PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING BEFORE DELVING INTO THE STORY!

Chapters 1-63 cover "Hope of the Shield Hero". Chapter 64 onward covers "Diligence of the Shield Hero".


In essence, this fic is an AU "For Want of a Nail" mixed with the "Butterfly Effect." The main "For Want of a Nail" is Naofumi discovering Malty's plan before she executes it. There are a couple of other minor changes I've made in terms of the time setting, the history of the world, characters, geography, and so on to allow this story to unfold. Despite that, I do try my best to stay true to the source material in regards to rules, cultures, and so forth. As I'm writing a long "what if" story, I actually do have to be respectful to how the setting works. Otherwise, the story wouldn't make any sense.

"In Spite of a Nail" situations still happen early on in the story. However, there are far more canon divergences later on following Chapter Twelve.

I'm going to set a basis for a few things you can expect:

I'll be updating this story on Mondays.

I'm not going to include stuff that'll break the story. (OP characters/skills)

I have read the LN's up to 21. I check canon events and rules by Wiki Mods so I don't destroy Aneko's universe accidentally. I also have this proofread by several individuals. Most notably Cannonjet and Norinthemanwonder.

This story will maintain a T rating despite the romance, violence, depression, self-worth, anxiety, and other issues/factors that will most certainly be involved. I'll try to remember to include a content warning up top if the topic covered is too severe.

Now, 63 chapters is a daunting read (it's even more daunting to write) and it's still ongoing with Diligence. If you want an idea of what you're getting into before dedicating your time to reading, I recommend looking up the TVTropes page for this fic. All you have to do is search "Hope of the Shield Hero" on Google, and it'll be one of the first results to come up.

Do not read expecting EDGE on every page. I'm not an edgy guy. I won't kill people since Naofumi obviously should have done it. Besides, death is easy. I prefer my karmic retribution in torture, thank you very much.

You will find some of the worst cuss words censored out, while words like Bitch are still used. That is a common writing technique used in all sorts of media (Final Fantasy, as an example). If you prefer reading the cuss words, read something else that has them. I'm not your mom.

If you have any further questions, you can find me on Discord. Just google "Shield Hero Discord" and it'll be the server that has 17k+ members. There, you can find me in the channel #shield-fanfics under Allen Blaster. Do be warned, I prefer to discuss coffee shop AUs and the like. I'm of the opinion that this fandom could honestly use more stories like that instead of power wank SI's, fifth-hero fics that don't change anything, long wordy what-ifs written by a stupid canon bitch... oh... crap...

Welp, with all this out of the way, I hope you, whoever you are, enjoy this long wordy what-if story written by yours truly. Good luck!


Summary: Naofumi Iwatani, the Shield Hero, was summoned to Melromarc. Everything looked great... until he overheard his fellow heroes talking about parties sharing experience from kills. He then finds out some stuff from his help guide that Myne hadn't told him about. In going to Myne to ask his questions, he eavesdrops on her conversation with a nun from the Church of the Three Heroes and learns about a plot against him. Betrayed, not wanting to stay and be arrested for a crime he never committed, he runs away from the Capital. Now a criminal on the run, Naofumi has to do his best to avoid the Church, the King, and his daughter outside the waves. And trust someone who, slave or not, will help him to overcome his own trials and pains past and present; restoring that which he thought he'd lost long ago.

Hope.


Disclaimer: I will make this clear in the beginning. I don't own the anime, the manga, the novels, or anything else tied to ROTSH.


Hope of the Shield Hero


Chapter One: The Night of Betrayal


Disclaimer: I will make this clear in the beginning. I don't own the anime, the manga, the novels, or anything else tied to ROTSH.


"Hmmm, two hundred silver left. With two rooms at thirty copper each per night, and meals for two at 5 copper each. That leaves a little over... 199 silver."

It was night outside the inn room window. The normal clothes that the young man had bought earlier at a general store were stored in one of the room's drawers. His new black and grey chainmail armor hung off the back of the chair next to the one that he was sitting in. The room was lit by the light of one candle resting on the table. He was counting his money near it.

This was the Shield Hero, Naofumi Iwatani. He was one of four people that were summoned to this world as Cardinal Heroes the day before. The other Cardinal Heroes were Motoyasu Kitamura, the Spear Hero. Itsuki Kawasumi, the Bow Hero. And Ren Amaki, the Sword Hero. Naofumi didn't have too much of an opinion of his fellow Heroes just yet. Despite the rather rude attitude that they displayed during their briefing with the King, they didn't seem like bad people.

He took about 30 silver coins and stashed them inside a shield on his arm. "Heh. Look at me, acting like your stereotypical Japanese tourist."

Naofumi finally got up from his chair and laid back on his bed. Feeling absolutely tired. "Holy crap, what a day." He said, staring up at the ceiling in disbelief.

This world operated on gamelike mechanics. He was only level one. And, because he was the Shield Hero, he had the lowest attack stat ever. But he didn't mind it very much. This morning, they'd received party members and money from the kingdom. Because only one person had joined him, he received more money than the other Heroes. He'd already used three-fourths of it to improve himself and his party member. Along with that, they'd gone monster hunting for the first time.

...

'I wonder how it truly feels to kill a monster. Today I just ran around popping balloons...' It'd taken five minutes of punching just to kill one. And he'd only managed to kill three of those little balls of malice before tiring himself out.

...

'I might have no attack… But still, I really am in another world!'

He started shaking around on his bed, squealing with excitement. Even though it was unbelievably weird, he already loved this world. He loved how different it was from where he came from. He loved the smell of the air. He loved the magic he'd witnessed. The gorgeous ladies. The fact that he was actually needed for once in his life.

He even loved how the littlest things reminded him of gaming. From the Status Magic to having levels and stats. He had more experience playing in massive player games as a trader or guild boss and didn't have close to any experience playing RPGs, but hey, what did he care about that? He loved games almost as much as anime. And there was nothing better to him than learning as you go along.

Besides this world feeling like a game, he also loved how real it felt. The feel of the nice soft mattress beneath him felt real. The people he'd interacted with today felt real. The food he'd eaten, oh how real and good it had tasted! He could sing praises to that food for hours if he could! Even the fresh air felt more real than the city air he'd been accustomed to back home.

What was the most unbelievable was an overarching fact. He, an average otaku, had the hottest babe around helping him out. Not Ren, not Itsuki, not hot and tall Motoyasu, him! The average-looking guy of the group!

It was amazing!

'Wow, I'm finally moving up in life.' He closed his eyes in bliss at the feeling inside him at that moment. 'It's about time my luck changed… after how my life was going nowhere back home...'

A prick of guilt went through him at that thought. Sure, his parents were the worst, and they might have taken advantage of his cooking abilities more times than he could count, but he was going to miss his brother. He wished those mages from before would have at least given him some sort of advance notice so he could have left a note for him.

His parents probably wouldn't notice anything amiss. But his brother would realize it when he didn't come back from the library... Maybe the other three guys had a point when they became indignant at getting summoned. Would he ever see his brother or his world again?...

'No. Remember that the King promised we could go back once we succeeded in saving this world.' But how long would that actually take? His stomach churned, contemplating that. What would his brother think if he never made it back home?...

He heard two voices talking outside his door, interrupting his somber train of thought. 'Is that Motoyasu and Itsuki?'

"I'm totally going to outdo you tomorrow Motoyasu."

"In your dreams Itsuki."

Naofumi sat up. They were only trash-talking and all that. Classic gamer talk. It made him smile nostalgically. 'Wow, it's so familiar to what my guildmates told each other all the time… you know, as much as I'll miss technology and anime, as much as I'll miss my brother... I think I'm going to like it here.' His parents would be more than fine if only a little mad that he wouldn't be cooking for them again anytime soon. And once he came back, he could tell his brother about all the exciting adventures he'd had in this world.

"Time for bed. Got to rest well and have an early start for my grand adventure tomorrow and all that." He chuckled to himself. His brother would be so jealous! That drove away the rest of his somber thoughts. Imagining the look on his face when he told him all about bombshell Myne and how she helped him save the world.

He turned to blow out his candle.

"You know, I can't believe how much my party leveled up just from me killing balloons and mushes, I mean, check out their stats!" Motoyasu said outside his door.

"How? I can't see your party's status if I'm not in it." The younger boy grumbled in annoyance.

"Oh, right, sorry. Here, just give me a sec and I'll send you an invite!" Motoyasu quickly replied, sounding embarrassed.

Naofumi didn't blow out the candle. 'Huh? You mean you can look up the stats of your party members in this game?'

He'd mentioned before that he wasn't very familiar with the rules of RPGs, right?

"Don't tell me you were the only one who was actually killing monsters?" Itsuki asked.

"Of course I was." Naofumi could imagine Motoyasu making a pose of flexing his biceps at that moment. "Got to make sure those fine ladies of mine don't so much as scratch a fingernail while I make them stronger."

Wow, what a simp.

"Besides, that's one of the best things about an RPG. If one kills, the whole party benefits."

Naofumi stared at the door in confusion. 'Didn't Myne kill a couple of balloons herself?... but I didn't get anything from that.'

"Yeah, I kind of forgot about that rule early on. It wasn't until we were halfway through the day that I realized I still had to accept the party invites my group sent me when we joined up in the castle. There was a lot of experience we all missed out on." Itsuki said, sounding embarrassed.

"No worries man! I'm sure you'll have better luck tomorrow if you and your whole party are going at it! Just don't make those ladies of yours work too hard!" Motoyasu said encouragingly to the Bow Hero. It sounded like both their voices were getting farther away.

"Good night Motoyasu!" Itsuki responded faintly.

"Night, Itsuki!"

...

Naofumi was standing by the door now, his ear having been pressed up against it to listen to their conversation. 'The others received party invites from their adventurers at the castle? But, but I don't remember getting something like that… didn't I?'

He pulled up his HUD. In the top left, it showed only his health bar and stats. He looked around some more, but he didn't see Myne's stats anywhere. 'Maybe she isn't a member of my party yet... Is there somewhere I have to go to accept the party invite? I should do that now if me and Myne both want to get stronger together. Damn, if only I'd known this sooner. Talk about embarrassing.' He spent the next few minutes tinkering around.

Eventually, he opened his help guide in the bottom right corner of his HUD. He used it to help him get more used to how to navigate through the different menus. Even though a part of him was still tired, he realized this was probably important to get out of the way right now.

Since, knowing him, he might be stupid enough to forget about it by tomorrow morning.

'Let's see. That's how I can check my status. That's how I can check what recipes I have for crafting… where is it- Ah, yes! The party menu. So if I got a party invite… it should have been put in the party menu near the bottom left of my screen.' He looked at the icon labeled [PARTY], smiling in relief when he found it.

Again, the fact that he didn't realize it'd be there should have been telling of how little knowledge he actually had about RPG's.

'And if I have a party invite, it should be under received invites in the party menu.'

He focused on the party menu, and the help guide moved to the side. Two options appeared in front of him. The first one being 'invite to party' and the second one being 'accept invitation requests.' He focused on the second option.

'You have not received any invitation requests at this time.'

He blinked in surprise and tried focusing on it again. However, the message repeated itself. A third time and an additional line of text appeared.

'When you receive an invite, it will alert you on your HUD.'

Naofumi's face scrunched up in surprise. 'I don't have a party invite from Myne?' He was baffled at that. With how knowledgeable she'd been earlier, she should have known how to do all of this. 'Maybe she forgot… but how did she forget when all the other adventurers didn't.'

...

A cold feeling started to enter Naofumi's gut. A cold feeling he knew all too well from back home. It was part of the main reason he'd given up on socializing. It was why he'd allowed himself to sink so far into anime and gaming that he'd proudly taken on the title of otaku.

Something like this had happened to him once before.

But his gut was telling him what was about to happen would be much worse than that time.

'I'll go over it with Myne tomorrow. I'm probably just being paranoid.' He thought brightly, trying to reassure himself. It wasn't like him to be this paranoid over a simple mistake...

He stood there for a moment more despite the hopeful thought. Even though the more optimistic part of him wanted to trust Myne and go to sleep. It'd been a very tiring day for him and he knew he had to rest. Yet he couldn't shake off this cold feeling. The part of him that wanted to investigate and put the matter to rest was steadily getting louder and louder.

There was something very wrong with the lone member of his 'party.' He just didn't know what it was...

Finally, that part of him won out and he opened his door. He entered the hallway of the second floor of the inn and walked silently to avoid waking anyone else up. 'I'll just talk to Myne. Maybe she can help me realize that I'm overreacting over nothing.'

When he got to her door, he knocked gently on it. "Psst. Myne. Are you in there?"

...

He got no response. He tapped his knuckles against it a little louder. "Psst. Myne. It's me, Naofumi." He called again.

...

There was still no response.

He looked around, seeing the hallway was empty. He opened the unlocked door to her room and peeked his head in. By taking one look around, he found that nobody had gone in yet. The bed was still made. The furniture was untouched. Maybe she was still at their table downstairs?

But that had been over an hour ago...

He closed the door and made his way back down the hallway. The candlelight from the various candleholders lit up his unsure-looking face. For some reason, that cold feeling in his stomach was getting stronger the closer he got to where the hallway opened up to the main room of the inn. Where the left wall was replaced with ornate wooden banisters that kept people from accidentally falling down into the dining area.

The thought entered his mind again that he was just being paranoid and should go back to sleep. But he continued onward. It'd be better to talk to Myne now that he knew that she was out of her room. But the lack of noise was oddly disconcerting to Naofumi. Hadn't the diner been full of people when he left earlier? Did that mean everyone was asleep now? What if Myne wasn't there and he'd mistaken which room she had?

It was when he was close to the edge that he finally heard voices.

"Are you sure that this plan of yours will work, princess?"

'... Princess?' A Princess was here?!

Naofumi got down on one knee and leaned forward just enough that his face could look between the gaps of the banisters down below.

"Yes, I'm positive it'll work." Myne was talking to a lady donned in a white cloak with a white hood over her head. Although he didn't have much experience in this world yet, it looked to him like something a nun would wear. "In fact, I can guarantee he won't see it coming until it's too late. That idiot's already gone to bed, and by the time he wakes up, guards will have his room surrounded. There'll be no way for him to escape what's coming." She said proudly with a smug, malicious smile.

'Who was it they were calling a princess.' He was confused. He didn't see any girl dressed in an ornate dress or whatever princesses were known to look like.

Though he also didn't like the tone of voice that Myne had been using. It made her seem more, creepy. Evil, even.

"Princess Malty. The Church of the Three Heroes has many resources at its disposal. Why not use some of them as a means of eliminating the Shield Hero from this world right now?" The lady with Myne asked, sounding eager and anxious.

Naofumi's eyes widened. 'What the hell?! Did she just say Myne's a princess!? That means I have a Princess in my party! This is awesome!... But then why is that nun also asking about eliminating me?! Myne would never want to do something like that!' The cold feeling in his gut finally settled its purpose in bringing him out here accomplished.

The thought came through to just go back to bed and worry about it no more. But Naofumi was hooked. He couldn't leave without hearing the rest of the conversation. "Because Father would get suspicious," Myne said with an eye roll. "Sure he doesn't hold much love for the Shield Hero because of those dirty demi-humans doing stuff to his past family. But even he would suspect something if the Shield Hero was killed outright. Then I would never become Queen." She said, anger in her tone. "No, we have to dispose of him properly. While my mother is away trying to appease the other countries."

Naofumi leaned in closer. Staring in disbelief down below. Was that really Myne? It couldn't be...

"And how will this plan accomplish that exactly?" The nun opposite of her asked skeptically.

Myne laughed into her hand. It was like Naofumi was really seeing the actual bitch side of her for the first time. "Oh, accusations of this kind against a poor innocent princess cannot be ignored. My Father will be absolutely furious when I tell him about what the Shield Hero did to his precious daughter. And because his status as a hero will keep my Father from executing him, he'll instead spread the news of what happened throughout all the land, ruining the Shield Hero's reputation before he even steps out the castle doors!" She said with a malicious glee in her voice.

The nun in the white robes pondered for a few seconds, and then a smile spread across her face. "Oh, I see now why Pope Balamus decided to send his agents out to spread rumors of this sort then. If a 'hero' were to be accused of something like this..." She started.

"He would have no one except the worst riffraff vouching to work for him. I've already seen for myself how he is unable to harm monsters thanks to his low attack stat, and after this, he'd trust no one to help him out. By the time the next wave hits Melromarc, he'll be so weak that he'll have no chance of survival." Myne continued.

"Meaning his death will come at the hands of monsters, leaving no one the wiser about his innocence." The nun's smile grew bigger, but then she frowned. "But Princess, what about those adventurers who signed up to work for the Shield Hero? Surely some of them might want to help him even after the news of his deeds travels throughout the land? And what of the other Heroes?" She asked.

The Princess waved her hand in dismissal. She was more of a short-term planner. The long-term aspects of that plan had been given to her already when the Church first approached her about this. "It was only a few demi-humans and some knight from Seaetto that wanted to help him. The knight has been arrested and jailed in the castle dungeons for murdering her assassin, and the demi-humans were executed because of how desperate they were to serve that idiot-"

"Wait, murder?" Altara interrupted. "Are you telling me that one of the shadows that his holiness sent to help you set everything up was killed?"

"Yes, anyway." Myne disregarded the nun's statement. Said nun had to hide her shock and anger as she struggled to maintain a poker face at the Princess's disregard for the life of a faithful. "My Father doesn't know about it, of course. Not that he'll care either; after I tell him how they tried to help the Shield Hero when he was raping me." She said.

Naofumi's eyes widened dramatically. His breathing became ragged. '… rape... she wants to accuse me of...'

...

Cold hard realization hit him. Just like it had that one day when his life in his world came to a grinding halt.

'That was why no one wanted to join my party.'

His mind flashed back to the time when he and the other heroes stood in the throne room. How he'd seen all the other adventurers form up behind the different heroes. How he'd asked why he got no one to help him. And how no one except Myne, no, princess Malty had volunteered to help him.

'They'd already chosen beforehand. Every last one of them. It was never a contest for who they wanted to choose when they saw us. And the reason why I had nobody to support me, was because of HER!...'

He scowled. He felt something hot going down his cheeks. Checking with a hand, they were tears. 'But I don't get it! Why would Myne do such a thing-'

"As for the other heroes. Well, I need someone to be my savior from the dreaded Shield Hero." Myne made a fake crying pose. "Oh, Sir Motoyasu, please save this damsel in distress. Please, Sir Motoyasu, comfort me with your loving embrace. Save me from that horrible creature wearing that horrid Shield." She started giggling maliciously into her hand again after her little act.

"And you think he'll really buy that?" The nun asked in shock.

"Motoyasu's party members have told me how trusting he is to what girls say to him. He'd gobble up my story up in a heartbeat. Since the other heroes trust him more than they trust poor, poor Naofumi, well;" Myne was saying in mock agony, before giggling into her hand and looking up at Altara with an evil glint in her eyes. "It will result in the tragic descent of the Shield Hero."

The nun smiled, but it looked oddly strained. "Princess Malty. I can see why Pope Balamus sent me here to check over the final details with you." She glanced at the exit, looking anxious. "I personally had my doubts about this plan of yours succeeding. But now, those doubts are gone. I'll report the news to Balamus immediately."

Princess Myne laughed into her hand. "Thank you lady Altara. That is high praise coming from one of the noble nuns of the Church." She giggled in delight. "Now, I should get to planting the evidence in his room. That idiot's probably dead asleep by now. And who knows, I might just steal his gear and money while I'm at it. I'm sure Sir Motoyasu would like it even more if I gave my savior a gift of gratitude." She said, a pur coming off of her lips.

"And the Church will make sure that the Shield Hero receives no help from anybody except for the worst, most despicable gutter trash of society." Altara and Myne stood up, shaking each other's hands. And then, Altara walked out of the inn and into the night.

Naofumi had heard enough. Shakily, he got back up. His mind almost refusing to believe it. But unable to deny it any longer.

Myne was no pretty Princess. She was a complete, and total...

'That two-timing lying bitch!-'

Creakkkkk...

Unfortunately, when he got up, the boards beneath him creaked long and loud from his weight. "Who's there?!" Princess Malty demanded while looking around.

Naofumi stayed still with his back pressed against the wall. Sweat beaded his face as he nervously hoped that she'd think it was some rat or something that'd made the noise. However, he didn't realize that the candle on the wall next to him was casting his shadow on the opposite wall in plain sight until it was too late.

"Oh, you think you can hide from me. No matter. I'll take care of you right away." Myne's sweet voice said in a more deadly tone.

Naofumi's heart hammered at his chest. For the first time since he'd come into this world, fear gripped his mind like a paralyzing plague. He was suddenly reminded that this wasn't a game.

This world was real, and it had very very real consequences.

'All this time. She's been plotting to kill me. No, not just her. But this Church too?! What the freaking hell did I get myself into?!'

It suddenly made perfect sense why he'd never found a party invite from Myne.

At least he knew why now.

The sound of footsteps going up the stairs made Naofumi finally leap into action. He turned around, running back down the hall. There was no hiding his loud footfalls. Not that he wanted to hide them.

Now, he only wanted to get as far away from this evil person as he could get.

Naofumi turned the corner into his hallway right before Myne reached the top of the stairs. He ran into his room and slammed the door shut behind him.

Without thinking, he grabbed his chainmail, hurriedly putting it on with one hand. His other hand scooped all the silver coins he'd left on the table back into the pouch. By the time he'd finished with that, his chainmail armor coat was half on, and he hurriedly put the rest on with his other hand while his free hand stuffed the pouch of coins into his back pockets before hurrying to his drawers to grab his spare clothes.

Knocking sounded at his door, freezing him up. "Sir Hero. It's me, Myne. Did you hear somebody run down the hallway just now?" She asked through the door.

Naofumi looked at the door in fear, and then back down at his clothes. He wondered for the space of half a second if he should answer or not… he could pretend that he had heard someone and they'd woken him up. But with all his boiling anger and fear towards her right now, he was tongue-tied.

What if she decided to kill him then and there?! What would his family think?! What would his brother think?!

'What do I do?! Do I try to play along and pretend like nothing's happening?! Should I run away before she accuses me!' Desperation was painted on his face.

He was the Shield Hero. His attack stat was almost nonexistent. Even with all the anger bubbling up inside him, there was no way he could possibly hurt her.

What should he DO?!

...

"Sir Hero?" Myne asked again, opening the door into his room. She was holding the sword she'd gotten from the blacksmith earlier that day in her hands.

The candle to the room was blown out, so it took her a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness in the room. The back window was open. The table and chairs were flipped over as if they'd been quickly searched. The drawers were wide open, and the contents were all emptied. His armor and silver coins were gone. And, most alarming, he was nowhere in sight.

"Sir Hero?!" She yelled.


Oof!

Naofumi landed on his shield arm hard after jumping from the second story of the inn. "Ow…" He groaned in pain. He'd tried to time his jump better but failed to adequately judge when he'd hit the ground. Had his defense stat not been so high for a level one, he would have definitely broken his ankle. He slowly got himself back up off the ground. His legs felt like hell for a few seconds before the pain reverted to a more bearable form of hell.

He did a quick look at his HUD. His HP had dropped about a fourth from the hard landing. But otherwise, he appeared to be okay. The shocking difference between reality and gaming was mind-boggling. But he was too pissed to care about that now.

'What the hell! They go through all this trouble summoning me to their world, just to set up betrayals and false rape accusations within 48 hours of me getting here!? Why even summon me then!?'

He was angry. Why take him away from his world if they were only planning to screw him over?!

"Sir Hero!?" He heard Myne's voice up above from his open window.

Naofumi looked up through tears. To think she'd been so nice and kind to him, and she'd been planning on killing him?! He'd never hated someone so much as he did at that moment.

Not only that. It hurt. He'd honestly thought Myne wanted to help him. But this hurt even worse than what had happened to him years ago in school.

And what was worse was that he couldn't do a damn thing about it!

'Damn it!'

He wanted to punch the ground, but no. He didn't have time to sit there and stew about it! He took off as fast as he could, down an alley away from the inn.

"Sir Hero?" Myne asked, looking out of the window and at the street below. She looked both ways, seeing no one in sight. When she looked at the ground directly below the window, however, she noticed a dent in the street that looked to be the exact shape of the Legendary Shield.

She was confused at first as to why Naofumi would do something as stupid as jumping out of a window. But then the dots quickly connected in her mind, and a growl escaped her lips. "Damn it! The Shield Hero knows!"

She turned around and walked back towards the doorway. "I need to act now. If he gets to Father before I can tell him what happened, he could ruin everything." She said, dropping a pair of purple lace panties on the side of Naofumi's bed.

"Sir Motoyasu! Sir Motoyasu!" Princess Malty yelled, running quickly out the door.

...

In the shadows of the room, a lady wearing a mask moved from out of her hiding place. She glanced at the door that Malty had left through for a moment. Then, without saying anything, she jumped out of the window and into the night.


Naofumi ran through the streets of the Capital. With it being so late at night, there weren't very many people out and about. What few that were out looked confusedly at him as he ran by like he was being chased by a hellcat.

'They set me up! They betrayed me! They're going to kill me!'

Come on, where were the gates to exit town?! Which way did he go?! Why couldn't he have focused more on learning the layout of the Capital before!?

He felt so stupid. He should have realized that a beautiful girl like Myne would never help him. Why would a girl as hot as her ever want to join some loser like him? She hadn't been prepping him for fighting these so-called waves. She hadn't been getting close to him as a means of becoming friends with him.

No, she'd been setting him up to fail. She wanted to take everything away from him while using this accusation to throw herself into the arms of the Hero she really wanted to be with. The hero she really had her eyes on.

'Motoyasu! You damn womanizer! Were you involved in this too?! I'll never forgive you!'

He stopped next to the wall of some shop. "URGH!" He yelled at himself as he slammed his fist into the wall with a resounding Thud. His anger spiked when he felt little pain from punching a brick wall. "I'm so stupid! I'm a loser!" He berated himself while no one else was around on the street as he punched the wall again and again, but he barely felt it.

"I knew I should have played those RPGs back at home! I knew I should have tried to ask the others more questions! I knew I should have been more suspicious when nobody wanted to join my party! Then I wouldn't have let a bitch like her get close!" He yelled to himself, falling to one knee beside the wall. "I'm so stupid, stupid, ****ING STUPID!"

...

Tears continued to leak from the corners of his eyes. He'd been crying ever since he learned Myne was betraying him.

His heart was shattered.

"Why? What did I do to them? Why does being the Shield Hero make them want to get rid of me?!" He looked up angrily at the sky. "If you hated me already, why the hell would you pull me from my world to this crappy hellhole!?"

This wasn't a fantasy gameworld paradise. It was a nightmare!

"Hey kid, you doing alright?"

Naofumi looked to the side. The door to the shop was wide open. He recognized the blacksmith Elhart standing in the doorway. What were the odds? He'd stopped right by Elhart's shop. He wiped tears from under his eyes. "El, Elhar-" He started to say, but he stopped himself.

'No. I have no way of trusting anyone now.' Who knew how many others were in on the scheme. That nun had mentioned sending agents out to spread rumors about him, right? Who did he have left to trust?! No one!

"Sorry to ask Shield Bro, but your yelling kind of woke me up. Did the pretty lady say no to sleeping in the same room or something-" Elhart asked in an amusing tone.

"Shut up!" Naofumi yelled while glaring at Elhart, much to the latter's surprise. "I already heard what that damn princess is planning to do to me! Don't think I don't know what you're all planning!"

Elhart put his hands up. "Whoa, there, Shield Bro. Calm down-"

"Calm down! CALM DOWN!? Why should I?! How do I know you're not working with that two-timing red-headed whore too!? Huh! Huh-"

Elhart gripped Naofumi's shoulders tightly. Naofumi glared at the large blacksmith. The man leveled a calm gaze back at him. "How about you shut up, come into my shop, and explain what's happening before you make me want to beat your puny little ***." He said. There was no trace of humor in his features any longer.

"Why? So you can distract me? Give me one good reason why I should trust you?" Naofumi angrily asked.

Elhart looked down at Naofumi's angry face. The kid's eyes, which had seemed so warm and full of hope before, were beginning to transform into something cold and distrustful. The transformation wasn't done yet, but it was happening.

Elhart heaved a sigh. 'Damn it, kid. What the hell happened to you?'

"Look. You probably don't have any reason to trust me. But I have no idea what's happening or what Princess you're raving about." He said seriously. "Can you please help an old man out? Or would you rather I investigate a different source tomorrow morning?"

Elhart didn't realize it, but this was the right way to speak to Naofumi. Naofumi, emotional as he was right now, could be reached by logic. His favorite classes in school had involved common sense and logic. He made strategies with dozens of other players based on logic. And to ignore such cold hard truth now would have been an affront to such a strong part of his personality.

He sighed. "Fine. I'll talk... But you better not betray me." He said coldly.

Elhart nodded, and let Naofumi into the blacksmith shop. "Let's hear what you have to say first, and we'll see about that."


Thirty minutes later

"Wow, so all that really went down?" Elhart leaned back in his chair.

The two of them sat around a simple dining room table. A lantern was on, casting light over them both.

Naofumi nodded glumly. The anger at being betrayed by Myne had mostly disappeared. But now he closely resembled the cold Naofumi he had been years ago when a girl had hurt him. It was something he'd thought he'd gotten past.

He hadn't, as he'd just discovered. Life sucked like that sometimes.

Elhart put his hand to his chin in thought. "You know, I could have sworn I recognized the girl that came in with you earlier today. But I never would have guessed she was the first princess. Damn. You really didn't score there, did ya?"

"Yeah, I wouldn't have guessed it either," Naofumi said coldly. "Not until that nun called her that."

Elhart leaned forward. "Do you realize what kind of accusation that carries here, kid? We're not just talking about some plot against a Hero, but we're talking about the state religion of Melromarc plotting with royalty against one of the Four Cardinal Heroes of Legend. If what you're saying is really true, then that'd mean-" He tried to say.

"Then that'd mean that I've been set up to fail from the start," Naofumi said coldly. "Just what I need. Both politics and religion working to screw me over. Why even summon me to begin with?" He asked again.

"I don't know the answer there... But more than that kid, your enemies also include the most powerful nobles in the land. Those who support the king and his daughter, and those who are strong believers in the Church. Not to mention, the many commoners who support them both." Elhart stressed to Naofumi, trying to get him to see the importance of how big this kind of plot was.

"Why should I care?" Naofumi asked coldly, he was sitting sideways in his chair. His head turned to blandly look at the blacksmith. "It's not like I'll be able to do anything about it. Myne is probably with the king and Motoyasu right now, spreading her lies like wildfire through the Capital." The Bitch had said she'd party with that simp, right?

The blacksmith remained silent, but a frown remained on his face. "I mean, it's not like she'll say "oh crap" and forget about me existing. Hell, it'll probably make a stronger argument since I 'ran off' after raping her. That bastard King doesn't like me. Nobody in this kingdom likes me. Even if I'm not executed after I'm arrested, word of what I 'did' to the princess will travel everywhere. In short, I'll have no help to level up. No way of gathering money to improve my gear. No way of being able to trust anyone... And no chance of surviving the waves that are coming." He said despondently, before looking down at his lap.

"Nothing I do will change that. I'm a dead man either way. Why even try?"

...

Elhart took pity on the Shield Hero in front of him. 'Poor kid. He's only been here less than 2 days, and he's already lost all faith in us.'

"Is there any way that I can return back to my homeworld?" Naofumi asked in a begging tone. Maybe if he left now, he could just tell his brother he'd gone camping, or been held up at the library, or held by the police, or, or something!

Anything but what he was going through now!

Elhart shook his head. "Sorry to break it to you kid, but according to the legends, the only way a hero can return to their homeworld is if they beat the waves."

"And if I don't beat the Waves?" Naofumi asked.

"Then we all die, and none of this matters," Elhart said, amusement in his tone.

Naofumi leaned back in his seat again. "Great. I'm screwed either way then." He was starting to hate this world even more now. Thanks, not!

...

Erhard considered it in his mind more. He then sighed, hating himself for what he was about to suggest. "Normally, I wouldn't be caught dead even mentioning this… but there is a way to work around your problem." Elhart grimly spoke out loud, looking up at Naofumi.

"What, are you planning on joining my party now?" Naofumi asked sarcastically.

Elhart laughed heartily. "Heavens no! I'm strong, don't get me wrong, but I don't think I could protect you from everyone in the kingdom. Besides, I still have my business here. And people the Church would go after if I joined you." Elhart became serious once more. "No. What I'm talking about are party members who won't turn on you. Party members that you could trust."

Naofumi looked blandly back up from the floor at the blacksmith. 'Yeah. Like I could ever trust anyone else after this.'

Then again, he was speaking to Elhart now. And the kind blacksmith hadn't turned him away or said he was only daydreaming or something along those lines. Miracles could happen still.

And boy, would he need one hell of a miracle to get him out of this mess.

Along with that, a part of him realized that if there was a way that he could somehow get stronger and survive the waves long enough to return home, then he had to take it. After all, at this point, he had no choice.

"Alright, I'm listening." He said, turning fully to face the bald blacksmith.

Elhart grimaced at how quickly Naofumi had agreed. "If you do go through with this, then I want you to promise me that'll you treat that person better than the way that the First Princess treated you, got it?" Elhart threatened.

Naofumi grimaced back but nodded. "Just get to the point gramps, I don't have all night." He said impatiently. He really didn't. He possibly had hours, maybe even minutes to run away before warrants would be out for his arrest. Maybe he should have just run away altogether? But how far could he possibly get by himself? If Elhart did have a way for him to get someone's help, he had to take it, no matter what it was.

The grimace didn't disappear from Erhard's face. "I'm not much of a fan of it. But desperate times call for desperate measures." He leaned forward again. "And I get the feeling that you'll be a better slaveholder than most other people." He said seriously.


Till Next Time

Allen