up in front of you, and from there, you choose the class that you want to have. You will receive a considerable boost in power based on the class that you choose."

Hearing that, Raphtalia didn't ask anything else. She glanced back at the Hourglass in front of her, then closed her eyes before placing her hands on the object. The Hourglass started glowing, and a pop-up screen appeared in front of Naofumi instead of her.


"Ah, if you're with a party, the leader of the party is going to decide whether it's him or you who would choose the class," EMIYA added helpfully. The Shield Hero nodded, and without hesitation, he passed the choosing right to Raphtalia with a smile.

"You know yourself the best, Raphtalia! Choose whatever you think would fit you the most!"

Raphtalia smiled back at him. Then, the raccoon girl's eyebrows scrunched up, and she made some waving movements in the air in front of her. Her body started glowing brightly in a golden light, and when it died down…

"Swordmaster, huh…"

Her stats had indeed changed drastically. Her defensive stats had been reduced by a third, but her speed, agility, reaction speed and attack power had been doubled. If trained right, she wouldn't even need to defend, because no one would be able to even touch her.

"I'm Naofumi-sama's sword," she smiled. "That's what I will be, and will forever be."

"Mama is so strong now!" Konoha cheered enthusiastically. She jumped onto the ritual pedestal. "I want to be strong like Mama, too!"

"Me too!" Sakura and Himawari also cheered, and the two girls also jumped onto the pedestal following their sister. Raphtalia sighed and grabbed the collar of the two girls, pulling them back.

"One at a time, girls. Konoha, how about you go next?"

The green-haired girl cheered and placed her hands on the Hourglass. The object glowed brightly again as it bestowed the girl her new class, Brawler, which boosted her attack, defense and speed.

Not a bad choice, EMIYA thought as the filolial queen sisters got their class-ups one by one into classes which focused more on close combat. The girls of Naofumi's team might not be professional fighters, but they knew their strengths and weaknesses well.

Finally, it's Keel's turn to class-up. The dog girl gulped nervously as she arrived in front of the Hourglass, and glanced back at Naofumi. He nodded encouragingly.

"Choose whatever you want, Keel, don't worry!"

Hearing those words, Keel's confidence got bolstered up a little bit. She nodded back and placed her hands on the Hourglass, and the object started glowing just like before.

Then suddenly she threw her head back and let out a gasp. She staggered back as the light faded from the Hourglass, tripping on the staircases and started falling backward.

"Keel!" Everyone yelled and rushed forward, but the first person who arrived was, surprisingly, Welt. The young man deftly caught her before she fell on the ground, and looked at her in concern.

"Are you okay, Keel-san?"

Keel smiled weakly. "I'm fine, I'm fine! It's just… when it happened, I felt something weird in my chest… I was just surprised, that's all…"

EMIYA turned toward Naofumi. "Did the class-up fail or something?"

The Shield Hero shook his head, he was surprised, too. "No, she got the new class, Heavy Knight. Except for the fact that she got a big boost in attack and defense power, I don't see anything different from the others."

"Sometimes the person who gets classed up can feel a bit dizzy from the sudden growth in their abilities, especially if they were pretty weak before," Captain Fargus explained. "The lass' gonna be fine; if anything, it shows that she's gonna become much stronger in the future."

Hearing that, Keel beamed in relief and pride.

"All right," Naofumi nodded. "Now that we have finished your class-ups, it's time for-"

"No, not yet."

The Shield Hero turned toward EMIYA, who had just stopped everyone from leaving. "What gives?"

Instead of answering, the Sword Hero turned toward Fohl, Wyndia and Yuki. "I think it's time for you three to class-up, too, isn't it?"

The other members of the team blinked. They had completely forgotten that Fohl, Yuki and Wyndia hadn't had their class-ups. They reached the level cap during the Third Melromarc Wave, but didn't have the time to go for a class-up yet. And nonetheless, EMIYA didn't think that the Church would allow a monster and two demis to class up there, anyway. Not having their class-up had handicapped them quite severely during the Wave; Fohl, being a hakuko, had a level cap higher than the others, but the boy grew so quickly during the Wave that he had reached the level 60 cap faster than EMIYA had thought. And Wyndia, powerful as she already was, could have become much, much stronger if she had had her level uncapped before the Wave.

Fohl looked thrilled about the idea of getting stronger. Wyndia was impassive as usual, but she didn't seem to be against the idea. However, Yuki seemed unsure about this. Her face right now was full of doubt, fear and sadness. And EMIYA understood why. He scooped her up and rubbed her head gently.

"You're still afraid, aren't you, Yuki?"

The little kitsune nodded timidly. The Sword Hero sighed and looked straight into her eyes.

"Listen, Yuki. I don't want to force you. But what we're going to do is going to be very dangerous. It's a matter of life and death. Even I cannot be sure that I can be there to protect you all the time. You need to become more powerful; we have no other choice. Do you understand me, Yuki?"

The little kitsune just whimpered. EMIYA sighed again.

"Then I have to leave you here with Captain Fargus for a while," he said gently. "After we finish with our job, we'll come back to get you, understand?"

Suddenly Yuki burst into tears. She buried her face into her father's hair in a desperate hug and screamed out. "No! Papa, please don't leave Yuki! Yuki will be good! Please don't leave Yuki…!"

EMIYA knew immediately that he had just said the wrong thing. He frantically patted the little girl's back in an attempt to soothe her down. "Hey, hey, Yuki, look at me. Look at me. Look, Papa isn't going to leave you, okay? Calm down, calm down, there, there…"

The little kitsune sniffled, but after a few seconds, she managed to calm herself down. EMIYA gently put her down on the ground and looked into her bright blue eyes.

"Listen, Yuki, Papa doesn't want to force you. But that power inside you… it's like a ticking time bomb which only waits to explode any time you lose yourself. But it is yours, not anyone else. Yuki herself needs to become strong enough to be able to take hold of it and rein it down fully. For the sake of everyone. That is something only Yuki can do. You cannot run away from it forever. And everyone is putting their hope on you, isn't it? You don't want to make them sad, do you, Yuki?"

She whimpered in response. EMIYA gently rubbed her cheek with his hand.

"Hey, we already said that we would face it together if something bad happened, didn't we? Don't fear your power. I believe you can do it. Papa and everyone is going to be here to help you. Okay?"

Even with those words, Yuki still wasn't that convinced.

Even though she was actually a monster, she was just a child, a baby, in fact. She didn't understand why they had to fight, why people needed to hurt each other like this.

Why did she have to fight? Why did she even have this kind of power? She's scared of it. What good could it bring if it was only for hurting others, hurting the people that she loved?

Seeing her reaction, Wyndia decided to raise her voice. "Just leave her alone for a while, will you? If she doesn't want it, forcing her is not going to do anything good."

Then she walked toward the pedestal without waiting for EMIYA to answer.

EMIYA sighed and stood up. He rubbed Yuki's head once more with a smile. "Okay, if you don't want to, I'm not gonna force you. Don't worry about it, 'kay? Papa always loves you. We're going to protect you, no matter what happens."

Wyndia closed her eyes. She walked up the pedestal and silently placed her hands on the cold glass surface. And for some reason, EMIYA knew what she was going to choose even before she picked her choice.

"Sage, huh…"

The girl stepped down the pedestal and glared at him. "Any problem with that?"

The Sword Hero shrugged with a smirk. "If I thought there were any problem, I wouldn't have let you choose in the first place. You're just too easy to read, that's all."

The glared intensified. "Jerk."

EMIYA had learned that in this world, a sage doesn't only mean a master of magic. They are also the title of people striving to reach harmony with nature. It was clear why Wyndia chose that class; she wanted to follow her foster father's footsteps, becoming a person who could masterfully harness the power of the Dragon Veins.

Now it's Fohl's turn. The hakuko boy enthusiastically jumped onto the pedestal. The Hourglass glowed brightly again as it bestowed him his new class, Martial Artist. The boy flexed his arms with an expression combined from surprise and thrill.

"How do you feel, Fohl?"

The boy answered his master by pumping his fist into the air. "I feel great, Master! Awesome, in fact! It feels like I can take on an army now, even! Now I'll be able to protect Atla and everyone even more!"

"Don't be arrogant," EMIYA scolded him. "I've taught you many times never to say something like that, haven't I?"

"Even so!" The enthusiasm on the boy's face didn't fade. "This is the first step in becoming stronger! Even if I can't do much by now, this is still what I need to protect everyone! I'm still going to do my best to become even stronger than this!"

Yuki's eyes followed her older 'siblings'. A feeling of shame and regret suddenly bubbled up inside her. Everyone else was trying their best to become stronger, to protect the world, and yet she's here, afraid, trying whatever excuse she could find to avoid it…

EMIYA nodded. "All right, now that we've done with everything, let's—"

"Papa! Yuki will do it!"

Everyone turned their heads at the sudden outburst coming from Yuki. Gone was the fearful and timid expression that had been on her face; right now, there was only a firm determination. EMIYA started. "Yuki, think about it carefully first. You don't have to force yourself—"

The kitsune shook her head. The light of determination stayed firm in her eyes. And that expression alone was more than enough by itself for the Sword Hero to understand what his 'daughter' wanted to say. He knew for a fact that this determination was genuine, without even having to say a word. He nodded and stepped aside, leaving the way for the girl to walk to the Hourglass. Her shoulders were still trembling, but she took each step with a grim confidence and determination, as if she were walking into a battle.

She reached the Hourglass and placed her hands on the glass surface.

And when it started, EMIYA immediately realized that there was something wrong. A blinding flash of light burst out from Yuki's body as a gust of energy exploded and lifted her up from the ground.

"Yuki!" he yelled and rushed forward, but the intense-energy typhoon swirling around the kitsune immediately pushed him back.

"What the…?!" he heard Captain Fargus behind him. "A class-up ceremony isn't supposed to be like this! What's happening?!"

Goddamnit… What the hell is going on?!

The light got brighter and brighter, blinding everyone in the chamber. And then, it abruptly stopped, and the energy tornado also fade away, leaving Yuki on the floor. The girl didn't look hurt at all; if anything, she was more confused, instead. She was just staring at everyone with her innocent eyes.

Everyone rushed toward Yuki. "Are you alright, Yuki? Are you hurt?" EMIYA grabbed the kitsune's shoulders while checking her body up and down.

The little girl shook her head. "It feels really warm and nice, Papa! But…" she suddenly lowered her head. "Yuki didn't get to choose the class…"

Everyone blinked at the sudden information the girl had just given them. "What? How?"

Yuki shook her head, her eyes drooped. "A completely different choice popped up… and selected itself… when Yuki tried to choose… Yuki's sorry, Papa…"

EMIYA hastily opened Yuki's status screen. And he was startled when he saw the result.

All of Yuki's stats had nearly tripled. Not one or two, but ALL of them. And the class she got was named Kitsune Princess.

"Wow," Eclair noted when she heard the Sword Hero. "Normally a 50% increase of one stat would be considered good, but ALL stats at once, and even tripling? This is really unheard of."

"I heard that sometimes outer interference can affect the result of a class-up," said Captain Fargus. "Do you happen to have anything in your hand that was blessed by gods or anything?"

EMIYA shook his head. "No… unless we consider this a blessed item from a god," he pulled out Gaelion's horn from his inventory. The object gleamed in the red sunlight of dusk in his hand.

"And she received that filolial lady's blessing before, too, right?" Tersia reminded him.

Everyone turned toward Yuki. EMIYA patted her head in concern. "How do you feel, Yuki?"

"Yuki feels really good, Papa!" the little kitsune beamed brightly. "Yuki was scared at first, but then it felt so nice and Yuki wasn't scared anymore! Yuki feels really strong now!"

One of her six tails reached up and rubbed the Sword Hero's cheek.

Wait. Six?

Yes. He wasn't seeing wrong. Poking out of the kitsune's butt and was swishing happily in the air at the moment was now six elegant bushy tails covered in smooth, white fur instead of three like before.

So she evolved from a mikon into a rokon, huh…

"So what are we going to do now?"

Naofumi asked as they walked out of the Hourglass Hall.

EMIYA pondered. Now that the Shield Hero's party had had their class-ups, they're going to need to have a massive boost in power for them if they wanted to have a chance. Also, the newly classed-up fighters needed some battle experience to get used to their new boosts in stats and the new skills that they received. However, what they were lacking right now was time. They couldn't afford to stay here for too long; sooner or later the Church was going to smell them out, and if they couldn't leave before they did, a world war was bound to happen.

There's only one way…

"Capt'. Is there any place nearby where there are a lot of dangerous monsters that need to be exterminated, right now?"

Naofumi understood immediately what the Sword Hero was implying. "Power leveling?"

Not only the Shield Hero, but the others also understood what the Sword Hero was planning. EMIYA nodded.

"Not planning to be mean, Naofumi, but at the moment your party is the weakest in terms of stats. We need to get you all power up quickly, so that is the most efficient way I can think about."

Captain Fargus nodded. "There is an island off the coast which is infested with some kind of giant bug monsters. We've been looking for someone to clean it up for a while."

"Then can I ask you to take Naofumi's party together with Wyndia, Fohl and Yuki out there?" EMIYA looked at the pirate captain. "Tomorrow morning."

"Sure," the Axe Hero nodded.

Motoyasu raised his voice enthusiastically. "I want to go, too!"

EMIYA shook his head. "No, you're not. You do know that Cardinal Heroes won't get EXP from battles if they're too close together, don't you? If you also go there, Naofumi isn't going to get any experience."

The Spear Hero looked downcast. "Then… what should I do…?"

"You're staying here," EMIYA looked straight into Motoyasu's eyes. "Tomorrow, you're going to train with me."

The three oldest members of Team EMIYA started snickering. "Oh, this is gonna be good…" Tersia whispered.

"All right," the Sword Hero nodded. "Time to go get some new weapons next."

Refia the blacksmith grinned when the group of Heroes pushed the entrance door of her shop open. "Now that is a surprise."

EMIYA walked into the shop. He placed a big bag of money on the counter in front of the blacksmith.

"Hi, Refia. We need every single sword, spear and shield that you have in stock, please."

Even with all the new weapons he had gotten since he arrived in this world, EMIYA had never been neglecting his task of upgrading his arsenal with weapons stored in Unlimited Blade Works. And just as usual, he got up at 4 in the morning and tiptoed to a secluded corner of the garden, where he Projected multiple swords and started letting the Legendary Sword copy them.

The copied weapons disappeared into grains of aether, and EMIYA let out a breath before opening the weapon list of the Legendary Sword.

He clicked his tongue. Right now he was at level 78, meaning that he had been able to unlock a lot of good weapons recorded in the Sword's database. Some of the more famous swords in human history, such as the indestructible Sword of Goujian, the holy sword Almace of Archbishop Turpin of France, the unstoppable golden sword Chrysaor of Sir Artegall, were available to him now, but they would need a lot of tempering and upgrading before he could master them. However, he was still two level short of unlocking his signature married swords, Kanshou and Bakuya. The married swords, created by the blacksmith Gan Jiang of the Spring and Autumn Period, a blacksmith who could be said to be on par with even legendary blacksmiths like Senji Muramasa and Goro Masamune, are weapons that had reached the realm of the Gods, and what people would consider the ultimate monster-slaying weapons which could cut down even the Gorgon form of Medusa, known as the Queen of Magical Beasts, in a single strike. They would help a lot if they were to fight the Griffin King, if it were actually as dangerous as Captain Fargus had mentioned.


He turned back, and saw Naofumi walking toward him, and strangely, with Motoyasu next to him.

"You're early," he noted. "So eager to depart, hm?"

Naofumi's face was full of seriousness. "Shirou-san, Motoyasu. I think I found the way to counter the effect of the Curse weapons."

That sentence alone startled both Heroes. "Are you sure about that?!" asked EMIYA urgently. Naofumi nodded, then turned to Motoyasu; the Legendary Shield on his forearm transformed into the Shield of the Round Table.

"I'm just speculating; that's why I need you to help me here, Shirou-san. Motoyasu! Use your Curse Spear and try attacking me!"

Motoyasu looked at Naofumi with a bewildered expression. "Are you fucking nuts?! I'm not going to touch that spear ever again!"

Naofumi glared back at him in exasperation. "For fuck's sake, Motoyasu! We don't have time for this!"

"Wait," EMIYA raised his hand to stop Naofumi and Motoyasu. "Explain, Naofumi. What exactly is the way to counter the Curse weapons that you found?"

Naofumi raised the Shield of the Round Table in his hand. "Here. It's this shield. Its description says that it has the abilities Curse Immunity and Curse Nullification at max. It's supposed to be able to stop curses… I just don't know if it were strong enough to overpower the Curse Spear or not, though."

"And you want to make me your lab rat?!" Motoyasu stared at Naofumi in disbelief. "What if something goes wrong and everything goes out of control?!"

"That's why we need Shirou-san here!" Naofumi pointed at EMIYA. "If anything happens, he's going to do something! Stop you from killing everyone and sucking up their souls, I guess."

Motoyasu exploded in rage. "So you don't care what the hell might happen to me?!"

"Hey, hey, hey!" EMIYA decided to butt in before things escalated further. "You can't say it like that, Naofumi. Whether you want it or not, Motoyasu is on our side now. We need more allies, not enemies. You can't keep antagonizing him like that."

Naofumi didn't say anything back. He just looked away with a huff. EMIYA turned back to Motoyasu.

"But what Naofumi said has some merit, actually. I know what that shield can do, and there might be a chance that it can actually stop the Curse weapons just like he said. It's worth a try, Motoyasu."

Motoyasu looked at EMIYA worriedly. "What if it goes out of control?"

"Then I'm going to stop you before things get escalated too far," EMIYA said simply. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna kill you or anything, but I have my way. Trust me."

Technically, he didn't lie. In Unlimited Blade Works, there are weapons with the power to break magic; Rule Breaker is just one example. Curses are mostly dark magic, so weapons that are effective against magic would naturally be very effective against them… well, most of them. He decided not to say it out loud, however; it would definitely freak Motoyasu out if he knew he'd be stabbed by a sword if something went wrong.

And of course, Motoyasu wasn't that convinced by that answer. However, he just glanced at EMIYA with a bit of suspicion in his eyes. But then, he sighed.

"Whatever. If you say so. But… just… once, okay? I… I don't know if… if I would be able to handle it…"

EMIYA nodded. He walked behind Naofumi, who raised the Shield of the Round Table in front of both of them, ready to defend.

"All right, Motoyasu, we're ready."

Motoyasu took a deep breath. He raised the Legendary Spear in front of him, and Naofumi tensed up, expecting what was to come.

The Spear twisted, and took the form of the Spear of Despair.

Immediately, the temperature around the three Heroes went freezing cold. It was just like before; EMIYA felt his own breath catch in his chest, and the cold went through his skin, into his chest, into his heart, and the terrible visions from before appeared in front of him again. However, this time the curse didn't feel as terrifying as before. The strange pulling sensation he had felt before was still there, but this time it felt just like a light tug on his magical energy instead of his soul being pulled out of his body. And the visions of terror were just like from a movie being played in slow motion in front of him; he could still see Motoyasu on the other side, whose face was twisting in a mixture of agony and despair. He was clutching the shaft of the Spear with both hands, and his eyes, to EMIYA's horror, completely lacked irises now.

"Motoyasu!" he called out. "Are you okay?!"

Motoyasu let out a roar. Then he leapt at the two Heroes, the head of the Spear of Despair lashed out, aiming for Naofumi.

But the Spear could never touch the Shield Hero. With a deft movement, Naofumi put the Shield of the Round Table in front of him, between himself and Motoyasu. And the tip of the Spear clashed against the Shield.

And the most extraordinary reaction happened. As the tip of the Spear touched the Shield's surface, a burst of light exploded at the point of contact, and the dark miasma surrounding Motoyasu was violently dissipated, throwing Motoyasu backward to the ground with a loud "BANG". Even more than that, the Spear of Despair in Motoyasu's hands looked like it was forced back into a normal spear.

"Holy shit…" Motoyasu, lying on the ground, could only utter in awe.

EMIYA walked up and offered him a hand. "Are you okay, Motoyasu?"

The Spear Hero grabbed the hand and stood up. "Y-yeah… Somehow I feel very… light. It isn't like when I used the Spear of Despair before… It's just like… the curse is somehow… released from my body. Disappear completely. Just like that."

"So it's just like I thought," Naofumi exclaimed victoriously. "The Shield of the Round Table has the power to negate the effects of curses. We're going to have a big advantage against enemies using curses from now on. The Church… or even that woman Glass if she really were a Hero like Shirou-san suspected."

"Where did you get it, though?" Motoyasu looked at Naofumi. "Having something like that so conveniently when we're in need of it feels kinda… cheating, I say."

Naofumi glared at the Spear Hero. But before he could open his mouth to protest…


The deafening shriek startled the three Heroes. EMIYA and Naofumi looked at each other in horror; they realized immediately who that voice belonged to.


Abandoning everything they were doing, the three rushed back into the house, up the staircase leading to the second floor, where the girls were settling in. And their stomachs did a simultaneous backflip when the door leading into Keel and Raphtalia's room was wide open, and Welt was lying there, unconscious.

"Keel! What the hell is… going… on…?"

The words trailed off from Naofumi's mouth when he realized what was happening in the room.

Raphtalia was sitting on the bed with a bewildered expression on her face. She was staring at the person next to her with eyes full of shock, horror and… envy?

And Keel…

Wait a second…

Sitting on the bed right now was definitely Keel, based on her face, her hair and the dog ears coming out on the top of her head. But at the same time, she didn't look anything like Keel at all. Instead of the boyish thirteen-year-old midget everyone was familiar with, the girl was now at least as tall as Raphtalia. Her gray hair had now reached her waist, and the rough skin of her face was softened and smoothened, decorating a now unmistakably feminine face of a seventeen-year-old girl. And due to her new sizes, the clothes she had been wearing, which looked utterly skimpy now, couldn't do anything but showing off all the new curves of her body, including the new pair of at least E-cup breasts on her chest, which were straining hard against the fabric of her now very tiny tunic, threatening to rip it apart.

In short, the boyish midget had completely transformed into a drop-dead gorgeous young lady.

"What the hell is happening to meeeeee?!" she wailed in despair. "How am I supposed to fight like this?!"

"So… that's what they call it, isn't it?" Naofumi said in a strained voice. "A late-bloomer?"

"So things like this don't just happen in anime, huh," Motoyasu noted as he poked Welt on the ground, who was still unconscious with his face bright red and two streams of blood pouring out of his nose.

EMIYA facepalmed. "Well, at least there's no denying that she is a girl now…"