Some Gifts for the Shield Hero

Chapter Fourteen – The Calamity Cometh, part two

The interloper had appeared. She could feel it in her bones.

The Scowl on Princess Malty's face would make lesser men weep in fear. It was only luck that none of the heroes or their party members spotted her heinous expression. The horde was still pouring from the gap in the sky, and with the ever increasing number it meant the job was still not done.

And she knew it was all Naofumi's fault.

Thanks to the Goddess, She could detect the interloper. Once again interfering. A fly buzzing on the edge of her senses.

The Goddess' pets had their scent, had them surrounded. It would only be a little bit longer before the two of them would be ripped apart.

Then the buzzing became a roar, a scream of rage and pain repeated by thousands of voices at once.

and then silence.

The Goddess' pets were silent, her ears deafened, her eyes blinded.

The fallen princess felt faint, sickened, and was kept upright only by force of will.

Motoyasu saw his savior sway and was at her side at once.

"It's alright." he told her, but she wasn't listening. "It's alright, I'm here for you." he repeated.

"No." She croaked, bile rising, "Nothing is going to be right. This is all wrong. She needs to come and fix this right now!"

They assumed Malty was talking about her mother.

In a way, they were right.

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They floated around the air like leaves falling during the seasonal change. A dozen leaves in the wind, shining silver and twinkling as they reflected any light around them.

They were all coated with blood and bug juices.

Tribute given by the horde that attempted to harm their master.

Naofumi watched as the freely floating knives twisted and twitched mid-air, slicing and dicing the various dead that approached. The horde that had been overrunning him and Raphtalia had been halted by a dozen flimsy looking knives. Naofumi was considering crying from relief, if not the weirdness of it all.

The Desk-guy, now named Allan didn't bother giving the butchery behind him a passing glance. "Are you alright?" he asked, with a genuine concern, "You're looking kinda pale."

"What are you doing here?" Naofumi managed to ask.

Allan looked almost sheepish, scratching at his chin. His features were blurring somehow, getting harder to look at. "So, it turns out that you getting an advantage so early on has had some… unfortunate consequences."

Naofumi was tempted to throttle him. He'd die in the attempt, probably with those knives, but it was so tempting. "What do you mean?" the hero asked bitterly.

"Want the long version or the short version?" Allan was blithe, polite and uncaring. His features were coming back into focus.

"Short version." The Shield Hero growled, looking at his savior was giving him a headache. Looking at him was like looking at a autostereogram on steroids.

"T.L;D.R. it is then." Allan clapped his hands, and was all smiles. "Your original maker was intending for you to get to the end of your story, fight a god and you were never meant to win. Some half-cocked excuse about good not always winning."

Naofumi's expression was less than pleased. "What?"

"Yeah," Allan ignored Naofumi's disbelief, "most of those who learned of your tale were not pleased either, so they pressured your first maker into giving you a hollow and cheap happy ending."

Naofumi's expression was getting darker, "What?"

Allan just kept going. "So, this iteration… one of somewhere around... I wanna say fifty to one-hundred or so different multiverses at the time it started… was made. Our Makers re-created this existence, the scenario in it and started the whole thing all over again. But this time, they decided to boost you because they hated how you got the shaft in the first run. But that end-of-the-world boss bitch from the end caught on that she's stuck in the same path of defeat and she's decided to throw a childish fit and take you down before you become a pain in her ass."

Allan could see Mount Naofumi seconds from eruption. "Any questions?" he asked, politely.

"WHAT?" Naofumi exploded. "You're telling me that I was supposed to get the Ardyn Izunia treatment, then I'm only saved from it at the whims of some sort of super-gods, who got bored and hit the reset button for their amusement, and now the end game boss is here to kill me so she doesn't die again?"

"I think that covers it, yes." Allan said with a childish nod.

"Fuckin'… what the fuckin' fuck… who the fuck… fuck this fuckin'… how did you fuckin' fucks… fuck!" Naofumi was bellowing at the end.

"Well, that certainly illustrates the diversity of the word." Allan sassed.

"Is this really the time for jokes?"

Allan shrugged. "I'm wasting time until the mother of bitchiness shows up. I thought you would appreciate the support." He nodded not to subtly to the still dancing blades, each one still slicing away at the still oncoming horde that were just as ineffective as ever.

"Mother of Bitchiness?" the hero questioned.

"You might know one of her fragments." The psudonatural being pointed out, "I think she's called Malty in this world."

"Wait? You mean the bitchy princess is a part of the final boss?" Naofumi asked.

Allan frowned, "You know, I'm rather worried about how slow you must be naturally if the Ring of Epic Wisdom only boosts you this much."

"Hey!"

"Just to point out, you are repeating what I say as a question."

"That doesn't mean I'm stupid." Naofumi protested.

"No, it means it takes you longer than it should to catch on." The outsider countered.

"It's called clarification!" the Shield Hero argued.

"You really want to argue semantics while a horde of monsters is trying to overwhelm us?" Allan asked. Behind them, the horde was still walking into the dancing blades, and still being cut into rotten Sashimi.

Naofumi glared, "Says the one making jokes!"

"Are you always this hostile or is this a special occasion?" the other-world traveler quipped.

"I'm just a little stressed out!" Naofumi pointed out, yelling, "Ya'know the whole 'Wave of Catastrophe' around us, the chosen hero crap, and pissed off goddess after me is just a little too much for most people!"

"Fair enough." Allan's form rippled slightly, just enough to be spotted, "I suppose a horde of the undead would be enough alone to unnerve most people. I suspect that your little girlfriend is having a heck of a time helping the village folk."

Naofumi paled, "Raph…"

"You did giver her the Ring of Weaponbreaking right?" Allan questioned.

"Yes?"

"Oh, good. Nothing to worry about!"

"Nothing to worry about?!" Naofumi raged, "She is on her own against these things!"

"Look, if I had to scale it, even armed the most damage one of these creatures could do is a twelve. That ring stops anything short of a fifteen on that scale from being more than a tickle. She will be fine. Besides, judging from your lack of other rings I'm guessing she has the rapid healing ring too?"

"Yes, but how did you-"

"I can see magic, kid." Allan cut him off, "Most spellcasters get it as a standard helper on their first quest. To use my stupidly made up damage scale, the ring heals at the rate of three points of damage every six seconds. Even if something managed to cut past the weaponbreaker's magics, the rapid healing would patch her up."

Naofumi's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Wait a minute. Are you another god or something?" the hero questioned, " and that's how you know all of this?"

"Nope," Allan said cheerfully, without a trace of a lie. "I'm just a simple innkeeper."

"WHAT?" Naofumi verbally flipped the table, "How does that make any sense?!"

Allan gave him an amused glance over the rim of his still present glasses, "Do you really want my backstory or would you rather help your furry-girlfriend from getting overwhelmed?"

Proper boyfriend rules dictated Naofumi give the correct answer, even if the lady wasn't around. "I want to help Raphtalia of course!"

"Good," Allan pulled out a pair of awkwardly shaped daggers from somewhere, and pushed them into Naofumi's hands.

"What are these?" Naofumi glanced at the blades. They curved forwards, had an almost axe-like head, and had silvery decorations around the handle. They made Naofumi's long dormant nerd senses tingle. "These look familiar..."

Allan was as mildly nonplussed as ever. "Huh, thought you were more of a Final Fantasy fan. You did reference fifteen's villain after all."

Naofumi looked at the weapons, trying to recall why there were so familiar, "So wait… these are..."

"The matching Kukri of one Nyx Ulric, yes."

"How?" Naofumi's expression defined confusion.

"My makers decided it wasn't fair if the only thing you ever gave your girl was a ring."

"That is not what I meant and you know it!" Naofumi accused.

Allan rolled his shoulders, and made a show of cracking his neck. His body blurring and rippling again, before settling back into the bookkeeper's form. "Kid, you're a character in a book, who got sucked into another book now inside someone else's altered copy of the script." Allan's newly reformed face was looking at him in a disappointed sort of way. "Every story ever told has a maker, and in this case our makers are taking materials from dozens of different worlds to help you, including their own original works. Stop questioning, be thankful, and lets go save your girl and stop a goddess mid-tantrum."

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Raphtalia wasn't just being protected by the Ring of Weaponbreaking. It took a well researched mind to know exactly how the ring granted its daunting defensive powers. For simplicity sake; it gave living flesh the properties of steel.

Which was why the cunning lass was using her body as a weapon.

Holy powers weren't the only weakness of the undead. After that it was usually blunt force trauma. You can cut a corpse all you want, but as long as the bones remained intact, the living dead would persist in shambling after you. Crush the skull and snap the limbs, and it's no longer a threat.

Which was why Raph, being the clever girl she was wasn't just slicing with her axe or sword. She was punching, kicking and relishing in every foe she took down. Jumping off walls to strike at the dozens of wasp in the air, or leaping from rooftops to slay the undead like an assassin. The village had been evacuated quickly, and the token defenders sent to escort those fleeing for the hopeful safety of the woods or the mines. Unburdened by the need to defend everyone, Raphtalia had been left to survive on the strength of her equipment and wits.

"Predator's Instinct!"

Her skill-set helped too.

Raphtalia's technique used her beast-blood's already beyond human senses to grant her awareness of the enemies around her. From there she let her instincts take hold. She scrambled over rooftops, hopped into broken homes from the window, or snuck around building using the shadows as her camouflage. They were the prey and she was the hunter.

She crossed a small garden yard, leapt to the top of a two story home, before dropping to small alleyway beside it. The gentle wind in her hair told her of the first enemy, charging in the air from behind. Another of the demon-like hornets. She ducked low, her right arm lashing out with a cleaving strike from her hatchet.

A ragged stumble at the corner of her vision was all she needed to spot another zombie lurching toward her, and her body twisted in place. A foot caught the dead man in the temple and her level forty given strength turned the skull to pulp.

Off balance, she used her hands to push off the ground and mule kick another pair of the shambling corpses, the blows hitting both in the chest and sending them into another dozen of their kin.

Space gained, she swapped equipment. Changing out the hatchet and short sword for the pair of knives in her sleeves. The pair of blades were flipped into a reverse grip, edges in. Ready to face the remaining six in her way. "Come-on you thots! Come get some!"

She really should have left the taunting to Naofumi.

The six ghouls were slain just as quickly as the rest. Their defenses no match for Raphtalia's over-leveled dexterity. Raphtalia paused her persuit at the alley's end, being careful to look before leaping out. The village wasn't as overwhelmed as she had been at Naofumi's side. The undead were still charging in by the dozens, but it wasn't the hundreds that had been charging after the Shield Hero. The revelation was not a pleasant one.

Further revelations were interrupted by another large zombie, recently reanimated, and carrying a massive two-headed axe. The now rotting bastard lifted the over-sized weapon with a single rotting arm, and slammed it down with a force that would cleave a lesser man in half. As it was, the blow was no threat to a stressed out Tanuki girl. With a gesture she had watched Naofumi practice dozens of times, she backhanded the weapon mid-decent with her chain covered right arm. The follow up counter drove the knife in her off hand into the off balance zombie's skull with enough force to bust the crown.

Raphtalia blinked, "Huh. Naofumi was right. That does work." She gave a tug expecting the knife to pull free, only to find the blade still stuck in. Likely pinched by some bone. Raphtalia took a moment to thank her handy knife, "Erhard is probably going to be upset I left a knife buried in a rotting skull." She thought with a sigh.

The moment the handle was released, she pulled her dagger from the small of her back. Already turning to cleave another skull, or cut down another bothersome wasp. The number of the monsters in the village was slimmer, despite the number pouring in from the gap. "It's almost like they're coordinated." Raphtalia thought,"Going straight for the heroes, instead of just spreading out."

Her skill enhanced senses were still still picking hearing human voices at the edge of her hearing. A few of the villagers were still trapped by the horde, or the damage it had done. The chasm in the sky was still dropping down monsters at an unceasing rate. Feeling the boost of her skill beginning to fade, Raphtalia abandoned her spot on the street, climbing a wall to the rooftops for a moment of rest.

Naofumi's stamina was seemingly limitless, but Raphtalia could feel the creeping exhaustion coming ever closer.

Concealed behind a crumbling wall, Raphtalia allowed her guard to drop just a little as she slid down her cover. The wails of the damned were everywhere, the buzzing of the devil wasps was incessant, and every once and a while some poor victim would scream their last as they were caught.

And here she was, one lone girl trying to hold back the end of the world from a backwater village.

"Naofumi," She whispered, "I really need some help..."

The shuffling thuds of more of the dead were getting louder.

Closer.

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The princess among them had been acting weird for a while, and both Ren and Itsuki noticed.

First she had been scowling, frowning, or just looking angry.

Then she had turned sick.

Now she was in a mix of frenzy and panic.

When they first started fighting, she had been keen to sit back and let others do the dirty work for her. Occasionally tossing out a blast of wind or a fireball when something got to close to her. Now she was throwing about great gusts of wind and flinging flames from her hands hot enough to slag the broken armor on her undead targets.

"It's all his fault! He's done this somehow. He needs to be punished!" she muttered to herself, growling the words like a wounded animal.

Motoyasu was at her side persistently now, only taking a step away if she was about to cast a spell or to stab the occasional surviving zombie that strayed to close. The entire time, agreeing with her like the sycophant he was. "Don't worry princess," he cooed, "Naofumi will get what he deserves."

Neither the Sword nor the Bow heroes were sure what sickened them worse. At this point their companion's behavior and the smell of the dead were both equally disgusting.

"Ren, maybe we should retreat." Itsuki was looking back at their various party members. "I don't think we can keep this up for much longer."

"Not an option." the sword hero disagreed. "We've been surrounded for some time. We still need to meet with Naofumi, and go from there."

"But what if he's..."

"His defense is magnitudes higher than us. We might be faster, or stronger. But He's gonna outlast us. For all we know, he's set up a barricade or something."

"Still..." Itsuki almost choked on the words. "I don't think I can do this for much longer."

Ren didn't answer. He took a moment to watch as their party pushed against the horde, and saw as they made no progress.

The woods around them were either blown over, or lit ablaze. The sky above them was still leaking monsters. Everyone had been fighting for hours and were tired, and they all just wanted this to be over.

In a morbid way their wish was granted. The crack in the sky widened into a canyon, the endless discharge ceasing. The monsters all paused in their place, turning to face the wound in the sky like it was their Mecca. For one brief moment the world held its breath, before it began to scream.

One lone figure descended from the wound.

Promising pain, destruction, and suffering for many.

The Goddess smiled.

She had spotted a girl with brown hair in the little village far beneath her.

One with no hero at her side.