Sword and Shield
Book 1: Game On
Why am I so sore?
Shirou groaned pitifully as he shifted in his sleep. His entire body ached and his bed felt unusually lumpy and uncomfortable. Calling the soreness in his body an ache was underselling it greatly, though. It felt as if his entire body was one big bruise. Even the pain he experienced when creating a Circuit, the equivalent of inserting a scalding hot iron bar into his spine, when he practiced Magecraft could not hope to compare to this pain. What the hell had happened?
He slowly forced his eyes open, and immediately realized something was very, very wrong. For one, he was no longer in his bedroom where, last he could remember, he had gone to sleep.
Second, sturdy steel bars surrounded him on all sides. He was in a cage.
Gasping in shock and bewilderment, Shirou forced himself to sit upright in spite of the pain and looked around wildly. What he saw made his stomach drop like an anvil.
Like previously mentioned he was in a cage, laying down on an old and dirty piece of cloth that wasn't nearly large enough for him to sleep comfortably on. Lining the breadth and width of the dim room he found himself in were dozens upon dozens of cages. He could barely see them through the oppressive gloom, but each and every cage housed at least one other individual.
All of them were as trapped and helpless as he was. Moreover there was something strange with all of them. He could barely make them out, but some of them didn't exactly have human proportions and… did some of them have extra limbs or something?!
A weak cough was heard to his side, making his ears twitch, and Shirou turned to look.
A little girl was sitting in the corner of the cage beside his, as if trying to hide, though because of her proximity he could see her now that his eyes had adjusted to the dark surroundings. She looked a little younger than him, maybe about ten years old. Her skin was dry and sickly looking. Her hair was unkempt and filthy. She wore nothing but rags and her eyes, they appeared dead to the world, as if she was a corpse that hadn't realized that she was already dead.
Moreover, she had two rounded ears on top of her head and a long, bushy tail was curled around her. The extra appendages distinctly reminded him of a raccoon.
Shirou looked at wide eyed at the extra appendages "What the hell…" the words slipped out before he even realized he'd said them.
The girl apparently heard him. Her head turned to look at him, but she didn't say anything. She simply gave him a dead eyed stare. Like a fish on a chopping board.
He swallowed thickly at the look and his ears and tail twitched in his unease…
Wait… Ears and… tail…
Slowly, hesitantly, he raised one of his hands and felt around on the top of his head, even as his other hand felt along the ground behind him.
Bump. Bump. Twitch. The rounded raccoon ears on top of his head, the ears that hadn't been there before he had gone to sleep, twitched as he touched them. The long, bushy tail that was attached to his behind swung away as he touched it before curling about his person.
Even though he was already aching terribly, a trembling and wide eyed Shirou pinched his arm. He felt a sharp pain. Nope, he was definitely awake and not having some strange, overblown nightmare. Despite how unbelievable it seemed, he somehow, inexplicably, after going to sleep found himself in a cage with animal parts attached to him.
Before the panic attack that had been building up for a while could fully set in, he'd one odd and random thought pop up in his head.
Taiga-onee-san is going to kill me…
[Status Magic Main Menu]
Emiya Shirou (Age: 12)
Class: Demi-human (Sub-type: Raccoon)
Equipment: Tattered Clothes
Magic: Projection (100% mastered), Structural Analysis (100% mastered), Reinforcement (23% mastered)
"Okay, now. Let's see…"
Shirou mumbled to himself as he looked through the Status Menu, not quite sure what to make of it.
After calming down from his (well deserved) freak out, he'd starting taking stock of his situation. He might be a kid, but he was also a Magus. He was a bit better prepared than most to deal with the supernatural and all around strange situations. Not much, but a little, and that was enough to get him to calm down within an hour instead of several hours. It wasn't long before he'd noticed the strange icon floating in his peripheral vision, and the moment he'd focused on it, it had opened up and filled his vision with this strange, game-like menu box.
Game-like was indeed the correct term. Besides displaying general information about him, it also displayed certain 'statistics' about him like: Health (HP), Attack (ATK), Defense (DEF), Speed (SPD), Agility (AGL), Stamina (STA), etc., together with certain values.
It was really like a game.
Considering the name and the information it displayed in an easy to digest manner, it was probably some kind of Magecraft that made information about the user visible to the naked eye. Probably only visible to himself, though, as none of the people locked up in the cages besides him had reacted when Shirou had unwittingly opened his Menu.
That, of course, raised the question how he could have spontaneously acquired such Magecraft. Especially considering his lack of talent. He'd been practicing Reinforcement for over two years and he had barely made any progress in those two years
Unfortunately, his musings around the information displayed, even the information confirming the fact that he had somehow changed species, took a backseat to the pop up that had appeared the second he had opened the Menu. A pop up that had confirmed his worst fear the moment he had noticed the intricate, purple mark emblazoned on his chest.
Emiya Shirou has been branded with a Slave Crest. Violation of the terms set by the owner will result in extreme pain. Please do not violate the terms.
Of course, there was no mention what those terms were. Or how and why he had been branded with a Slave Crest in the first place. Though, considering the situation, he could hazard a guess…
All around him, people, demi-humans, filled the cages that lined the room, and only demi-humans. All of them were either weak from a lack of food or illness to varying degrees. Ironically enough, he himself appeared the to be the most healthy. Considering this, the strange Magecraft he suddenly had access to, he could only come to the conclusion that he had been kidnapped and experimented on by a Magus. Kiritsugu had always said that most Magi were an immoral lot. That would explain the new Magecraft and the extra appendages. That still didn't answer where he was, though.
He'd tried asking the girl in the cage beside him in order to confirm his theory and ask if she knew where in the world they were, but… she had simply given him a strange look, opened her mouth and, to his ears, had spoken gibberish. His heart had sank when he realized that she, and no else in the room he'd later found out, spoke his language. Hell, he didn't even recognize the language the other slaves had been speaking. Not Japanese. Not English. Not French. Not German. Not Dutch. Not Spanish. Not Greek. The language they spoke was so odd and foreign to his ears that he had a fleeting thought that it must have come from another world…
…Or maybe I'm the one that had been transported to another world?
Before he could give the shocking idea much consideration, a man stepped into his field of vision. He was short, stout and fat man, wearing an expensive looking suit with long coattails. The man had a devilish grin on his face as he twirled his moustache and adjusted his monocle with the other like one of those cheesy villains from one of those old spy movies from Britain that Taiga had made him watch once.
Shirou instinctively knew that this was the man that applied the Slave Crest to him. In other words, this was his, and every other person's in this room… owner… his stomach churned.
"Oh, it's seems our surprise acquisition is awake. Yes," the man, the Slave Trader, said.
Shirou glared at him. Even before the Slave Trader had opened his mouth, he'd felt an instinctive burst of disgust for the man. Not that it mattered what the man said. Like the rest of the people in the room, he could not understand the foreign words of the Slave Trader.
"Hmm, it seems this one has some spunk. Yes," the Slave Trader's grin widened. "Good. You're going to need it. Hehe."
Shirou shivered at the Slave Trader's giggle. Again, he could not understand the words, but the man's gleeful expression was enough to clue him in on the fact that, whatever was going to happen to him next, he wasn't going to like it.
The Slave Trader snapped his gloved fingers. In response, two massive, muscle bound men wearing a blank mask appeared. "You, prepare the slave. You, gather the others and prepare the ritual. Before we can sell this product, we must first make it useable."
One of the masked men disappeared with the Slave Trader, while the other opened the cage and stepped inside. Shirou was about to start resisting whatever de man was going to do, but the moment he began to move, his Slave Crest acted up and stopped him with a sharp lance of pain.
Shirou gasped, collapsing to his knees as the Slave Crest flickered with a vile purple light, his entire body locking up. This was what it felt like to be electrocuted, he'd imagine. The pain was so intense that he could scarcely breath, and it immediately put a stop to even the idea of trying to resist. Even the act of making a Circuit fell woefully short to this level of pain.
A rough hand seized him by the shoulder, digging into his flesh, and forced him on his feet in spite of the pain. He was unceremoniously frog-marched out of the room, through several doors and, once they had reached a small room somewhere in the back, was shoved to the ground in the center of the room.
Right in the middle of a massive and intricate Magic Circle carved into the floor.
Heart pounding, Shirou scrambled to get up and move out of the Magic Circle. From what little his father had taught him, he wouldn't want to be caught dead anywhere near a Magic Circle, but…
"Don't move," the masked man ordered, and, even if he didn't understand the words, the Slave Crest forced him to comply with another sharp burst of pain. He could do nothing but stand still in center of the Magic Circle, forced to wait and see what was going to happen.
"Now then. Yes," the Slave Trader reappeared, accompanied by another half a dozen masked men. He stepped in front of Shirou as his men began the circle the Magic Circle, surrounding Shirou on all sides in what was clearly the beginning stages of a ritual.
Shirou's heart was going so fast that it was beating a permanent tattoo against his chest and his tail was swishing behind him in unease. What were they going to do to him?
"Let's begin. Yes," the Slave Trader twirled his moustache as his men began to fill in the groves of the Magic Circle with some kind of vicious liquid. In a matter of moments, the Magic Circle had been prepared, and when the masked men began to chant, the Magic Circle lit up with bright light. In a few moments, the ritual would commence.
"I hope you won't hold this against me. Yes," the Slave Trader said with a vicious grin. "Ah, you should actually be thanking me…"
The light from the Magic Circle flared even brighter, blinding Shirou. He could see nothing but a bright light, and the only thing he heard was the Slave Trader's voice.
"…After all, what good is a slave when they can't understand their master's words?"
Shirou heard a distant scream and numbly realized that it was his own. He could no longer hear the chanting of the masked men and he could barely hear his own screams past the vast, piercing lance that pierced his mind, that then twisted viciously and set his brain on fire.
This, this is what all those people back in the cages been subjected to? Being locked up and branded like animals, being denied food and care, only to be tortured at the behest of some vile Slave Trader? And for what purpose? There was nothing that could justify this torture.
Shirou didn't know how long he stood in the Magic Circle, completely immobile as his brain was force fed knowledge (language) in the most unbearable way possible, but the moment that it ended, he collapsed like a puppet with his strings cut. His body made an awful thumping noise as it met the bare stone of the floor. His tail twitched weakly.
"It seems he survived. Yes," the Slave Trader's words pierced his rapidly fading mind.
The only thing that kept him conscious to this point was a bone deep rage at the injustice, as well as a sense of resolve.
He would free all those slaves and he would ruin this man. Even if it was the last thing he did. Otherwise he could not call himself a Hero of Justice. He would set all those slaves free one day, every single one of them, and he would make sure the Slave Trader payed for his crimes. He swore it to himself moments before he blacked out and darkness took him.
It had taken six days to recover from the ritual. He'd woken up a couple of hours later in his cage, mind ablaze with knowledge that his brain was still trying to assimilate. He'd also woken up to a killer headache and fever, the worst he had ever experienced. It was so bad that he hadn't even been able to go to sleep on the first day, the pain keeping him awake in spite of his exhaustion.
In other words, it had sucked. Hard.
Even through the pain, he had struggled to comprehend the language – High Melromarcian dialect, his brain had supplied – and practiced speaking it. Not so much to learn, but in an effort to ignore the pain. It hadn't really worked, but, on the plus side, he'd made a lot of progress on learning to speak the language. By the end of the fourth day, he'd been able to hold a halting conversation with the girl in the cage besides his, whose name he learned was Raphtalia. Soon, he was speaking fluently, something that was only possible thanks to the ritual and his constant practice.
He'd been rambling to Raphtalia the entire time, trying to get the girl who had clearly given up on life to smile a little. Escape, and rescuing the other slaves, was impossible until he had recovered, but at least he could try and keep the spirit's up of this unfortunate victim. Raphtalia hadn't really smiled, but she had responded to a few of his questions and a light had returned to her eyes, as if interacting with someone was enough to light a spark in her. It wasn't a lot, but it was something.
And now that he had recovered he could finally begin planning on a way to escape and save his fellow slaves.
Fate, however, had other ideas.
"Right this way, sir," the door leading into the room opened and the Slave Trader stepped through. "Here are some products in your price range. Yes."
A young man came in behind the Slave Trader. He looked about twenty years old, had a slim build, sharp features and spiky raven hair. He was also quite tall, towering over the squat Slave trader like a giant over a pygmy. The only item of note on his person was a small, silver shield with a bright green jewel set in the center that was fastened to his right arm. And his eyes… Shirou's heart sank a little… they were cold and angry, as if the entire world itself disgusted him.
Naofumi looked over the gathered slaves, the demi-humans, before him, all of them in varying states of health and emotional trauma that would have horrified him in the past, but not anymore. Ever since that woman had betrayed him and his mistreatment after he had been summoned to this world, he found it difficult to feel any emotion other than anger, spite and apathy.
It hadn't even been a week since he had arrived in this world and the subsequent maltreatment he'd received, but he was already at his wits end. Because of what that woman had done, it was impossible for him to recruit new party members. Those that did offer to join his party were sleazebags that only sought to use him for their own ends. The moment they had what they wanted from him, they would discard him just like that woman had done.
This was a problem. He wasn't like the other three summoned Heroes. As the Hero of The Shield, his Defense was unrivaled, but in return his Attack might as well be non-existent. Without a party member that could cover attacking, he'd never be able to kill the higher Level monsters he needed to kill in order to gain the necessary EXP to grow to a satisfactory Level. He'd been fighting monsters for close to a week now, and the only monsters he'd been able to farm EXP from were Balloons, the weakest monsters in this world he'd encountered so far. Though other monsters hadn't been able to harm him, he hadn't been able to harm them in turn either, making fighting them pointless.
If he couldn't hunt monsters, he couldn't get EXP. If he couldn't get EXP, he couldn't raise his Attack. If he couldn't raise his Attack, he couldn't hunt monsters. It was the worst sort of vicious cycle that had no end in sight, and it might just be the death of him. The next Wave of Calamity was set to happen in about three weeks, a Wave he would be forced to fight in, a role forced on him as one of the summoned Legendary Heroes. Even if this world could burn for all he cared, the Legendary Shield that was strapped to his arm and could not discard would force him to take part in the Wave against his wishes.
At his current rate of growth, that might as well be a death sentence.
He needed someone to cover attacking, so that he could grow and gain the Stats, the strength he would need to survive. If he couldn't get a willing party member… a slave would do nicely.
"These slaves… they can't betray me, can they?"
"Slaves are under a powerful curse, sir," the Slave Trader answered. "If they contradict or betray their master, they must pay a price for their disobedience. The price can be a certain level of pain, controlled by the master, of course, or, if you so desire, their very lives."
That sounded exactly like what Naofumi needed. Someone that wouldn't, couldn't, betray him even if they wanted to. Someone that couldn't use him and didn't have any funny ideas.
"These are the best slaves I can offer you today, sir."
The Slave Trader pointed towards a group of four cages sequestered away in a corner.
"What can you tell me about them?"
"From right to left: a rabbit-type demi-human with a genetic disorder, a male raccoon-type demi-human that may or may not have brain damage from a ritual we performed to teach him the local language, a female raccoon-type demi-human suffering from panic attacks and an unknown illness and a mixed breed Beastman, a lizard man."
"They all seem to have severe issues…"
"This is the best that I can offer in your price range," the Slave Trader shrugged. "Anything cheaper and you might as well be buying a corpse. Which I wouldn't really mind, but I suspect a half dead slave wouldn't do much good for your goals, sir."
Naofumi grunted, accepting the reasoning. "How much for each of them?"
"Again, from right to left, 25, 30, 30 and 40 pieces of silver."
"And their Levels?"
"5, 1, 1 and 8."
Naofumi mulled it over. If he wanted a strong fighter, the lizard man would be the best choice. If he was concerned about price, the rabbit-type with a genetic disorder would be the best option. Though, none of them looked particularly healthy or strong.
As he was thinking this, he caught the eyes of the two raccoon demi-humans in the center.
"… Why are the middle ones so cheap?"
"That's because raccoon-type demi-humans aren't particularly popular with human's, sir. Additionally, both of them have problems in the sense that one has a high probability of brain damage while the other has panic attacks in the night and is suffering from an illness. Both of them will be very difficult to take care of. If I tried to sell them for a higher price, my reputation as a businessman would suffer."
"And this is the best that you have in stock?"
"You really hit where it hurts, sir," the Slave Trader guffawed.
Naofumi stared long and hard at the four slaves in front of him, but unbidden his gaze began the focus more and more on the two raccoon demi-humans in the center.
The girl looked broken and scared, the boy defiant and angry. Naofumi realized how he felt as he looked at these destitute children.
The girl was a woman, the same gender as the one that had betrayed him. If he took her as his slave, he could pretend he'd enslaved the one that had betrayed him. The thought alone made him feel a bit better, and, if she died, he couldn't imagine he'd feel guilty.
The boy on the other hand would be better for his peace of mind. Ever since he'd been stabbed in the back, the thought of women in general disgusted him. He'd rather not have any women anywhere near him, even if they were his slave. Secondly, of all the slaves present, the boy was clearly the most healthy. He didn't see any obvious sign of brain damage either.
"Hmm, I see where your interests are, sir," the Slave Trader spoke up, breaking his chain of thought. "But you're doubting which is the better choice, aren't you, sir?"
"I am," Naofumi answered honestly.
"Hmm, in that case…" the Slave Trader grinned, twirling his moustache. "How about this. I'll sell both of them to you for the price of one. No extra charge."
"And why would you do that?" Naofumi asked, immediately suspicious.
"You don't trust me. I can see that as clear as day, sir, but believe me, there are no ulterior motives here. Well, no other ulterior motives than me wanting to maximize my profits," the Slave Trader's grin widened. "I can tell. You have all the traits, both positive and negative, of a great customer. I'm merely going out of my way to get a return costumer. Besides, even I'll have trouble selling these two anyways. This way I can at least clear out my stock a little."
Damn, this Slave Trader really was a diehard capitalist. He'd also read Naofumi perfectly. If there was any way for other people to gain his trust, it would be by showing him that they stood to profit more if Naofumi himself prospered instead of lying dead in a ditch somewhere. The Slave Trader had a vested interest in ensuring that he did well, so that Naofumi would come back later and buy even more slaves from him.
Besides that, though, he mulled over the benefits of having two party members instead of one. He wasn't exactly sure how EXP was distributed across party members in this world when a monster was killed, but with more people in his party, he'd be able to hunt more monsters faster, meaning that they could gather more EXP anyway and earn more Levels before the next Wave hit.
Also, it could kind of be considered an insurance policy. If one of them ended up dying before he gained enough Levels to stand on his own, he wouldn't be set all the way back to square one. The best choice was obvious.
"…All right then. I'll take them both."
As mentioned in the summary, this story is an Alternative Universe (AU), but I will only be applying "relatively" minor changes to the base setting (besides the fact that Shirou is now along for the ride). I will be drawing on the Anime, Manga, Light- and Web-novel when writing this story, so if something is somewhat different than you remember, it's probably because I'm drawing from one of the other source materials.
Besides that, I'm going to introduce some fundamental rules of the Nasuverse to the Magic system of Rising of The Shield Hero. It won't be a straight up copy, but there will be some overlap.