Naofumi did his best to run while carrying Raphtalia hugged over his chest while a pervading sense of unease caused his thoughts to drift. He hesitated, his legs slowing down as he glanced behind him and towards the dark underground path he'd already traversed through.

Raphtalia's grip on him tightened, her hands wrapped around his neck searching for a comfort and security he couldn't possibly give in his current predicament.

Myne was running just up ahead of him, leading him through what he was vaguely beginning to realize was a hidden catacomb beneath the Kingdom of Melromarc. On either side of the long winding corridors he passed by, rectangular indents were cut into the walls, coffins and bodies kept in sacs tucked into them.

The entire subterranean gallery was lit only by flickering wax candles that Myne lit with her magic as she led on. The accuracy of her actions felt odd considering they revealed a sense of familiarity that shouldn't have been normal considering this was an 'emergency' evacuation path.

Sure, Myne might have known about it, but to be familiar, Keel or Shirou would have noticed this detail and made precautions, but Naofumi was different. Rather than raise his guard, he was too busy spitting out strands of hair that kept flapping over his face.

With each stride, Raphtalia's long brown hair kept flicking up into Naofumi's eyes and mouth, causing him to splutter. He was more concerned about not falling and slowing Myne down rather than looking out for any oddities.

"S-Sorry," Raphtalia squeaked, doing her best to hold her bangs down with one hand while the other kept a grip on his shoulder.

Naofumi grunted while smiling awkwardly. Raphtalia had no reason to look so anxious just because she was causing him some trouble, yet considering where he'd found her, he blamed everything on the slavers and people who'd captured her in the first place.

"Don't be," he said kindly. Nodding once at her, he shifted his hold, putting one arm beneath her legs, and the other over her back. He cradled her, eliminating the issue of her hair swatting at his face.

Raphtalia stared up at him before pursing her lips and hugging him to make it easier to carry her.

Good girl.

Raphtalia's been through a lot at her age, but she was clearly strong of heart since she hadn't broken despite her circumstances.

With his hold secure, Naofumi spend up to run alongside Myne who glanced at him with a hint of confusion. She'd not thought Naofumi was at a level where he could keep up with her with no visible strain or use of magic. Much like the other Heroes, she'd assumed that Naofumi was still leveling in the beginner areas.

A fluke. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The man known as Naofumi Iwatani just so happened to possess impressive physical base stats.

Myne shook her head with a concealed scowl working over her features.

"Hey, ugh, do you hear that?" Naofumi abruptly spoke up, prompting Myne to narrow her eyes.

Unlike Naofumi, Myne was well versed in magic and had casted a rudimentary scouting spell. It wouldn't alert her of any traps or concealed passages, but it did inform of her of an uninvited guest.

"Ignore it. Rats infest these tunnels." Myne smiled awkwardly, heightening her pace and prompting Naofumi to mimic the action.

However, Myne didn't account for Raphtalia who had a view over Naofumi's shoulder. "Keel!" She called out in relief.

Myne clicked her tongue and forced herself to stop in tandem with Naofumi lest she give anything away.

"I'm not a rat," Keel appeared, her ears flattening over her head as she gazed warily at Myne.

Keel unhesitatingly raced to Raphtalia and Naofumi's side while panting for breath, clinging to the back of Naofumi's pant leg just above his knee. She didn't like Myne at all, her beast-like intuition allowing her to differentiate the truth of a person's character. If Naofumi wasn't aware of this before, he was now as Keel growled lowly from behind clenched teeth at Myne.

"Sorry," Naofumi apologized. "She mustn't like strangers."

Keel pulled at Naofumi's pant leg. "I don't like snakes," she corrected, the meaning going right over Naofumi's head, but prompting Myne to narrow her brows.

Naofumi sighed as he did sense the sudden tension. With Keel acting as an example, Raphtalia had clued into her friend's wariness of Myne and was childishly glaring in comradery, her cheeks puffed and lips curved downward.

They were an army of two that barely reached his waist.

The sight would have been cute if not for the implications, and the fact that Shirou was risking his life to buy them time and here they were standing idle.

This world wasn't a game. Getting better acquainted with the other Heroes and people of influence in Melromarc could wait. Getting stronger like Shirou had said was the priority. Besides, what was more trustworthy than the experience of a veteran?

Shirou may not have been old, but his advice sure sounded wise.

Keel had been with Shirou when they'd been split up in the carriage. The fact that she was here meant that Shirou had sent her. There had to be some sort of meaning for this action.

"We should hurry, Naofumi!" Myne clasped her hands over Naofumi's the warmth of her palms jarring him out of his stupor as a blush worked its way up his cheeks due to her proximity. "We don't know how long your friend can hold back those assassins. He may perish before I can sound an alarm to call the palace guards."

A fragrant scent assaulted his nose, permeating from Myne's hair as she pleadingly looked into his eyes.

"Yeah, y-yeah we should go," Naofumi said automatically as Myne smiled radiantly at him.

She let go of his hand and began running forward again, Naofumi following along after picking up Keel for the ride.

Myne continued to act as a guide while half-an-hour passed with them walking deeper and deeper into the catacombs. They stopped at a narrow fork in the path, Myne beckoning them to go one way towards a different exit while she goes the other to reach the palace and send a signal to a stationed guard outpost.

The reasoning was flawless. The assassins were after him, and to be frank, he was somewhat guilty that Myne was already placing herself in danger for him. He would have agreed to the decision without any second thoughts if not for Keel suddenly acting up.

"N-No." Keel shook her head, her nose twitching as she sniffed the dry underground. "It smells weird in there. Like old bones and rotten meat."

Keel was a demi-human who was part canine. Her scent of smell far surpassed anyone in the group, and Naofumi had no reason to doubt her. Once again, Naofumi failed to notice the careful neutrality that came over Myne's expression before she was all smiles again.

"We're in a catacomb child. What else would it smell like?" Myne tried to reason, all but glaring at Keel, and daring her to say otherwise. Raphtalia was the one who flinched while Keel gritted her teeth.

Meanwhile, Naofumi pondered the issue just long enough for Myne to 'accidently' step on a mechanism on the floor.

Everyone looked down at Myne's foot, varying expressions of disbelief on all their faces.

"D-Do you have any idea what that does?" Naofumi asked nervously.

"N-No clue," Myne's tone matched Naofumi's before the ground began shaking a second later and a steel wall came crashing down between them. Hastily, Naofumi pressed Keel and Raphtalia close while deploying his shield.

Dust and debris scattered over the area, clanking against the metal of his shield while forming a cloud that obscured visibility in the underground tunnel.

"N-Naofumi! I-I can't reach you!" The voice was muffled from the other side of the steel wall, but it was still distinguishable. "The tunnel's caving in from this end! You'll have to find another way out. There's an exit further down the path. Just keep going straight!"

If Shirou were around, the steel wall would mean nothing, but Naofumi he had no capability to force his way through. "I got it! Thanks!" He said in reply as the dust settled.

Inwardly, he was flustered at the sudden developments, but both Keel and Raphtalia were looking up at him for guidance. He was the only grown up present, and what grown up cowers or hesitates before children?

"We should get going," he said, doing his best impression of a confident hero, his back straightening and features sharpening.

Raphtalia clapped, but Keel still looked wary about doing anything Myne suggested doing.

"Don't worry," he grinned, for once thankful for his class. "I'm the Shield Hero."

They couldn't have asked for a better protector, and compared to the monsters he and Shirou had farmed, what was there to worry about?

Blades sprouted from the edge of his shield as he shifted it into the first level of the [Chain Shield Series].

[Atk: + 20]

[Def: + 10]

[Unique Ability: Splash Damage]

[Splash Damage: Randomly damages enemies near point of impact]

Onward it is.

You know the thing about being ignored? No one cares about you. Literally.

Before Shirou had been able to decide how to deal with the assassins before him, they had all just up and left without even bothering to pursue Naofumi or guarding against him. This was their sole mistake.

You see, he wasn't an average hero. He was a Magus.

Numerous particular swords formed in the air, red hilted and with uniform blades, they resembled crosses in design. They were known as Black Keys, the preferred weapon of choice by agents of the Church combating against heresy and evil.

All it took was a second from there. While the assassins panicked in bewilderment at the sight of so many blades, they chose to remain still after tracking the trajectory of the Black Keys and determining that they wouldn't land on their persons. Instead, what was impaled were their shadows.

This moment spelled the beginning of the end.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. (John 1:8-10 ESV).

Alarmed shouts and panicked yells echoed while every single assassin regarded him with a layer of fear born of incomprehension.

It is in sin that we repent. The devils hiding in the dark.

The Black Keys stabbed into the shadows of the cloaked assassins released an unseen property that permeated towards the shadow's source, magically binding them in place.

Be subdued by the weight of your own demons.

Shirou left the assassins as they were in an obscured area near the outskirts of Melromarc. He didn't have the motivation or time to bother with them for any longer. Should help arrive, they could be saved if the Black Keys were removed, but if not, then they would be standing there without food or water for however long it would take.

Shirou took in a breath, and with that he was gone in a burst of bodily Reinforced speed all the way back to Melromarc castle. In his hands was a traced copy of the very same cane Aultcray Melromarc always kept nearby.

Once back on the premise of the castle, he wasted no time and started walking in a particular direction past the main audience hall. From the way he moved he seemed entirely familiar with the long and complex halls that made up Melromarc's main castle, and this was due to a peculiar aspect of his Tracing magecraft.

Not only did his Tracing reveal to him the history of a weapon, but the skill and experiences of its wielder as well. This alone had been the reason why he'd not been too vocal against Aultcray despite how prejudiced he'd been to Naofumi.

It was because he could understand Aultcray, meaning that he was the most qualified to ever confront the man about his mistakes.

Reaching a particular concealed room hidden behind a hollow book shelf, he raised his leg and kicked through the hidden door. Aultcray could be seen seated on a desk surrounded by book shelves and transcriptions of magic circles going over classified documents regarding the order to assassinate the Shield Hero.

Startled at his abrupt entrance, Aultcray jumped to his feet in shock and fury, yet whatever it was that Aultcray had to say died in his mouth when he noticed a peculiar detail.

"…T-This isn't possible," Aultcray murmured as his gaze shifted from the cane in his hands, and then to the cane in Shirou's.

"Contrarily to your thoughts, I'm not here to fight," Shirou tried to placate, but nothing he was saying was registering in Aultcray's mind until the traced copy of the legendary staff made to resemble a cane was dissipated.

"You, what madness is this?!" Aultcray yelled in abject confusion and apprehension. Just to make sure his cane was still by his side, Aultcray gripped it tightly.

Shirou ignored the question and simply strode further into the room, making sure to close the path behind him by forming a giant blade that muted Aultcray into silence.

"I will not claim to know or understand what it was that made you decide to lose sight of your own self, but this world still needs its heroes. Every hero." Shirou's eyes sharpened, his expression sharpening.

Whatever it was that had brought him here, there was certainly meaning. By Tracing copies of the Legendary weapons and now a vassal staff, he became vaguely aware of some sort of importance that they played.

He hadn't lied in his previous sentence. The world really did need every hero available, the loss of even one weakening some sort of system.

The principle was the same for the runes or magic points that powered a bounded field. The more of them were destroyed or lost, the weaker the bounded field. In essence, the heroes were like runes or magic points acting as the foundation for something.

"Let us talk."

Shirou gingerly found a chair and seated himself across from a silently glaring Aultcray.

When Aultcray made to protest, shimmers formed in the air before the entire hidden office was surrounded in a sea of sharp steel.

"It wasn't a suggestion."

Shirou watched the colour drain from Aultcray's face.

"You. Will. Sit. And. You. Will. Listen."

Shirou knew that he was being forceful, but the King before him was in need of a long-awaited wake-up call. There was no such thing as a world without danger, and peace time had made the man grow lax.

What was needed for the future wasn't the King of Melromarc, but the Hero the King once was that had earned the love and favour of the Queen for his strategical mind and capabilities.

The world didn't need Aultcray Melromarc XXXII.

It needed the Third Illegitimate Heir of the strongest Kingdom of Faubrey: The War General and Hero of the Staff who killed the leader of the Hakuko in revenge for his sister.

Lüge Lansarz Faubrey.

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