Chapter Forty-One: Cross-Party Interactions

"Huah! Hah! Huah!" Eclair grunted with each wide sweep she took with her sword.

She was in Van's backyard again. Practicing various sword forms like yesterday. She was dressed in her custom armor. But her helmet was off. Letting her long clean strawberry hair flow with her movements.

Welt, who'd come back from monster grinding, laid on the ground nearby. He'd passed out from trying to train with Eclair.

Karn was nowhere to be seen. Likely because Eclair was too much to train with. A lesson Welt hadn't come to realize yet.

'Those months of imprisonment made me rusty. I have to improve!' The swordswoman thought determinedly. She thrust and then feinted back.

She wasn't going to take her unfair imprisonment sitting down. She had to get to where she was before being imprisoned. Sir Naofumi's safety, Princess Melty's safety, and the Queen's safety depended on her perfecting her sword skills again!

That was another thing. Now that she was free, she somehow had to inform the Queen about what had happened to her and the Shield Hero. But she'd asked Van Reichnott about it, and he said the Queen wasn't in Faubley anymore. No one was sure where she'd gone, though Van assumed she was returning to the kingdom to deal with all the messes going on.

Knowing that, Eclair wanted to make sure she was ready in case the Queen needed her aid.

'But it's not just the Queen. I have my obligation to help Sir Naofumi and Princess Melty…' The two being in the same party made helping them both easier. The Second Princess wanted to stick to Filo like a glove. Yet her own heart still ached somewhat thinking about…

She threw herself into the sword forms she'd learned. Both in Melromarc and in Faubley. 'I can't distract myself with those thoughts. I have to improve.' She had more responsibility than ever before now. 'I have to get stronger. I have to get better. I have to-' She cut sideways, brought her sword up, and turned to thrust again.

Her reflexes stopped her just short of accidentally skewering the auburn-haired demi-woman who had been quietly approaching her.

"Eep!" Raphtalia jumped several feet back to avoid being stabbed. "I'm sorry." Her armor had been badly damaged by Naofumi's flames. So she was dressed in a set of extra clothes. It was like her regular outfit, but without armor attachments. "I didn't mean to startle you."

"... No, it's me who should apologize Miss Raphtalia," Eclair breathed in calmly and sheathed her sword. "Are you feeling better?"

Raphtalia nodded. She looked oddly shy compared to before. "I am. Much better." Her tail wagged slowly behind her.

"Good... Is there something you need from me?" Eclair asked. Glancing at Raphtalia's nervous tail wagging.

Raphtalia gulped. "Well, um… since you asked... Do you… could you give me advice?" Raphtalia asked.

"About what?" Eclair asked.

"About… about..." Eclair stared at the grown Tanuki, who was beginning to tremble. "About..."

"About what?" Eclair impatiently asked.

"About being in a relationship with someone you love?!" She nervously asked.

'... ... What?!'

Raphtalia's tail was wagging fast and embarrassed behind her. "I, I mean, I, I keep on going around, trying to find someone to talk to about it, but I, um, it's so hard for me to try and ask someone I haven't met yet about something as important as this!" She said. Blushing bright red like a tomato.

On the outside, Eclair stared calmly at the nervous Tanuki girl. On the inside, she was screaming her head off.

'No, no, no, God please, no, no... NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!'

It was bad enough that the Shield Hero already loved Raphtalia. It was even worse that the half-tanuki woman loved him back.

The worst was that she was asking Eclair for relationship advice about being in love with somebody!

"Um," Eclair muttered, trying to keep the bitterness out of her tone. "I don't have any advice to give on that."


"It's, it's just," Raphtalia didn't look like she heard Eclair. "I want to do things around Naofumi. Like, um, sneaking up on him, and um, surprising him out of nowhere with a, a, a, k-k-ki-k-k-kiss-" Raphtalia covered her head again. "-But it's so embarrassing! I don't know what to do! I just feel so good around him, but, but then, um, uh, AHHHHHHHHHH!" She started rolling around on the ground in her embarrassment.

It was a good thing Raphtalia was trying to speak to Eclair first about it. Only Eclair might have been capable of keeping a calm face at the scene. "Oh dear," Eclair muttered.

She proceeded to try and help Raphtalia to calm down.

It took a while, but Raphtalia eventually did calm down somewhat. "There. Are you feeling better?" Eclair asked.

Raphtalia shakily nodded. "S-Sorry about that," Raphtalia said, looking down ashamedly.

"It's fine," Eclair said calmly. It wasn't really fine for various reasons. Some are more obvious than others.

Raphtalia was quiet. "Also, I'm sorry, but I'm not the person to ask about relationships," Eclair said. Had Naofumi been there, he would have thought the whole scene was right out of an anime. "I don't think I could be of help to you."

Raphtalia was surprised. Eclair had a face that would have been considered beautiful by almost every man in the world. "But… but haven't you been in a relationship before Eclair?" Raphtalia asked curiously. It seemed almost unbelievable that someone like her wouldn't have been in love before. And she remembered her being the daughter of Lord Seaetto, a nobleman.

Shouldn't she have had all sorts of suitors asking for her hand?

Eclair grit her teeth. 'No. Because the only person I was ever remotely interested in is already taken. And he turned out to not be anything like what I pictured.'

Her heart ached for more than one reason. Besides the fact that he was already taken, the Shield Hero she'd pictured was tall. A white knight, a handsome guy. His voice was smooth, and his charisma knew no bounds. His prowess in combat was excellent. He fought fair and treated his enemies fair.

He was a true knight among knights.

Naofumi did not fit the ideal description of her Shield Hero, at all.

In fact, from what she saw in the Capital and since then, none of the four Heroes fit her ideal fantasy of a Cardinal Hero. Each of them was flawed. Young. A little ill-tempered or envious. And from what she'd seen of the kid Sword Hero's skills during the battle, they were sloppy and all over the place. He had no form whatsoever.

He was pathetic as a swordsman.

It really goes to show how childhood imagination and reality don't quite match up. It had been a silly childhood crush. She couldn't believe she'd ever actually put any thought into something as ridiculous as that.

Eclair didn't voice any of that though, keeping a calm serious look on her face. "No, I have not." She said. "I'm afraid my interest in swordsmanship kept everyone else around me at arm's length."

That was probably the biggest truth about her character. If there was anything she truly loved with a passion, it was swordsmanship.

You could always rely on the strength of your arm. And Eclair didn't feel like she needed anything besides her sword on her side in her life.

"Oh…" Raphtalia perked up somewhat. "Then maybe… Could you teach me some swordsmanship then?" She asked.

Eclair looked only slightly caught off guard. "Teach you?"

"It might help to take my mind off of what's been happening… and I've been trying my best to help Naofumi for a while… but I rely too much on magic to help me get through a fight." She admitted. Magic had worked against normal knights and adventurer bandits. But it had failed incredibly against Motoyasu when he used an area of effect skill to attack her.

If she could learn how to fight better then maybe she'd be able to better defend herself against melee opponents.

And as much as she wanted to learn how to avoid getting pregnant, she wanted to improve so she could better help Naofumi on the field of battle. And maybe letting off some steam would make it easier to talk about it with someone else. "So, could you help me to improve my swordsmanship, please?" Raphtalia asked.


Eclair looked slightly concerned. But it was genuine and not faked. "Wouldn't it be better if you didn't push yourself so soon after recovering from a curse-"

"No, I'm perfectly fine now! Watch!" Raphtalia got down. Holding herself on her feet and one hand. She put her other hand behind her back.

"One, two, three, four…" Raphtalia started doing push-ups. Using just her left hand to push up each time.

Eclair's eyes were wide. Then, she was further impressed when the half-Tanuki girl started pushing up and down using only her left thumb. 'What in the world?!' Her STR stat must have been off the chart!

When she hadn't been reading, hunting monsters, or driving Filo, Raphtalia had been training hard to get stronger.

"Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen!" She wasn't slowing down. In fact, she was warming up.

Eclair couldn't watch any longer. "Fine, I'll teach you some sword forms to practice," Eclair said quickly.

Raphtalia jumped back up, smiling happily. "Yay! Thank you Eclair!" She said, bowing happily.

"Out of curiosity. How many of those can you do?" Eclair asked. The musclehead part of her was curious.

Raphtalia thought to herself for a moment. "I think the last time I really pushed myself… I did almost a thousand." She said.

"A thousand!?"

"But then I switched to my strong hand. And I think I did an extra fifteen hundred." She said, thinking it over.

Eclair was a musclehead when it came to training. But besides an old adventurer, she hadn't heard of anyone else accomplishing such an astonishing physical feat. To think this girl needed help with training with a sword!

Then again, sword training required much more than just strength and endurance. It required skill, reflexes, intuition, patience, a touch of instinct, and other attributes that could only be learned through practice. Brute force alone was never enough to win every fight. Eclair had shown that perfectly back in the Capital against many of the knights she'd faced.

They'd trained to overpower their opponents. She trained in every step of every form to take down all types of swordsmen.

"I did train a lot in my free time to get stronger. But sometimes, when Naofumi unlocks shields, a couple of them made me feel… lighter." Raphtalia answered.


"It's hard to describe. After that, I had to push harder to feel like I was getting stronger..." Raphtalia shook her head. Naofumi's Shield really was a strange little thing. It made her wonder if there were other ways she was getting stronger from it. "Anyway, where do you want me to start?" She asked.

Eclair thought to herself for a moment. "Take this." Eclair picked up a wooden sword and threw it to Raphtalia, who caught it. "I'd like to see your skills for myself," Eclair said.

Raphtalia felt the weight of the sword. It felt too light to her. "Alright, what should I do-" She turned, and her eyes widened in surprise as her reflexes barely reacted in time to block Eclair's downward strike.

"Survive." Eclair's voice was calm, but she looked excited.

Right now, it did not matter if this girl was in love with the Shield Hero or not. If she could do over two thousand one-finger push-ups, then, finally, Eclair might actually have an opponent that could push her to her limits!

Who was she to hold on to a childhood crush?! This was the real stuff that sent excitement through her veins!

The two quickly separated. And then flew forward to go all out in the clash.

"Hey, Rach. You doing anything?"

Rachel calmly breathed in, moving some of her black hair away from her face. Karn was walking up to her. "No. The demi-humans I'm supposed to train aren't going to be here for another hour."

Rachel had been calmly sitting out front by one of the pruned trees. Observing the morning sky and doing a form of meditation before Karn had appeared. "Well, you should come to see what Aksel's doing then." Karn chuckled into his hand.

"You're interrupting my peace and quiet for something ridiculous, aren't you." Rachel said calmly.

"Why of course! Do I ever come to you with serious news?" Karn said jokingly.

"Rarely." Rachel stood and stretched herself. "Let me guess. The big oaf's gotten himself into trouble already?" Rachel asked.

"It depends on what your version of trouble is," Karn said while still chuckling.

Rachel patted the dust off her mage cloak and sighed. "Well, I have nothing better to do. Tersia and Farrie are off doing whatever until training. Let me see what our favorite lolicon is up to now."

The two of them walked through the front doors into Van's manor. A demi-human servant bowed to them as they passed. "Now. Do you want to tell me what Aksel's doing? Or is it going to be one of your usual guessing games?" Rachel calmly asked.

"If you guess it in three tries, I'll tell you if you're right or not," Karn said with a smile.

Rachel stayed calm as they continued on. "Does it involve Maya?" She asked since that was the first thing to come to mind knowing the young raccoon girl.

"Nope, good guess though!" Karn said with a laugh.

Rachel smirked. "If he's not doing something with Maya, it has to be something else… is he pestering Rishia about what it was like to be in a coma for over half a week?" She asked.

"Nope. As far as I know, Sir Itsuki kept anyone from disturbing her up till the meeting." He said with a shrug. "She should be in the library now actually."

The poor Fueh girl must have still been shell-shocked about waking up to Sir Itsuki like that. And was finding solace in the comfort of books. Understandable, since Rachel loved books.

"Hmmm…" Rachel thought long and hard for the last guess. It couldn't involve any of their party members since they were all accounted for.

She recognized that they were walking up to one of the two rooms Van was letting them use as Sir Itsuki's party members. Aksel, Karn, and Marx had shared this room before. But now, with the addition of Sir Ren and his party, who'd come back in earlier after grinding some monsters, there was the swordsman who was probably training with Eclair, the demi-girl who was out killing monsters herself now, and-

"It involves one of Sir Ren's party members. The tank." Rachel dryly guessed. She didn't know Ren's party all that well. But she had a very good guess as to what their tank was like.

"Ding ding ding! We have a winner! And her name is Rachel!" Karn opened the door wide with a flourish right after her guess.

"You think you're so tough, don't you!?"

"Yeah, tough enough to beat you even with this dumb injury?!"

Aksel sat on one end of a table. His right elbow was pressed into the wood. On the opposite side of him was Ren's party tank. Bakta. His right elbow was also pressed into the wood.

"URGHHHHHHHH!" And yes, both of them were arm wrestling. Even though Aksel's right arm was still bandaged around his bicep where he'd been hurt. They were neck and neck, each giving it their all to try and beat the other in a game of strength.

Rachel sighed. "Why am I not surprised?" It seemed men were the same, no matter where you looked. Put two large guys with the same job in the same room, and fireworks were almost guaranteed to happen.

"Don't think just because you're part of the Bow Hero's party that I'm going easy on you!" Bakta yelled.

"What's that!? Is the poor noble going to cry when he gets his butt handed to him by a wounded commoner?!" Aksel taunted. "Don't hold back! Not like it'll help you win if you try anyway!"

"Oh, now I'm really going to kick your-"

"Fast Shadow Hand."

Their little game was suddenly brought to a grinding halt. A dark hand made of Shadows gripped them in the center of the table by their arms, lifting them up into the air. The look of confusion on Bakta's face was already worth it. The way blood drained out of Aksel's face when he realized who the hand belonged to, however, was priceless.

Karn was already super happy that he'd thought about bringing Rachel along.

"What do you think you're doing, idiots." Rachel suddenly looked way larger than the two tanks. And far more intimidating too from where they dangled in the air by her magic.

This spell was one Rachel didn't use often. It had a weak magic attack stat. And it didn't do well with blocking magic. However, in situations like this against non-magic opponents, it came very much in handy for intimidation purposes.

"Eep!" Aksel quickly bowed repeatedly in the air again and again in apology. "I'm sorry Rachel! I'm sorry! He was calling me a weakling, and I wanted to prove him wrong!"

Bakta still looked confused. Though he grew more worried at Aksel's reaction to the mage.

"So you risked opening up your injury again after I did my best to heal it in an attempt to satisfy your pride?" Her voice was chilly, so much so that Bakta froze in fear. He was finally realizing the danger they were both in.

"And you." She glared at the cowering tank. "Who are you to pick a fight with someone that's wounded? Would you rather I be your opponent you worthless piece of &^%$?"

Another hand made of shadows appeared behind her, and she clenched it as if in anticipation of crushing something, or someone.

"EEP! NOPE! NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE!" Bakta started freaking out from the scary aura coming off the calm and reserved mage.

"... Good." Satisfied with their reactions, both shadow hands disappeared, dropping Bakta and Aksel to the ground. They both groaned in pain from the impact. Rachel checked her gauge using her HUD and was pleased to see the two weak spells hadn't cost her too much MP. And both victims looked sufficiently frightened.

"We don't have time for petty squabbles. I hope you've both learned your lesson."

The two tanks got on their knees and bowed to Rachel. "Yes, we understand! We'll work on getting along in the future!" They both said at the same time.

"... Now, is there anything else you wanted me to deal with, Karn?" She politely asked.

Karn stood back, looking off to the side in disappointment. The fun had ended far too quickly in his opinion... Though it had been entertaining to see the two party tanks almost piss themselves in fear.

"You could have torn into them a little bit more." He said teasingly.

"What was that?" Rachel raised one of her hands. Shadows came off from it.

Karn chuckled while holding up his hands. "Nothing, nothing at all!" Karn grinned widely. "Yep! Good job Rach! You always know how to handle a situation!" He gave a thumbs-up as he said it.

"... Good. I'll see you after training." Rachel gave one last calm look at the two tanks, before dispelling the dark shadow magic from her hand. She walked out of the room.

"No offense… but your party member scares me," Bakta admitted. The poor guy looked ready to pee his pants.

"She has that effect on people." Aksel agreed, a nervous sweatdrop falling down his forehead.

"Eh. Don't let that turn you off from her though." Karn said, laughingly taking his own seat. "She might not look like it, but she has a kind heart inside that outer shell of hers."

Aksel grimaced and put a hand over his bicep. "Yeah, I guess. She has her quirks, but once you get beyond that shell, she isn't a bad friend to have." He admitted.

"But wasn't what she did there a little… I don't know, overkill?" Bakta asked.

"Well. You already saw what one of her magic affinities is. She gets Shadow for being so calm and reserved all the time... Want to take a guess as to what her second one is?" Karn asked.

Bakta chuckled. "I don't even use magic. How the hell should I know what someone's affinity is?"

"But don't you wear that dull bulky enchanted armor?" Karn asked. "Surely you'd know something about magic from wearing that."

"It's not dull! It was a gift from my parents!" Bakta bellowed angrily. "And just because I wear it, it doesn't mean I understand how magic works-"

"Wow. Your parents must not like you very much." Aksel sarcastically interrupted. "That armor looks like it needs some upgrades."

"... You little…" Bakta grumbled at Aksel.

"I'm rather amazed actually. For a noble's son, you're even easier to rile up than the other brats I knew growing up." Karn said with a smile. "If you're not interested in magic, I'm going to guess you're illiterate too." It was a guess on Karn's part.

Bakta looked shocked at that. "How did you know that?!" He asked.

"Wait, seriously?" Aksel asked. "I'm a commoner and my dad still taught me how to read and write."

"Well... I know a little, but not much… I'm the fifth son of a noble, so I didn't think I'd have to run my Father's estate. I thought it'd be better to become an officer in the Royal Knights." Bakta said, to his embarrassment.

"But you can't become an officer in the Royal Knights if you can't read or write!" Karn was laughing at the end.

"That's…" Bakta deflated. "True."

"I mean, I might not use magic, but I understand how it works somewhat," Aksel said. "I wouldn't use enchanted armor if I didn't understand how it worked or what its limitations were." Some armors had great enchantments which sometimes came at a price. Like greater defense for the cost of mobility. Or resistance to water and fire for the cost of being weaker to earth and wind. The best armors, in fact, were the ones that didn't have these downsides to them!

"But my parents gifted my armor and Shield to me when they heard I'd joined the Sword Hero's party. I thought since it came from them that I should wear it."

That comment actually took some of the wind out of Karn's next planned comment to jab into the noble's son. "Oh… really?"

"Yeah. I don't have the Shield anymore, but it was enchanted too like my armor. It broke during our encounter with the Pope in the Church Archives. I tried to block a strong magic spell with it, and it shattered. I didn't realize trying to do that would break it..." Bakta sighed. "I'm not sure what they'll think now. Hearing that I'm a criminal alongside the Sword Hero."

"... Out of curiosity, who are your parents?" Karn asked after a moment. Bakta was already an oddity being illiterate and untrained in magic. To hear about a pair of nobles gifting their son a Shield in Melromarc though?

The Shield was a symbol of the enemy. No noble he'd met would ever gift that to someone unless they utterly despised them. And for all of Aksel's jabs, the enchanted armor Bakta wore was pretty good. It'd only need replacing once he got to even higher levels of strength.

"I doubt you'd know them. They live in one of the outer western provinces of Melromarc now-" Bakta was saying.

"Try me." Karn interrupted.

"... Aren't you coming on a little strong there, Karn?" Aksel asked.

"I worked for plenty of nobles in my former life Axe. I'd like to know if I worked with his parents at one point or not." Karn said, sounding oddly serious for once instead of laidback.

Batka looked surprised at that and then thought about it some more. He didn't remember ever seeing Karn before. But... "I mean, they're not really popular… okay. But if I tell you, you can't share it outside of this room." He finally agreed.

Karn nodded. And waited while Bakta gathered up his courage. "My parents are the… the… … … the Paynes." He finally said.

Aksel burst out laughing. "Wait, so your last name is Pain?! HAHAHAHAHA!" He started rolling around on the floor.

"Shut up! It's not spelled like pain! But this is why I didn't want to share it!" Bakta said, flushing red with embarrassment. He hadn't even told the rest of his party his last name.

Tersia and Farrie would make fun of him till the day he died.

"Bakta! The noble Payne!" Aksel continued laughing as the other tank flushed redder and redder.

"Hmmm..." Karn thought to himself for a moment as a fight was on the verge of breaking out again. "Yes, I remember them now. An older gentleman with greying hair and thick glasses. And a short wife a bit on the stout side." He said. "She had… I think her hair was blonde. But it might have been greying too. She was strict, but she was nice like her husband."

Bakta stopped and looked at Karn in surprise. "Yeah, that's them." He said.

He shrugged. "They were actually pretty nice compared to other nobles. They didn't treat me like crap for helping them out... Though I'm surprised your mother didn't teach you to at least read and write. She didn't seem like the type to allow her children to grow up stupid."

Bakta still looked stunned, and a little embarrassed. He didn't want to admit she had tried to teach him in the past.

Karn thought about it more. "Now that I think about it, weren't they moved to one of the poorest provinces in the west? Over near Zeltoble's border?" He asked.

Bakta started sweating bullets. "Um… uh… m-m-maybe?"

"Hmmm... I take back what I said before. You're not a spoiled brat... You're a fallen noble spoiled brat." He said while smiling.

"Fallen what?" Aksel asked.

"His parents were moved to a province suffering from severe famine, bandit attacks, and slaver raids. They're losing money trying to protect the place and bring in supplies from neighboring regions. It's probably reached the point where they're having to live at almost the same level as us commoners, just like the Ivyreds in the North." Karn said.

Bakta grimaced. "We still have some money left… but I don't know how much my parents used to gift me my armor, broadsword, and shield." He said sadly.

He felt worse now about breaking that piece of equipment. But at least it'd been broken protecting the party instead of for something really lame and stupid like a bar fight.

He could easily picture something like that happening a couple of months ago before the Wave of Catastrophe struck.

"Hey, it'll be alright. I remember that they don't worship the Three Heroes Church either. And the fact that they haven't given up on their province must mean they're somewhat good." Karn replied.

"Yeah, but they didn't worship any of the Cardinal Heroes before the Waves. Knowing them, I doubt they'd start believing the legends now."

"Eh, hard times are hitting everyone. And you're working alongside a Cardinal Hero to stop a legend from destroying our world." Karn said with a shrug as he stood up and stretched. "Might get them to change their minds… probably." He shrugged. "They're pretty stubborn. Kind of like you. But they're good people. Maybe some of that goodness rubbed off on you too... probably."

"Wow, thanks a lot," Bakta muttered sarcastically.

"Are you already leaving Karn?" Aksel asked.

"Yeah, no point to stay if you aren't going to fight and entertain me," Karn said with a bored chuckle. "I prefer that over sentimentality."

"Careful. Rach might be hiding behind the door to make sure we don't start fighting again." Aksel said.

Bakta paled at that. "Wait, you don't mean she heard what I said!"

"Don't worry. Even if she did, she wouldn't tell anyone else your last name."

"And how do you know that-" Bakta was angrily replying.



Bakta stared in confusion at Karn as he was walking out the door. He gave him a smirk. "Rach's other magic affinity is healing. She wouldn't share stuff to hurt other people without good reason. And you seem nice like your parents despite your... noble tendencies.

"So don't worry about her." He shrugged playfully. "If worse comes to worst and you piss her off again, she'd take it out on you personally. And I'm sure afterward that she'd use a spell or two to stitch you back together." Karn left, laughing his head off as whatever blood that had been left in Bakta's face drained away.

"He's, he's not being serious… is he?" He squeaked out.

Aksel was groaning, sitting on the edge of his bed again. "I don't think so… but I'd rather be safe than sorry." Rachel had managed to use healing magic to stop the bleeding and close his arm wound. But she didn't practice Healing magic very often. So it wasn't as strong as her Shadow/Dark magic. Her offensive magic could very well do what Karn had implied.

It was something he didn't want to mess with after seeing the ways she took down monsters and slavers in the past.

Bakta sighed forlornly. "Let's save the rematch for after you're healed up then." He finally said. "I'd rather not get on her bad side…"

"Yeah, I'd rather not-"


It took a moment for Aksel to realize what Bakta had said. "What the hell do you mean by rematch?"

Bakta smirked. "Your arm was just slightly lower than mine when she interfered, so technically, since the match was interrupted, I won."

"Bull &^%$!" Aksel yelled. Sitting up again. "Your arm was lower, not mine!"

"You're just mad because I beat you, stupid commoner!" Bakta said proudly.

"Don't call me stupid when you don't even know how to read, idiot Pain!" Aksel yelled angrily.

Bakta flushed red with anger. "Is that a challenge small stuff?!"

Aksel was already up and in position at the table again. "Bring it, big boy!"

And just like that, the two meatheaded tanks of the Sword and Bow parties resumed their arm wrestling match anew.

At least they had a way to train. Or get on Rachel's bad side if they didn't specify it was training for her next time.

"I'm going to throttle you!" They both yelled at the same time.

It'd been half an hour since the two woman had started their practice duel with one another.

"Gasp!" "Gasp!"

Eclair and Raphtalia were both on the ground, panting hard, and covered in sweat. Raphtalia had light bruises all over her arms and legs. Eclair had only one slightly red mark on her cheek. Eclair got it when Raphtalia, out of desperation, used her only magic sword technique to disappear and reappear to the side of Eclair.

The trick, which had caught Eclair by surprise, only worked once. She'd not only countered it after that, but punished the half-tanuki girl with a series of melee attacks that resulted in a lot of the bruising Raphtalia had now.

Eclair had thoroughly schooled the Tanuki girl every time she tried to use it after that. And schooled her in everything else too while she was at it.

"How… how did you get so skilled?!" Raphtalia asked incredulously.

Eclair's attacks weren't particularly strong against her. But the strawberry swordsman had gotten hits on Raphtalia so many times she'd lost count.

"Training… years and years… of training," Eclair answered between breaths.

She may have beaten the hell out of Raphtalia. But the half-tanuki girl definitely had endurance. And she could take a hit. She could take a lot of hits from the rose-haired swordswoman.

"That's… amazing," Raphtalia said. It had been like trying to fight a river. Everflowing and ever-changing. Even her speed hadn't been enough to give her an advantage over the strawberry swordsman.

"Indeed." For a hero's companion, she was definitely strong, fast, and had good endurance. Had Raphtalia had more stamina, Eclair would have eventually faltered and ended up covered in a lot of bruises too.

She definitely had to train her endurance levels again. They'd proved to almost be her downfall in the practice duel.


The two panted for a little while, gradually recovering from the bout.

"So how… how did I do?" Raphtalia finally asked.

"Besides the parts where you tried to cheat?" Eclair asked for clarification.

"We never specified that there'd be no magic." Raphtalia said with a pout.

"There is no room for magic in an honorable duel," Eclair replied. Much to Raphtalia's chagrin and pride. "As for how well you did-"

"Aw come on, where's the fun in not using magic?"

The interruption surprised them. Both Raphtalia and Eclair both stood up, brandishing their wood swords in self-defense. "Who's there?" Eclair said calmly. Welt was still passed out on the ground from overtraining.

"... Relax. There's no reason for me to attack you." Light twisted in the air in front of them, and then Maya reappeared. The raccoon demi-human grinned widely at them as she held up two water canisters. "It looked like you were fighting pretty hard there." She tossed them both the canisters. Which they caught.

"Um, thanks, I guess," Raphralia said unsurely. Not recognizing the demi-human in front of her.

Maya took a vial of Magic Healing Water out and drank it. "Awesome fight by the way. It was definitely something interesting to watch."

"Wait, you're that girl from yesterday," Eclair remembered this demi-girl materializing out of nowhere to take down a knight. "Are you one of the Hero's party members?"

"Yes, I'm with Sir Itsuki. The name's Maya." She smiled happily. "It's a pleasure to meet you again Raphtalia!"

Raphtalia drank from her canister. The water was refreshing after trying so hard to get a hit on Eclair. "Maya…" Raphtalia thought the name over. She also looked at the smiling black-haired demi-human more closely. Did she recognize her from somewhere-

"Wait, you're the little girl from before!"

"The same one you held in your lap while Sir Itsuki and Sir Naofumi talked in that one inn," Maya said happily. She was happy to see that Raphtalia still remembered her.

Raphtalia smiled brightly, dropped the wooden sword, rushed forward, and embraced the raccoon girl. "I'm so happy you're okay!"

Maya let out a surprised gasp at Raphtalia's strength but hugged the older girl in response.

They pulled back. "You're already so big." She looked just slightly younger than Raphtalia. "And you're casting illusion magic too?"

Maya laughed, looking genuinely happy. "Sir Itsuki and the others helped with Powerleveling me. I didn't think it was possible to grow up so quickly before." She said. "As for the magic. Well. That involved a lot of studying at night. And maybe a crystal ball or two from Sir Itsuki so I could learn to use magic."

Maya stepped back and said a quick chant. "First Hiding." She disappeared into a haze of light. And then, two seconds later, she reappeared a few feet to the right, rubbing the back of her neck while still smiling. "Since I learned that spell from a Crystal Ball, it doesn't hide me for long. But it helped me with understanding how to use magic." She said happily. "I can use other spells to hide my presence besides that one."

"It wasn't too difficult for me to pick up magic," Raphtalia said, smiling brightly herself at being reunited with the young girl. "It was like rediscovering an old friend."

"That's what it felt like for me too!" Maya said happily. The two looked like they would have gone on and on if allowed.

"I'm sorry to interrupt." Eclair butted in. They looked at her. "I can see you two know each other. But may I finish what I was going to say to Miss Raphtalia first?" Eclair asked.

"Oh, yes, of course," Raphtalia said, standing at attention.

"Not like I'm going to stop you." Maya playfully teased.

Eclair frowned at the raccoon girl and faced Raphtalia again. "Your forms are full of holes." She said, not sugarcoating how horribly Raphtalia had done. "Anyone with half your speed could have seen your movements a mile away. And anyone with a little bit of skill could easily defeat you. It's almost like you tried to teach yourself in the past."

Raphtalia sweatdropped. "Well, I did teach myself." She said embarrassedly. "I only ever got taught the basics. And that was back before the Second Wave struck Lute."

She also hadn't had the opportunity to spar against many human opponents. Her main specialty was killing monsters. Not long drawn out duels. Watching swordsmen in towns practice their forms and stances could only get her so far too.

Eclair thought to herself. "That's no excuse for your form to be so terrible. I'm not near as fast as you Miss Raphtalia. And yet I still beat you after months of imprisonment." She said seriously. "Imagine if a competent foe attacked you and the Shield Hero."

Raphtalia looked tired. "However, it's quite commendable that you've already managed to integrate magic into your sword forms." Eclair continued. "That requires a level of skill most knights never achieve. That means you have the potential to become a much better swordsman than you are now."

Raphtalia blushed at the praise. "Does that mean you'll teach me?" She asked.

"You're the Companion of one of the Holy Heroes. I would be doing Sir Naofumi a disfavor by allowing you to stay in your current shape." Eclair said seriously. She looked Raphtalia over and grimaced. "I'd recommend stopping for today though."

Eclair really had left quite a number of bruises on Raphtalia's arms and legs. And that likely didn't include what was under her clothes. She hoped that the Shield Hero wouldn't get mad at her for this.

"Yeah, you look a little banged up there, Raphtalia." Maya agreed.

"It's fine. I can hardly feel the pain. I'm sure Naofumi could heal all this up after we're done..." It came out fine. But then Raphtalia remembered why she'd dueled Eclair, and her cheeks flushed red again. "Um… M-M-Maya… could I ask you for some ad-ad-advice?" She turned to the other demi-human girl nervously.

Eclair sighed to herself. Raphtalia was already on the same path of embarrassment as before. 'Here we go again.'

"Yeah, what is it Raphtalia?" She asked.

"Do you… do you know how to avoid… avoid getting pregnant?" She asked, her tail wagging embarrassedly behind her. But not as much as when she'd talked to Eclair.

'Wait, she didn't say that earlier?! She asked for relationship advice, not that?!' Eclair thought incredulously.

Maya looked confused. "Um… I mean I've grown up too… but I… I honestly don't know." She admitted. "My parents never got the chance to sit down to have that chat with me."

"Heheh, me neither," Raphtalia admitted. Looking a lot less embarrassed. It seemed having known Maya a while back made it easier to ask her about it.

'My Gods, BOTH OF THEM DON'T KNOW ABOUT THIS STUFF?!' Eclair thought in bewilderment. What was up with their parents!? Did they have some reason not to teach their daughters the Birds and the Bees?!

"My parents told me all it took was a kiss." Raphtalia quietly admitted. "But then Naofumi told me that wasn't how it worked after I kissed him."

"Whoa, were you trying to get yourself pregnant Raphtalia?" Maya asked curiously.

"N-N-NO!" Raphtalia nearly shrieked. "I just, um, wanted to thank him for healing me! That's all!"

"... okay... but you're sure that kissing doesn't make you pregnant?" Maya asked.

Raphtalia nodded. Maya looked stunned at the revelation. And then she started grinning widely. "Oh yeah. I know what I'm going to do to my knight in shining armor next time I get the chance." She started rubbing her hands together in anticipation.

It was really hard to tell if she was joking or being serious.

"Oh, are you in love with someone too?" Raphtalia asked curiously.

Maya flushed in embarrassment. "N-NO!" Her sleek black tail wagged embarrassedly behind her. "OF COURSE I'M NOT!"

It was amazing how easy it was to read that she was lying there.

Eclair shook her head in disbelief. 'If she'd just started with that, I could have easily explained it for her.' She'd had the privilege of getting the talk from her Father. And she wouldn't be shy in explaining such a simple thing to these girls.

Besides that, Raphtalia looked way more relaxed talking to Maya instead of Eclair about this. "Well. My other problem though is the thought of ambushing Naofumi out of nowhere with kisses, I want to do it, but it's so… embarrassing…" Raphtalia trailed off. Her ears twitched on top of her head. Maya's ears also twitched, and she jerked her head around. Embarrassment forgotten.

Eclair was snapped out of her thoughts. "What is it?" Eclair asked. She couldn't hear anything, but she'd been around demi-humans long enough to know their senses were more finely tuned than humans'. Whether it was smell, sight, hearing, or in some cases, instinct.

Maya set herself against the ground. Tilting her head so her ear could be pressed against it. "I'm hearing rumblings. It's like…" She muttered to herself, and then she disappeared.

"Hide Mirage." Raphtalia cast the spell over herself. Disappearing from view.

"Wait, Miss Raphtalia-" Eclair tried to stop Raphtalia to ask what was happening, but Raphtalia had already disappeared. 'What's going on-' She was thinking.

"Don't act out of character. Something's out there. We're going to check it out."

Eclair almost flinched at Maya's voice but kept her cool.

She started doing basic downward thrusts in front of herself as Maya whispered into her ear. "Just in case. Stay here and act normal until we get back. And whatever you do, don't allow anyone to go into the forest."

She didn't say more. A few seconds later, the branches of a tree slightly shook, but other than that, there was no sign of where the girl had run off to.

"I guess... while they're practicing magic together, I can stay here… and practice my sword forms… again…" Eclair got into the sword form she had been doing before Raphtalia interrupted her, and continued.

'Am I going to have to be the one that gives those two the Talk?' She pondered as she lost herself in her sword form… 'Nah, I'm sure they'll ask someone else about it. It's not something for me to worry about.'

She just had to act normal for now. And hope that what they'd heard wasn't bad news.

"Ugh..." Well, it was about to get a lot easier to act normal.

"It's about time you woke up!" Eclair yelled at the tired swordsmen from Ren's party. "What are you doing slacking off on training!?"

Welt immediately jumped up. "Wh-Wh-Wha-" He was saying in confusion.

"Come on! Your form is still nowhere close to perfection!" Eclair charged the poor guy.

"Wait, but I already passed out once from training-" POW! "Owwwwwww!" Welt nearly collapsed when Eclair's wooden sword struck him across his chest.

"No slacking! Stay on your feet and fight like your life depends on it!" Eclair ordered. "The enemy will show you no mercy, and neither will I!"

'Why did I have to choose to be a freaking swordsmannnnnnnn!' Welt lamented inside his mind as he once again had to defend himself from the Rose Knight. Failing very miserably in the process as he could hardly keep up with her fast-flowing movements.

"Now put your whole body into it! Come on! Where did you learn to parry!? Your grandpa! Don't you dare hold back anything from me!" Eclair continued to yell, fighting Welt with the ease of destroying a level 1 monster.

She was a monster herself.

How the hell was she still this good despite being imprisoned for almost three months and pushing herself to exhaustion again and again?

'Wahhhhhhh!' Welt complained inside his mind.

Being part of the Shield Hero's party was so unfair!

Till Next Time