Sword and Shield
Clean Up 4
The Menu of the Shield Hero was laid out before his eyes. A notification had appeared there. Oddly enough, Naofumi was grimacing something fierce.
[Monster Encyclopedia] - Grants a Hero a variety of Stat bonuses dependent on the materials stored within the Legendary Weapon. In addition, completing a monster's drop list will provide additional bonuses.
Honestly, he was annoyed that he wasn't smiling. After they had defeated the Tyrant Dragon Rex, Fitoria had kept her part of the deal and told them about another Seven Star Weapon Strengthening Method. Moreover, it was a method that didn't require him to do anything different than what he had been doing before. In order to reap the maximum rewards from this new Strengthening Method, the only thing Naofumi would have to do was make sure to at least have single unit of every drop that a monster could give stored in the Legendary Shield.
Hell, the moment the Strengthening Method had been revealed to him, all his Stats had seen a considerable jump across the board. By all accounts, a grin should be splitting his face so much that it hurt. However, a bone chilling sense of trepidation kept any happy feelings at bay.
They were still in the clearing. The eviscerated remains of the Tyrant Dragon Rex laid ignored to the side. Fitoria's words had stolen all their attention. She had promised to share pertinent information if they went along with her test…
However, what they had been told…
"The Guardian Beasts…" Naofumi muttered the name.
"As their name implies, they are the protectors of this world," Fitoria said, eyes closed. "However…"
"That does not mean that they are the protectors of the people," Shirou finished.
Fitoria raised a brow and nodded. "That's correct. How did you come to that conclusion?"
"…What my father taught me about Magecraft was rather sparse," Shirou murmured, clearly lost in memories. "But, he did tell me about how my world functioned. My world…it has a consciousness, a will of its own. Like everything else that has a will, it seeks its own survival. And, that will is divided on the importance of human life."
"That holds true for this world as well," Fitoria confirmed. "And if the prize for its survival were to be the sacrifice of most sentients that called it home…"
A sense of foreboding had settled over the Shield Hero's party.
"And the Guardian Beasts?" Raphtalia spoke up. "What is their role in all this?"
"To gather the sacrifices," was Fitoria's blunt response. "When the Guardian Beasts wake up, they will rampage across the land. They will target mayor population centers, kill the inhabitants en masse and gather their souls. They will then use the gathered power to erect a barrier that will prevent any more Waves. At least, for a time. When the barrier eventually loses power, the Waves will inevitably come back."
"That…doesn't really make sense to Filo," Filo cocked her head, looking confused. "I mean, the world also made the Legendary Weapons and made it possible to summon Master, right? Why do all that if it could end the Waves whenever?"
"Filo has a point," Elrasla said. "It seems that the world's actions and measures don't really add up."
"The world, it would not be wrong to say that it has a split personality of sorts," Fitoria said slowly, obviously choosing her words carefully. "The will of this world is born out of the circulation of magical energy through it. All sentients, as they possess and use magical energy, are a part of this process. Because of this, the will of the people affects the will of the world, imprinting on the world a desire to safeguard the sentients that call it home."
"Then the Legendary Weapons and summoning of Holy Heroes…" Shirou theorized.
"Are methods that the world uses to give the people a fighting chance at survival," Fitoria supplied for him. "If the Heroes aren't deemed strong enough to defeat the Waves, or are otherwise unwilling to meet the Waves, the world will default to plan B: the Guardian Beasts."
"Doesn't that mean that there's also fairly good chance that we won't have to deal with the Guardian Beasts at all?" Raphtalia asked.
"Possibly," Fitoria allowed. "That said, there has been numerous times that the Guardian Beasts awoke in the past, even when the Heroes were doing an acceptable job, because of extraordinary circumstances," she closed her eyes, almost as if in regret. "If the Guardian Beasts were to awaken, you will be presented with a choice: protect the people, or protect the world. If you do nothing you'll be able to fulfill your purpose. However, the people who you have been fighting to protect…"
Fitoria's words were clear. Were the Guardian Beasts to awaken either let them run amok, gather the souls required to raise the protective barrier, or prevent them from doing so and leave the world vulnerable in order to protect the people. It was an either or proposition. They would then be forced to chose between the world or the people.
For some, this would be a problematic moral quandary. However…
"Like hell I'd let anyone die for such a purpose," Shirou spat, crimson eyes hard and uncompromising. "A world where the people are periodically sacrificed in perpetuity…has no right to exist."
From the tone of his voice, it was clear that such an existence was one he could not tolerate.
"…Heh," Naofumi let out a snort. "Everyone, you heard him. Our choice has already been made."
"The young lad has the right of it, I say," Elrasla crossed her arms stubbornly.
"Onii-chan is never wrong!" Filo cheered.
"Of course. We are fighting to protect the people. End of discussion," Raphtalia said with conviction.
Fitoria stared at them for a long, profound moment. "I see you have already made your choice. I hope that your convictions are never actually put to the test," she said, and let out a breath, smiling a small smile in spite of herself.
"Before we go our separate ways, however, there was one last thing I'd wish to impart on you," Fitoria said, turning toward Shirou. "Regarding your Divinity born ability to Bless items, there's more it than one would expect on first glance. Let me enlighten you…"
The more the Queen of the Filolials talked and explained, the higher the brows of the Shield Hero's party were raised. What Fitoria had revealed was highly useful and would further Shirou's abilities when it came to Enchantments. However, that was a story for another time.
With that, their long discussion came to an end.
"God. Please tell me. What is the most optimal path to take?"
Biscas T. Balmus, the pope of the Church of the Three Heroes, was…concerned. Said concerns continued to plague him incessantly as he knelt in prayer in the antechamber of the church.
After the summoning of the Heroes, everything had gone as planned. The three Holy Heroes were under their influence, and the Devil of the Shield, the patron saint of the lesser creatures, was vilified and disgraced. As their teachings were confirmed to the masses, the hold on power the Church of the Three Heroes had accumulated further and strengthened.
However, the Devil of the Shield had proven to be far more stubborn and capable than could have been anticipated. In spite of all the roadblocks in its way and the church's bests efforts, that devil had continued to survive and grow stronger, to the point that it had surpassed the three Holy Heroes. Direct attacks, unless certain drastic measures were taken, were now inadvisable and indirect attacks were very difficult to pull off thanks to the damnable Shadows of the Queen constantly interfering.
If only they had killed the Devil of the Shield after summoning it. They had held off at the time because of political and strategic reasons, but in light of the current situation, that had clearly been a gross mistake.
Moreover, after leaving the country, the Devil of the Shield had returned to Melromarc. Through so called good deeds – Biscas let out a huff of disbelief – that devil had won considerable support in the Tageero Region. The same held true for the Selva Region and Emantla Region. This, naturally, challenged the doctrine of the Church of the Three Heroes, and those weak of faith were quite easily swayed by the contradiction the Devil of the Shield had placed before them.
A considerable number of people had abandoned the teachings of the Church of the Three Heroes. This, obviously, was the intent of the Devil of the Shield: to bring the one true faith to its knees, with the support of the people at his back. This was common knowledge to the upper echelons of the church. What was not common knowledge, however, was that the waning of the support/power of the Church of the Three Heroes wasn't localized only to the Tageero Region, the Selva Region and the Emantla Region.
The entirety of Melromarc was in the grips of a crisis of faith. To various degrees, perhaps, but it was happening everywhere. Dropping church attendance. Questioning the teachings of god. Disrespect being shown to church officials. The reports showed that such incidents were happening everywhere and anywhere in the country.
And not only because the Devil of the Shield was going out of its way to contradict all that the people had previously believed. But also because a considerable number people had been harboring doubts previously, and because the three Holy Heroes hadn't proven to be anywhere near as divinely perfect as had been expected.
As a matter of fact, the Holy Heroes…had made a grand mess of things.
An out of control parasitic forest. Kicking off a refugee crisis. The reanimation of a dragon. All of that and more had shown that the three Holy Heroes weren't anywhere near as infallible as their doctrine had preached. Hell, even Biscas felt a sense of disappointment and anger at the sheer incompetence the three Holy Heroes had shown.
Even as he prayed, Biscas cursed the Queen and her operatives. If it wasn't for them, the church would have covered up those unfortunate accidents and ensured that said accidents could not throw dirt on the good names of the Holy Heroes or the church. Alas, the propaganda machine under control of the Queen made sure that every little mistake the Holy Heroes made was made known to the public, in one way or the other.
If the Queen and the Devil of the Shield were coordinating their actions, Biscas could not say for certain. But it would not surprise him. Their actions just lined up too neatly to discount that worrying possibility for him.
The church was trying to counter with its own propaganda, of course, but the results were mixed at best. They had tried a dozen other things, from misinformation to shifting the blame, but again, with only mixed results.
Besides that, their last attempt had ended in, well, maybe not abject failure, but still not a complete success. When the Zombie Dragon had attacked Castle Town, the church had sought to use the situation to its advantage. As the Sword Hero was the Holy Hero with the least amount of damage to his reputation, the church had hoped that the Sword Hero would defeat the Zombie Dragon in a gallant display. Not only to bolster his flagging name, but also so that the church could hold him up as their standard bearer.
It was for that exact reason that the church hadn't called on the Spear Hero or the Bow Hero during that fiasco. That way, the Sword Hero would get all the praise and acclaim, hopefully making him into a figure for the faithful to rally behind. Alas, even though the Sword Hero had succeeded in killing the beast, the fact that the Devil of the Shield had joined in and at least gained an equal amount of praise for felling the Zombie Dragon meant that, again, it was a but a mixed result.
Unexpectedly, however, Biscas suddenly had to smile.
The one good thing that came out of that situation was that it had triggered a change in the Sword Hero. Besides suddenly growing a lot more powerful the Hero of the Sword had been hard at work to earn his redemption: killing the Zombie Dragon, aiding the people that had suffered at the beast's hands, and on the whole taking his duties a lot more seriously. Moreover, the areas where the Sword Hero had visited lately showed a sudden uptick in church attendance and donations. Even though things had not quit gone as planned, they had nonetheless gotten their standard bearer.
They now had a counter for the Devil of the Shield. However, more still was needed to root out its corruption and taint. As Biscas prayed, he also plotted. Several plans were already in the works to do so. It was only a matter of time before they acted.
The right moment…that was what they were waiting for.
It had been three days since the raid on Idol's mansion. Idol, currently, was at the tender mercy of the Queen's Shadows, being pumped for every bit of useful intel on the Church of the Three Heroes, its leadership and its backers. Said intel would be vital for the next stage of their plan.
However, right now, something else took precedence.
The Wave in Zeltoble was due in little more than two hours. As such, the party of the Shield Hero had returned to Zeltoble to prepare. As a matter of fact, they had teleported back to the country more than two days ago. Then they'd used the connections of Merchant Lord Ciaran in order to contact the various lords and nobles that governed the country.
Using those connections, they'd planned to coordinate with the upper crust of Zeltoble and repel the oncoming Wave. They had done exactly that, however…
As Zeltoble was the country of merchants and mercenaries, manpower, for once, would not be a problem. The vast stores of wealth the lords and nobles of this country boasted allowed them to hire the best fighters money could buy.
One would think of mercenaries and adventurers.
One would be wrong.
Mercenaries and adventurers were most definitely powerful fighters, at least compared to the average joe. On the whole, however, for battles that concerned the stability and continued existence of a nation, they were considered woefully unreliable. The reason for this was simple. Mercenaries would fight for money. The same held true for adventurers. But money could not be spent if you were dead. No matter how powerful these hired hands were, the second that it looked like the battle was going sour, adventurers and mercenaries were known to cut their losses in a heartbeat.
If that weren't the case, than for nations maintaining soldiers and armies would have long since been a dead practice. Something only spoken of in the annals of history.
No. For something like a Wave Zeltoble preferred to employ Gladiator Slaves. After all, Zeltoble was a country that lacked a standing army of its own, and had an abundance of slaves.
The name Gladiator Slaves was rather self-explanatory. They were slaves employed by the many colosseums in the capital city of Zeltoble. Gladiator Slaves were fierce fighters that faced death on a nearly daily basis for other people's entertainment, being pitted against each other and monsters. More importantly they were branded with Slave Crests that ensured their obedience. In other words, unlike mercenaries and adventurers, they would follow orders and fight to the last without question.
The scene in the massive central square of the capital city of Zeltoble was rather harrowing. Several hundred Gladiator Slaves had been gathered there. About five hundred, all told. The Gladiator Slaves had formed up and segregated themselves based on Level. As the Gladiator Slaves had been 'hired' by the Lords and nobles of Zeltoble, their 'employers' had most likely told them to do so in advance.
These people had been placed at the command of Naofumi for the duration of the oncoming Wave, having been ordered to loyally follow him into battle.
These Gladiator Slaves were numerous, would follow commands to the letter without question, and none of them were any lower then Level 30.
Naofumi would have ordinarily been giddy at a windfall like this. But…he couldn't find it in himself to feel anything other than disgust. He was in a building, owned by some lord whose name he didn't have the patience to remember. Through the window looking out at the plaza, the Shield Hero could only watch and let his disgust for the situation grow.
Zeltoble was even more rotten than Melromarc. To turn to slaves to repel a Wave…
"This…I can't really find the words…" a cloaked man beside him murmured, his expression hidden by a hood. As the hood shifted a little it momentarily revealed the dark hair and sharp features of Amaki Ren, the Sword Hero.
Now that they had another Hero that they could rely on, it was only natural to get Ren to participate in this Wave. Even if it would cost them a ton of EXP to have another Hero participate, that was not enough justification to unduly jeopardize their ability to meet the Wave and keep casualties to a minimum. However, it was also paramount that no one discovered that the Sword Hero and Shield Hero were now working together. So Ren was wearing a cloak to disguise himself. Moreover, he also had a mask that he would put on later to hide his face. They had discussed having Raphtalia cast an illusion on him to make it even more difficult to recognize him when the Wave began.
To put it bluntly, it was quite a hassle. But considering all the trouble the Queen's Shadows had to go through back in Melromarc in order to ensure that Ren's party members and the Church of the Three Heroes didn't question the Sword Hero's sudden absence, it was but a minor problem.
"This world is beyond saving," Naofumi spat in agreement.
"And yet are we still going to make use of these Gladiator Slaves?" Ren questioned, eyes narrowed in anger.
"This isn't some fantasy world," Naofumi lowered his voice in clear regret. "Facing a Wave, it requires more than just grit and a handful of people, no matter how powerful those people are. If we want to contain a Wave and keep the casualties to a minimum, we need numbers to counter all the monsters that will be spawning, and these are the unfortunate 'numbers' we have to work with…"
The lords and merchants had forced these Gladiator Slaves on them. They'd only found out yesterday on how the leadership of Zeltoble intended to protect the country. With such short notice, there was nothing that they could have done to find any alternatives to help deal with the Wave. Just like they'd been forced to do many times before, they had to take the hand they had been dealt and play their cards, no matter how foul that hand was.
To their side, Shirou sat in a chair. His gaze was focused on the scene in the plaza. The fact that his expression hadn't changed for a good long while – frozen in a dark glare – and that he had his sword in his lap, the hilt clasped in a white knuckled grip…No one dared to bring it up.
Raphtalia, Filo, Elrasla and Sadeena – they had of course collected her to participate in the Wave – gave him worried looks, but Shirou ignored them. The truth of the matter was that Shirou was deep in thought, his glare born equally out of focus as it was anger. After he'd been informed that there existed both legal and illegal forms of slave trade in this world, Shirou had taken the time to dig into the differences between the two. Currently, he was reviewing what he had learned.
After all, as far as anyone knew, all of these Gladiator Slaves were legal.
The legal slave trade was an institution that allowed debtors and criminals to work off their debts to society and others in the form of indentured servitude. Usually, this took the form of hard labor or other miscellaneous tasks, but if the debt/crimes were severe enough, people could find themselves being conscripted as a Gladiator Slave. These Gladiator Slaves would then earn their freedom by competing in the colosseums, and with the safeguards in place, that was all their 'masters' could, in fact, demand of them. In other words, all the Gladiator Slaves here right now had chosen to participate in the Wave. Considering the risks involved, doing so would probably lessen their debt or sentence by a significant amount.
At least, that was the theory, and what the naïve would believe.
However, Shirou had seen far too much of how cruel and unreasonable this world could be. He was, in fact, aware of the illegal slave trade – which was also heavily practiced here in Zeltoble – and that knowledge left a deep pit in his stomach. How many of these people had actually been given a choice? How many had just been ordinary people that had the misfortune of being at wrong place at the wrong time and found themselves kidnapped into the hell of slavery? How many were being sent into the meatgrinder on the daily against their will?
The worst part was, that it was impossible to tell the two kinds of slaves apart. There was no easy tell that you could use to differentiate between an illegal slave and legal slave, and with the power of a Slave Crest, it would impossible to simply ask and find out that way.
Still, even if he intellectually was aware of that, Shirou's eyes continued to go back and forth over the gathered Gladiator Slaves, trying to find something, anything, that would mark them as an illegal slave. The slaves were a wild mishmash of humans and demi-humans of every shape, creed and color but there was nothing to give away anything of illegality.
It was while he was doing that, that Shirou noticed him. In a small group of Gladiator Slaves that had just arrived, a singular demi-human child caught his eye.
He appeared to be about 12 years old. His hair was short and white with streaks of black locks mixed in. The demi-human's eyes were sharp and a clear blue, and had a slit pupil. Thick, roundish, white and cat-like ears stick up out of his hair, while an equally thick black and white striped tail swished behind him. He was dressed in clothing that was hard to describe, but that somewhat reminded him of the Chinese-looking martial arts style uniform that Elrasla wore.
Though Shirou had never seen this child before, he recognized him instantly nonetheless. He'd been told many things about this child by a relative of him, a relative had promised to one day help.
Fohl, the brother of Atla.
Shirou stared at him for a long moment, before closing his eyes. His expression remained unchanged, but the grip on his sword only tightened. And behind his closed his eyes, his thoughts continued to ebb and flow. Said thoughts centered on everything they'd been accumulating since he had come to this word: resources, money, power and ability.
Would it be enough..? that thought briefly flitted through Shirou's mind.
The Shield Hero's party and the disguised Sword Hero stood before the Gladiator Slaves.
Said Gladiator Slaves in their hundreds stood at attention, grim faced and silent.
Naofumi decided to forgo any flowery speech. These Gladiator Slaves probably wouldn't appreciate it and they probably knew more about fighting then he did. Instead, he chose a few precise words.
"Fight hard and fight well. I will do my best to protect you lot, so you can fight aggressively, but know the limits. After the Wave begins and we have ascertained the circumstances, we will try and end the battle as quick as possible by killing the Boss Monster. With a little luck every single one of us will pull through just fine," the Shield Hero's strong, clear words echoed over the dead silent plaza.
The Gladiator slaves shifted on the balls of their feet as a murmur broke out amongst them. More than a few had recognized that Naofumi was more than just perfectly confident in his words and that had given them a measure of both comfort and confidence of their own.
"Here we go," Naofumi muttered.
The next moment, the world seemed to shatter and their vision blurred as they were transported. As soon as their vision cleared up, the blood red world of a Wave was laid out before them. Shirou took in the situation with practiced familiarity and immediately became grim faced. After all, they had not been transported far. For behind them, they could still see the towering city walls of the capital of Zeltoble.
They were on the hills just to the west of the capital, which were rather reminiscent of rolling fields outside of Castle Town back in Melromarc. That was, if it were not for the glaring fact that the quality of the soil seemed to be rather poor here, and only a smattering of grass and weeds were capable of surviving the conditions of the soil, making it look rather barren and unwelcoming.
Ahead of them, swirling cracks ran through the murder red sky, the dark shapes of monsters already starting to drop from the faults in reality. In the distance, they could see the quickly swelling army of monsters that started to stampede towards the capital.
"Form up!" a thundering voice rang out. Naofumi scowled as he surveyed the situation. He didn't like the conclusion he came to.
A village. A woodland. A ravine. Every single Wave they'd repelled before this one, the conditions of the battlefield had constricted the movements of both themselves and the constantly spawning monsters. For defenders like them, this had been an advantage. But now the situation had been reversed. Now, the Wave was taking place on a large open area with no cover to speak of, while a massive and vulnerable city was right behind them. This meant that they had to protect a huge area if they wanted to minimize casualties.
They had a lot more combatants on their side than usual, yes, but if it would be enough to defend the entire west side of the capital? The Shield Hero very much doubted it. The area they had to cover was simply too large.
Except for the circumstance where in the Wave had spawned directly above the capital itself the situation couldn't have been worse!
"Naofumi, there's no way we can defend the entire city!" Ren shouted, having realized the same.
"There's no other choice! We need to end this Wave as quick as possible!" Shirou broke in. "If we can keep the duration of the Wave short and minimize the amount of monsters as much as we can…"
"And how the hell are we supposed to pull that off!?" Raphtalia gritted her teeth.
Behind her Elrasla, Sadeena, and Filo looked worried and undecided.
"We counterattack," Shirou answered flatly, eyes aimed resolutely at the distant but rapidly growing closer horde of enemies.
In a heartbeat, they all realized Shirou's intent.
If they rushed in, bulldozed their way through the enemy ranks and eliminated the Boss Monster post haste the Wave would be brought to an end before the capital itself were to come under threat. They would abandon defense entirely and would focus everything on offence instead.
A look of uncertainty crossed everyone's features. It was by definition a high risk high reward kind of strategy. If they succeeded, the loss of life would be kept to a minimum, maybe even no loss of life. If they failed, however, a lot of the defenders themselves would die and the capital city would be at the mercy of the Wave.
However, if they didn't do something a lot of people would die regardless.
"Shirou's right!" Elrasla suddenly boomed, having made up her mind. "In this case, the best offence is the best defense! We can't afford to dally any longer!"
The longer they waited, the more monsters would spawn and the more difficult it would become to defend the capital city. In other words, what Elrasla was saying…
"Alright, all of you! Get into ranks! Close combat in front and long range behind!"
Was for Naofumi to give the order. After all, the Gladiator Slaves had been ordered to obey him, and not anyone else.
Immediately, the Gladiator Slaves did as instructed. Curiously their Slave Crests did not flicker as they did so, meaning that they were following Naofumi's orders without question. The small army of Gladiator Slaves formed up in almost a spear-like shape, with the close range experts in the front and the long range experts forming the 'haft' of the spear.
Clearly, these Gladiator Slaves were an experienced lot. Even though they hadn't discussed this formation, or this unprecedented situation, in advance, they moved smoothly to follow the orders of the Shield Hero as best they could.
With party of the Shield Hero forming the tip of the spear, the small army charged. The ground under their feet shook and quacked as they rushed to meet the army of Wave spawned monsters.
Even as he ran full tilt towards the oncoming enemy monster horde, Fohl was praying. As one would expect, he prayed that he would survive the coming battle, but not for his own sake. No, he was praying for his sister's sake.
Atla wasn't here. She was still back in their cage back at the slave trader's underground complex, more or less save. However, if he died, Atla would have no one to fall back on. In order to continue to be able to supply Atla the medicine that kept her alive, he had to survive and return to her, so that he could continue to compete in the colosseum and earn the money to buy the all-important medicine.
In other words, his life equaled Atla's life.
Even through the adrenaline muddling his thoughts, Fohl in the back of his mind cursed the slave trader who'd forced him to take part in this battle. A battle such as this was, for Atla's sake, way too much of a gamble for him to justify participating in it. Unfortunately, he hadn't been given a choice. Not for the first time he also cursed the fact that he had been forced to waive the protections that would've been afforded to him as a legal slave in order to have a chance at making enough money for Atla's medicine.
None of that mattered, however. Right now, the only thoughts that he should be entertaining should be those concerning survival. Fohl looked forward. The slits of his sharp eyes narrowed as he made out the monsters that made up the horde spawned by the Wave.
[Otherworld Wolfkin Lv: 34]
The most numerous enemies appeared to be the Wolfkin. As their name implied, they had the appearance of wolves. However, they had humanoid features, and they walked on two legs and were about the same size as a fully grown man. They bore no weapons, and were dressed in simple, green tunics, only exposing the silvery blue of their fur on their bare feet, hands, and heads. Except for their eyes that burned a malicious red, the rest of their appearance was stereotypical of what one would expect of a wolf: large claws on their hands and feet, pronounced muscles and an elongated jaw with rows upon rows of sharp needle-like fangs.
[Otherworld Chestbeater Lv: 39]
Much less numerous, but much larger and clearly more powerful were the Chestbeaters. These were massive gorilla-like monsters that were twice as tall and had three times the bulk of a stallion. Their fur was mostly brown, except for their faces, hands, feet, chest and stomach area, which were a light blue in coloration. Beady brown eyes darted around in their sockets, until they spotted the small army rushing towards them. They moment they did so, massive, grotesque looking fangs were shown for all to see as their lips peeled back into menacing grins.
[Otherworld Ash Raven Lv: 36]
Though the Ratkin were the most numerous enemy type, the Ash Ravens weren't far behind. These bird-monsters resembled ravens, though considerably larger with massive claws, a serrated beak and snow white feathers. Their eyes glowed a bright white, almost as if they were possessed by something otherworldly. There were so many of them that the sky was barely even an afterthought.
All the monsters were a higher Level then him, he acknowledged somewhere in the back of his mind.
In the time that Fohl had managed to realize just what he was up against, the distance between them and their foes had shortened to only a few hundred meters. At this distance, the cacophony of noise that the monsters were making was deafening to the point that his own thoughts were literally being chased out of his own skull.
As a close range fighter, Fohl was on the frontline. However, he had never participated in a battle like this. Though the fights in the colosseum could be brutal, they were usually one on one and there was at least a facsimile of rules. Here, right now, there was none of that. There was just a rapidly encroaching wall of claws and teeth and muscles that wanted nothing more than to rip him to bloody shreds.
Honestly, Fohl thought he might have lost his cool. That is, if it wasn't for a few clear words of power ringing out, that were nonetheless audible through the cacophony of noise.
"All Zweite Guard X!" magical energy blasted out from the Shield Hero and washed over Fohl, as it did everyone else. The demi-human almost stumbled as his Defense Stat all but exploded, growing to the point that, if someone had told him he was now invincible, he would have believed them.
But the Shield Hero wasn't done yet.
"I am the Hero of the Shield that commands the origin of power. I have read, deciphered and augmented a law of nature! May the power of nature empower me and mine!"
"All Zweite Power X!"
Fohl felt another earth shattering rush, one that eclipsed the earlier one, as his Attack Stat similarly grew massively. Whatever fear he'd been feeling just moments before had been washed away by the sheer astonishment that the Shield Hero's incredible magic had invoked in him.
Once that was done, however, the moment of truth had arrived.
The two armies, one of monster and the other of man, were about to smash into each other. But, contrary to Fohl's expectations…
"Clear a path!"
Even from his position in the front line, Fohl could barely make out what was happening, but when the Shield Hero gave the order, three of his companions moved ahead of him. It was the one in the cloak and mask, and the two raccoon demi-humans. They drew their swords and-
Light. Pure, all-encompassing light gathered and surged. The trio shouted the name of some technique, probably Combo Magic of some kind, but it was lost in the deafening roar of noise as the light surged forwards. The monsters ahead of them just…ceased to exist, not even given the chance to scream in agony as they were reduced to ash. Like the Shield Hero had ordered, the light continued on ahead, clearing a path by not so much sweeping their opposition aside, but by literally unmaking them.
If wasn't for the fact that it was hinged to his face, Fohl was certain that his jaw would have dropped literally from his face in that moment.
When the light cleared up, the army of monsters had been cored out. The edges still existed, even if the concussive force of whatever technique that had just been unleashed had sent the remaining monsters sprawling. Off in the distance, at the very edge of the newly created, and massive, roughly hewn ditch in the soil more monsters were already rushing to meet them. But for a large track of land ahead of them, the path towards their goal had been cleared, even if only momentarily.
Overhead, however, the flock of Ash Ravens remained. The surge of light had momentarily stunned them, but it did not take long for the Ash Ravens to regain their senses. The avian monsters cried out with oddly hollow sounds and dive bombed towards them with their dagger-like beaks out in front.
Fohl readied himself to swat as many as he could out of the sky, but…
The Shield Hero deployed some kind of barrier that took the shape of a bubble that completely enveloped the entire formation. It was see through, and hair tin, but seeing as the Ash Ravens, even in their hundreds, just impotently bounced off of it, it was plenty durable.
Doubt scratched at Fohl's mind for a brief moment. Where he and his fellow Gladiator Slaves even needed for this battle? The battle may have only just begun, but the Shield Hero and his companions had, by every metric, swatted aside everything the Wave had thrown at them with contemptuous ease. So far, the Gladiator Slaves had not even been given the opportunity to launch an attack, much less contribute to the battle.
"Cull the Ravens!" As if in response to his doubts, the Shield Hero shouted an order. All the Gladiator Slaves that were capable of long range attacks prepared to do so, readying their weapons and magic and aiming towards the overhead Ash Ravens, many of which had been dazed and slowed down by a considerable margin by their run in with the barrier the Shield Hero had deployed.
Balls of fire, icicle spears, bullets of water, rock lances, swords of wind and many diverse kinds of arrows speared up towards the overhead flock. Many of the Gladiator Slaves feared that their attacks would run up against the barrier, but as their Slave Crests hadn't given the option of disobeying, they had done as ordered without delay. And when they saw that their attacks passed through the barrier unimpeded, they found their fears to be unfounded.
The multitude of long ranged attacks unleashed by the Gladiator Slaves were joined by all but one of the Shield Hero's companions. Combined, these attacks swatted Ash Ravens by their dozens out of the sky, and dozens more Ash Ravens died when a second, third, fourth and fifth volley were fired in a ripple of motion across the entire formation.
It took a moment for the fact to settle in, but with their ridiculously buffed Attack Stat, their attacks were invariably fatal for monsters of this Level. The moment that fact sank in, the Gladiator Slaves all felt a surge of confidence.
One companion of the Shield Hero, the one in a cloak and mask, didn't join their assault on the Ash Ravens. Instead, his sword rose and fell. A beam of silver energy blasted ahead, and even if, this time, it was but the power and effort of a single person, it was still enough to kill and sow chaos amongst monsters ahead. The beam of silvery energy seared across the frontline of the monsters, vaporizing quite a few body parts whole.
Still, the monsters weren't deterred. These Wave spawned monsters, crazy as they apparently were, doggedly forced their frontline forwards in spite of the mass of attacks both the Shield Hero's party and the Gladiator Slaves were continuing to launch. With a thunderous noise, they made contact with the Meteor Shield. However, the Life Force infused barrier held up very admirably to the abuse, with the claws, teeth, beaks and fists of the monsters making a staccato of noise against the barrier.
Having switched targets to the ground based monsters, a multitude of spells, arrows and a scant few Life Force based techniques - being launched from within the protective embrace of the Meteor Shield - cleared the path ahead as much as possible. In that moment, the forcefield itself was beyond useful. The monsters that, to put it bluntly, had the dumb luck to survive up to that point, were forced back as the Shield Hero's party and the Gladiator Slaves made full use of the Meteor Shield as a battering ram.
However, no matter how durable the Meteor Shield was, it had its limits. With the sound reminiscent of shattering glass, the Meteor Shield broke and dissipated after warding off several hundred monsters for over a whole ten minutes.
"Zweite Agility X!" Naofumi casted another quick spell, to further buff his allies. "Close range fighters! By time until I can use Meteor Shield again!"
Now, Fohl acted. With a roar to psyche himself up, he, along with his fellow Gladiator Slaves, jumped into the fray.
He was a combatant who uses nothing but his hands and feet to fight. All the hand to hand combat techniques he knew were taught to him by his father and what he had picked up during his numerous battles in the colosseum. He had nothing else. However, his reflexes were quick and his instincts were equally sharp. It, if nothing else, had been enough for him to survive as a Gladiator Slave.
Now, however, with the Shield Hero's magic powering him up beyond what he thought possible?
Fohl clenched his hands into fists as he launched himself towards the face of the nearest Chestbeater, his feet leaving the ground in a blisteringly fast leap. The oversized gorilla-like monster only had the time required to widen its eyes as Fohl's fist careened towards face at breakneck speeds.
The Chestbeater's face warped like water around Fohl's fist. Its teeth broke, its jaw snapped, and its skull caved inwards as blood erupted outward. It was dead before it even hit the ground.
Though surprised at the sheer strength he now wielded, Fohl didn't allow it to slow himself down. He kicked off against the chest of the collapsing Chestbeater, using it as a springboard to launch himself towards a nearby cluster of Wolfkin. He landed in between them, much to the Wolfkins' surprise, and he launched out with both hands and legs in a devastating series of attacks.
The collapsed around him, howling in agony, though Fohl brought a swift end to that by stomping down on their heads full force in quick succession. The Wolfkins' skulls insides splattered over the soil like the insides of a watermelon that had fallen to the ground from a great height.
Not giving himself the opportunity to get sick at the gruesome sight, Fohl rushed towards the nearest enemies. He joined up with a half dozen Gladiator Slaves near the very tip of their formation, and together they formed a wall to deter the mass of enemies bearing down on them. Using his small size to his advantage, Fohl slid between the feet of an adult Gladiator Slave and brought a Chestbeater to its knees by kicking one of its bulky legs, snapping the limb with an awful crunching noise.
The Gladiator Slave the Chestbeater had been trading blows with took the clear opportunity for what it was and lopped off the gorilla-like monster's head with a swift swing of his massive broadsword. "Thanks for the assist, brat!" the tall, dark haired man cackled and gave a wide, roguish grin, even as he seamlessly switched focus towards the next moment that bore down on him.
"Don't call me a brat!" Fohl spat back. His fist lashed out and struck a Wolfkin dead in the chest with such force that the monster was sent flying, its breast bone shattered beyond any hope of repair and with its flesh ruptured grotesquely.
Another Chestbeater took a swing at Fohl with its meaty fist, seeking to use the opportunity to strike. However, its swing was off by a mile, and it had the limb broken by a swift counter by Fohl. It died an ignominious death a moment later when an arrow from the backline found its eye with a squelch.
More monsters rushed in, but their attacks, just like the earlier Chestbeater, were uncoordinated and invariably off by a mile. The Gladiator Slaves, Fohl included, were confused by this, but they decided to not look the gift horse in the mouth. With a war cry, they started pushing the mass of the inexplicably flailing monsters back. Unknown to the Gladiator Slaves, Raphtalia had cast a large scale illusion on the battlefield mere moments ago to mess with the perceptions of the monster. It had taken some time to setup due to the required scale of the illusion, but now that she had done so, the monsters had become easy pickings.
"Meteor Shield!" the Shield Hero's voice suddenly echoed over the din of combat. With an odd noise, the forcefield snapped back into existence, separating the two armies again. A few monsters remained on the inside of the Meteor Shield, but these isolated enemies were cut down without any trouble. "Sadeena, do it now!"
"Dritte Chain Current Lightning!" As instructed, Sadeena unleashed her magic, the exact same spell that had been so devastatingly effective in the earlier Wave Sadeena had participated in, and right now this particular spell had been used once again for the exact same reason it had been back then: a third tier spell, used most effectively on close packed enemies, and with her Stats buffed by the Shield Hero's magic.
Lightning gathered, pale blue and deadly crackling energy, and surged just outside the circumference of the Meteor Shield. As if it was a living thing, the lightning suddenly snapped towards the nearest monsters, the spell's power sufficient enough to kill said monsters instantly on contact and charr their corpses black. As the spell was meant to do, the lightning jumped from monster to monster, drastically increasing the spells effective range. The storm of lightning spread out, killing anything it touched on contact, and cleared their path once more.
As if to underscore the Shield Hero's command, his companions launched their own spells, just as the massive lightning spell came to an end. Swords of light, a beam of silvery energy, cutting wind and orbs of pale energy that didn't look like any spell Fohl had ever seen before speared into the distance as they targeted the monsters at the edge of the devastation, yet further increasing said devastation.
The formation surged ahead, once again protected underneath the Meteor Shield. Their goal? The Boss Monster that was slowly becoming visible in the distance.
It was massive, was Fohl's first thought as they reached the enemy 'leader', so to speak. As a so called Boss Monster, he supposed that was only to be expected.
[Ferocious Manticore Lv: 63]
It stood about 9 feet tall on four legs, and it was a lion-like beast with the head of a man, the body of a lion – to which two massive wings were connected – and the hooked tail of a scorpion. It's fur and little exposed skin was a vibrant red. Its outsized claws and teeth gleamed with deadly intent. And its disturbingly human face was pulled wide in a haunting leer.
Though different, and even if he had never seen one before, it reminded Fohl starkly of the tales he'd been told about Chimeras. Different, but equally as off putting.
Moreover, the Ferocious Manticore was not their only enemy here. By now, they'd managed to push so far into the horde of monsters that they had long since been surrounded. The Meteor Shield was up and protecting them all, and the Shield Hero's buffs – which he had just reapplied – meant that a single hit from them would more then likely than not one hit kill a monster.
However, that didn't take away the fact that they couldn't afford to ignore all the small fry. With their sheer numbers the monsters were still a serious threat. At least, that's what Fohl was thinking, but contrary to his expectations…
"Toxic Spikes! Electric Terrain!"
An orb of purple energy shot skyward. It broke appeared and purple rained down around the Meteor Shield, making the soil glow purple as well as the surrounding land was cursed. Electricity surged over this cursed/poisoned land, making it even more dangerous to approach.
The Wolfkin and Chestbeaters that had been attacking them up until a moment ago quickly backed off, wary. The same couldn't be said for the Ash Ravens, however.
"Sadeena, deal with the ravens! Everyone else, ignore the small fry and attack the Boss Monster with everything you have!"
"You can count on me, little Naofumi!" Sadeena spun her trident, and electricity started surging over her weapon as she chanted and started to prepare another spell.
At the Shield Hero's command, the Slave Gladiators and his party members all roared in approval. As one, with Naofumi at the head of the formation, they started to stampede towards the Ferocious Manticore. Once again, they employed the Meteor Shield as a battering ram, crossing the last few feet towards their target.
As the Ferocious Manticore saw all this, Fohl's sharp eyes noticed that a look of alarm crossed its human face as it realized the intent of its enemies: bring it down at all cost. The Ferocious Manticore gave a haunting roar, human but alien in its intensity. In response, the monsters that had backed off in wariness before once again attacked, even as poison invaded their bodies and electricity numbed their muscles.
"Light Swords/Light Swords!"
"One Hundred Swords."
Shirou and Raphtalia acted in unison as they swung their swords. The afterimages their blades left in the air were infused with light magic, and the afterimages became corporal blades of light in one blink to the next. In contrast, Ren whispered the name of his skill. The hope was that the blue lined ghostly swords that his Skill summoned would simply be considered a part of whatever attack Shirou and Raphtalia were using. In that moment, over 150 swords rocketed forwards like a stream of bullets from the world's most oversized gatling gun.
Weakened as they were, the monsters directly ahead of them had no hope of dodging. The blades punched clean through whatever they hit. Quite a few monsters found themselves nailed to the very ground, unable to move with death from blood loss quickly approaching. A fortunate few were killed immediately as the blades punched through their skulls. And even more monsters had the misfortune of having limbs severed cleanly from the rest of their bodies, or were gutted by the flying weapons of war. These would also slowly bleed to death.
More importantly, these monsters were no longer an impediment on their path to the Boss Monster.
The Ash Ravens came down from the sky like bombers in World War 2.
"AH-AH-AH! Bad birdies!" Sadeena mocked, raising her crackling, lighting covered trident to the sky, as she took on a throwing stance.
"Dritte Lightning Rain!" With a mighty heave, Sadeena threw her trident high. It passed through the Meteor Shield and reached the overhead flock of Ash Ravens. It didn't hit any of the bird-like monsters, however, the moment it reached the center of the flock of Ash Ravens, lightning exploded from the trident, taking the form of sphere of coruscating lightning. Like the name of the spell implied, lightning rained down from this sphere in a wide area, outright killing and/or paralyzing Ash Ravens down below and warding away the Ash Ravens to the side and up above.
More importantly, as the Meteor Shield kept them save from the lightning raining down from above, all the Ash Ravens were rendered unable to approach. Now there was nothing and no one between them and the Ferocious Manticore.
So, the Ferocious Manticore decided to act itself. Its scorpion-like tail stabbed forward, and moments before the stinger sunk into the soil, it glowed a fiery red. Said glow was transferred to the soil, which started to emit a harsh heat and embers of flames to be.
"Don't falter!" Naofumi encouraged everyone. "No matter what attack it's going to use, I won't allow it to harm anyone of you!"
A roar of approval was the answer of those following in his wake. Fohl was right there with them now quite assured of the Shield Hero's ability to defend them.
That said, even the Shield Hero appeared taken aback when the soil in front of the Ferocious Manticore all but exploded as what appeared to be magma erupted out of the ground. As if a chain reaction had been set off by the Boss Monsters, the explosions underneath the soil continued, racing towards the army as magma continued gush out. In a scant few moments, a wave of magma and broken stone was racing headlong towards them.
"I'm ready, Master!" Filo cried in approval, immediately understanding what Naofumi wanted.
Naofumi raised the Legendary Shield. This better work…
"Air Strike Shield!"
"Filo commands the origin of power! Filo has read, deciphered and augmented a law of nature! Blow them all away with a raging tornado!"
As Filo and Naofumi acted in unison, a set of icons appeared in the Shield Hero's vision, the precursor for the option to use a Combo Skill. The spell that Filo had launched, incidentally the first third tier spell she had ever learned, was harnessed by the Legendary Shield. The Air Strike Shield appeared as normal, snapping into existence in the path of the wave of magma. When said wave of magma crashed into the ethereal shield with the unmistakable hiss of molten rock, the Combo Skill activated.
A massive tornado, incomparable in size to what Filo had ever unleashed before, exploded from the center of the Air Strike Shield on contact with the wave of magma. Not only was it a third tier spell, but it had made even more powerful thanks to the fact it had been incorporated into a Combo Skill. Said tornado was launched horizontally, the sheer force of the cutting wind enough to tear apart the wave of magma, scattering the molten rock in all directions.
As a matter of fact, the horizontal tornado continued on completely unabated. Caught completely by surprise that its attack had been repelled so utterly, the Ferocious Manticore took the cutting winds to the face, its howl of pain lost in the whipping winds. The tornado was of such size that the Boss Monster was momentarily completely obscured. Inside of the tornado, it fought to remain in position and not be flung back as it dug its claws into the soil and hunkered down.
However, when the tornado finally ended and its vision cleared, the Ferocious Manticore came to the sinking realization that it should have let the tornado carry it off into the distance. It was surrounded. The Shield Hero and his party to the front. The army of Gladiator Slaves formed a semicircle around it. Magic was prepared to launch and all their weapons were pointed at it. To put it in simple terms, it was surrounded on all sides by death.
In a last ditch desperate attempt to survive, the Manticore slammed both of its forelegs into the soil. In response, three tall and thick stone walls rose out of the earth to its front and sides. But…
All three stone walls were rendered to dust when the first attacks struck it. It wasn't even Ren or the party members of the Shield Hero that brought them down. Buffed as they were by the Shield Hero's magic, those stone walls were like tissue paper to the Gladiator Slaves.
Spreading its wings wide, the Ferocious Manticore tried to take off and dodge. But, acting quickly and with no mercy to spare, they did not give the Boss Monster the chance to do so.
As such, every single attack struck home without any obstruction. The scream of agony the Ferocious Manticore released was lost in the deluge of attacks that came down it like drops in a rainstorm. For Naofumi, Shirou, Ren and everybody else that had been present at the time, it reminded them starkly of the time they had fought the Zombie Dragon when the entire army that had been assembled had brought its fury down it.
Back then, if the Zombie Dragon hadn't had the ability to regenerate, it would have been killed at the very start of the battle without question. Boss Monsters were powerful, no doubts about it, but no matter how powerful something was if it abided by standard rules and logic, if a certain amount of force and numbers was applied at once, Boss Monsters could be killed just as quickly as anything else.
After all, this world was not like a game wherein a certain amount of time had to have elapsed before something could be killed or there was anything like invincibility frames.
Thus, when their assault came to an end, everything fell silent for a haunting moment. Everyone there felt a sort of pulse in the air, a sensation that Naofumi, Ren, Shirou and everyone else that had ever participated in a Wave before knew by instinct.
Overhead, the red started to bleed out of the sky, and the cracks in reality started to close. When the dust cleared, it revealed the positively massacred remains of the Ferocious Manticore, very clearly dead. As these two facts became reality in their mind, Fohl, and everyone else, gave a howl of victory as the Wave came to an end.
"Don't let your guard down!" the Shield Hero suddenly barked. "We're still surrounded!"
The Gladiator Slaves came back to their senses, their roar off premature victory dying on their lips. Fohl, similarly, quieted and raised his guard again. That's right, he realized grimly. The monsters that have already spawned wouldn't just disappear because the Wave had ended. Moreover…
"Formation! Get back into formation! Meteor Shield!" Naofumi refreshed the Skill even as he continued to bark orders. "Back to the city, on the double! Move! Move! Move!"
…The capital city of Zeltoble might yet still be in danger.
Showing remarkable acuity, they got back into their spear-like formation. With yet another battle cry, the formation rushed back towards the capital. The monsters who had briefly frozen as the Wave came to end rushed to meet them in a mad frenzy. Once again using the Meteor Shield as a battering ram, they made a beeline towards the capital.
In the shadow of the city walls of the capital, a battle was raging.
As the Shield Hero's party and the Gladiator Slaves had rushed the Boss Monster, bulldozing their way through the horde of monsters, not all the monsters had focused on them. A good majority of all of them had continued on their beeline towards the capital, seeking blood.
Naturally, as a Wave could hit anywhere once the timer ran out, the nobles and merchants of Zeltoble had hired people to defend the capital itself, if it came down to it. From the top of the walls, arrows and magic spells were coming down in a constant ripple of fire. The massive gates to the city had been shut long before the Wave had hit, forcing the monsters to either somehow scale the walls or break down the gate in order to get to the people within.
However, no matter how tall the wall or how many defenders there were, the defenses of the city would have eventually been overwhelmed if the Wave was not brought to a swift end. All the people in the know and the defenders were well aware of this. So, when the Wave came to an end less then twenty minutes after it began, it was hard to put into words the sheer relief that had washed over all the defenders and higherups.
The battle was still raging, unfortunately. Even though the Wave had been active for only a short while, there were still well over a thousand monsters rushing the walls and assaulting the gate. More importantly, the people defending the city were mostly no stronger then your rank and file soldier, and they did not have the luxury of the Shield Hero's magic to strengthen them. Because of that, the effort needed to bring down a single monster was considerable, even with the advantage they had as the defenders.
They could not let the monsters scale the walls or break down the gate. If the monsters got inside the city, the battle would transform into brutal and short range street to street fights. The loss of life would be horrendous, both to the populous and the defenders. If they could keep the monsters out of the city, all they would have to do was bombard them in submission.
That was easier said then done, however. At least, it would have been difficult, if the Shield Hero and his impromptu army hadn't stormed back onto the scene and rammed into the rear of the army of monsters assaulting the city. Even though monsters were still streaming in from the direction the rifts of the Wave had been before, adding to the overall host of the enemy, the sheer power that the empowered Gladiator Slaves and the Shield Hero's party were bringing to bear was awe inspiring for the defenders on the wall.
"Yah!" Fohl released a loud battle cry as he jumped and did a rising kick to the chin of a Chestbeater. The dry sound of bones breaking as the monster's jaw, and more importantly, its neck snapping was barely audible over to the din of combat, even with his sensitive hearing. Twisting in midair the demi-human landed on his hands, doing a handstand, and with a practiced move spun around and kicked a charging Wolfkin in the chest, sending it flying away as blood arced through the air.
The army of Gladiator Slaves had fought their way back to where they had started: the base of the capital city's wall. Once there, they had spread out, covering a good chunk of the length of that wall, with a focus on protecting the gate, the greatest weak point. This was not done so that they could waylay and kill as many monsters as possible themselves, but to keep the monsters well away from the wall and the city itself. This way, the protectors on top of the wall were free to slowly but surely bombard the army of monsters until no opposition was left.
In other words, the Wave had become an endurance match, one that luckily favored the defenders. However, this also meant that the Gladiator Slaves were at more risk themselves. Spread out as they were, it was more difficult for them to aid each other, and every single one of them would have to deal with a whole lot more monsters on their own if they wanted to be able to adequately protect all of the areas where the monsters were concentrating their attacks.
Fohl wasn't worried, though. The enhancement magic of the Shield Hero was, to put it bluntly, insane and overpowered. Every single attack that Fohl landed killed without question. More importantly, his Defense Stat had been buffed to such a point that monsters of this Level could barely hurt him. The few attacks that gotten through his guard had simply bounced off, and those that had managed to do him harm barely managed to draw little more than a drop of blood from him.
And those wounds didn't last particularly long, either. The Shield Hero was zipping around the battlefield, astride the back of that strange Filolial of his, constantly calling down a variety of barriers to protect the defenders, refreshing the enhancement magic and deploying recovery magic that both healed wounds and restored the flagging stamina of the defenders.
On top of that, the Shield Hero's party members were roaming the battlefield, providing aid wherever it might be needed. Those warriors were far stronger then the norm, capable of defending entire areas on their own and taking down dozens of monsters with their powerful techniques and magic. Especially the one in the cloak and mask. That guy…a single swing of his sword and his strange techniques was enough to effectively make entire areas no go zones for the monsters.
As such, Fohl felt no fear as he continued to fight. However, as he did so, he unknowingly started to put more and more distance between himself and his allies, lost as he was in the rhythm of battle. He had always been the type to enjoy a good scrap, and at that moment, that unfortunate tendency of his worked against him.
More and more monsters were surrounding him, but Fohl barely even noticed. Every single hit of his would one shot whatever it touched. He moved with such speed that the monsters couldn't even hit him in the first place. And even if they did manage to strike him, they would draw no more than a drop of blood. In that moment, Fohl felt well and truly invincible.
One. Two. Three. Three lightning quick jabs outright pulverized the chest cavities of an equal amount of Wolfkin.
A sweeping low kick made a Chestbeater's feet leave the ground. The kick had been of such force that the massive gorilla-like monster spun around in the air, completely helpless. A straight follow up kick sent the Chestbeater flying away like a cannonball, knocking over every single monster behind it like errant bowling pins.
Ash Ravens swarmed the air around him, but Fohl dodged them all with room to spare. His sandal clade feet slid mirror smoothly across the ground as he did so, and every Ash Raven that tried to sink its serrated beak into his flesh was summarily swatted from the sky like an insect, and then stomped into a meaty paste.
Two Chestbeaters fell on him at once, but he undercut their attack by launching himself into the chest of one of them. He led with his fist, and the Chestbeater found its ability to breath permanently robbed from it as its ribs shattered and its lungs collapsed underneath the blow. The second Chestbeater turned its head, but immediately its head snapped right back around as Fohl jumped and unleashed a blisteringly fast rising kick. The sound of its neck snapping was lost in the roar of combat.
A dozen Wolfkin tried to rush him all at once, but once again, Fohl brought their attempted assault of his person to a premature end by rushing to meet them. Before the Wolfkin could even properly bring their claws and fangs to bear, Fohl was in their midst and lashing out viciously with all his limbs like an out of control pinwheel.
Blood and bits of flesh sprayed around him as Fohl tore the Wolfkin to bloody pieces.
However, in the frenzy of that combat, Fohl had forgotten one very important fact: his current level of strength was not entirely his own, augmented as he was by Naofumi's magic. Should said augmentation magic run out…His fists would no longer one shot the monsters. He would struggle to dodge attacks he was practically skipping through right now. If struck, he would incur terrible injuries and not just a scant few drops of immaterial blood.
Naofumi was racing all over the battlefield to prevent such an outcome, reapplying the enhancement magic constantly. But, Hero or not, he was but one man. He could not be everywhere. If the enhancement magic of the Shield Hero were to run out at an inopportune moment…
There's a saying for situations like that: pride goes before the fall.
And as luck would have it, that's exactly what happened. Fohl executed a picture perfect flying kick to the chest of a Chestbeater. He expected to see flesh rupture. For blood to be spilt. For the Chestbeater to be sent flying into the distance, either dead or dying.
But, a bare moment before impact, Naofumi's enhancement magic ran its course and came to an end. Fohl's sandal clad foot landed square in the Chestbeater's chest with a loud sound. Fohl felt just a hint of give, and there was a bit of blood now leaking from the wound he had just inflicted on the monster, but the Chestbeater was not sent flying. The gorilla-like monster still stood tall, its inherent anger eclipsing any pain it may have felt.
And, more importantly, the Chestbeater was in a prime position to strike back.
The world seemed to freeze for Fohl. With a horrifying feeling of realization, the young demi-human immediately understood the situation he was in: surrounding by monsters on all sides, too far from any of his allies to receive any aid, and now bereft of the power that had allowed him to weather all of this just moments before.
There was only one logical result of such a series of circumstances: death, a messy and brutal one at that.
Time resumed, and the Chestbeater Fohl had just struck was intent on making his summation of the situation a reality.
Thick, fur covered fingers seized Fohl by the ankle. With a violent twist, Fohl was arced up into the air and over the Chestbeater's head, after which the monster used the momentum of this movement to smash Fohl face first into the dirt.
That was all Fohl could feel at that moment. Not the wind on his skin or the dirt against his cheek. All that felt was a searing agony across his chest and face.
Not finished yet, the Chestbeater heaved Fohl back into the air and slammed him back down with even more force. The agony increased fivefold, but before Fohl's brain could even properly catch up to what was happening to him, the Chestbeater once again heaved him into the air.
The Chestbeater let go of him, and powerless and more or less paralyzed as he was at that moment, Fohl could do nothing but allow his momentum to carry him. He spun in place in midair, coming face to face with the Chestbeater.
The Chestbeater wore an expression that promised murder. A promise that it was intent on keeping, as it drew back its monstrously large fist as far is it could.
Again, time seemed to freeze for Fohl, but it was but an illusion brought on by his fear and agony addled brain. Fohl blinked, and time resumed its relentless march forward. The monstrous fist struck him in the chest with the force of a cannonball.
"ACK!" blood and spittle left his lips.
Fohl careened through the air, spinning madly and blind to the world due to the pain, before coming down with a thunderous crash. He skipped multiple times over the ground, accumulating more injuries as he went before eventually, mercifully, coming to a stop in an undignified heap. The world twisted around Fohl and the colors ran into each other as unconscious beckoned to him, trying to lull him to sleep. He fought the urge with all that he had, however. Fohl knew that, if he allowed unconsciousness to claim him now, he would never wake up. And then…
Atla would be left all alone.
That thought alone was enough to banish the unconsciousness creeping up on him, and even made the pain he was under but a secondary concern. With nothing but pure will power, Fohl slowly forced himself back onto his feet, in spite of all the broken bones he had and the pittance of air his lungs managed to draw in. But, even as he managed to stand despite everything, that would only allow him to face his end head on.
A mob of monsters bore down on him from every angle. They sought to tear him limb from limb.
Fohl could do nothing defend himself. He could barely even breath, much less move. His eyes grew hot as he realized that he would die here, and what that would mean for Atla.
I'm sorry, little sister. I truly can't hold onto anything…
Fohl offered one last apology to Atla, the sister he had failed. With that, he closed his eyes, accepted his fate and waited for death to claim him.
A shout, from a voice Fohl had never heard before, made him snap his eyes back open.
"I'd let you!"
From up above, a sudden harsh light fell on their small, inconsequential section of the battlefield.
Swords of pure light rained down in their dozens from the up above, punching through monster and soil alike like tissue paper all around Fohl, creating a circle of the dead and dying around the demi-human. Those few monsters unfortunate enough to survive found themselves pinned down the soil in macabre displays.
Fohl could scarcely believe his eyes as he came face to face with his savior, one of the companions of the Shield Hero. The raccoon demi-human dropped down from above. The one with the odd bone white furred tail and ears and blood red eyes: Shirou. One could forgive him his shock. Last that he could remember, this warrior had been fight quite a ways away from him.
Had this warrior raced across the battlefield to save him? A random no body Gladiator Slave?
Shirou gave no thought to Fohl's shocked expression. Without pause, his sword stabbed into his very own shadow.
"Shadow Sneak Blade Rush!"
The second wave of monsters that had been following in the wake of the first met their untimely end as shadow-lined blades erupted out of their very own shadows, the sneak attack catching every single one of them off guard. The shadow-lined blades of the applied sword magic technique were, to put it bluntly, aimed to perfection, piercing vital points without fail and ensuring a kill.
Still not done yet, Shirou spun on the balls of his feet, smoothly pulling his sword free from his shadow as he did so. He brough the blade up and over his head after which he brought it down like a executioner beheading a criminal.
The moment he completed his swing, however, no attack was released. Instead…
Shirou's sword struck the earth, and the world was swallowed up by an explosion of shrill noise that drowned every other sound out and a light so bright that it washed away all other colors, rendering the world but a blank canvas for everyone but those who had known in advance what was about to happen and readied themselves.
The Ash Ravens swarming the air could really attest to this. So disoriented they were that the monsters fell from the sky in their dozens, smashing into the soil with dull thumping sounds as they lost the fight with gravity in their befuddled shock.
"Ack!" Fohl closed his eyes the harsh light burned his retinas and the shrill noise bombarded his sensitive ears. As he was blind and deaf to the world, he felt someone take hold of the scruff of his neck and press something cool like glass to his lips. He chocked a little as an unknown liquid entered his mouth, which he in his surprise swallowed. His shock and apprehension lifted a little when he felt the familiar sensation of healing taking hold of his body, the pain he was under lessening considerably.
A Healing Potion, then.
Fohl didn't get the chance to appreciate this fact. The hand holding the scruff of his neck and the arm attached to it let go and slung itself across his shoulders.
"We gotta move! Hold on!"
Fohl barely managed to hear the words, but at the urgency he managed to detect, he realized that he had the brace himself for something. He almost bit his tongue when he felt his feet leave the ground as Shirou jumped, taking Fohl with him as he moved. Fohl was still mostly blind to the world, but as he felt air whip around him blisteringly quickly and the sensations in his body, he realized they had to be moving incredibly quickly.
They landed and took off again multiple times in quick succession, obviously moving blisteringly fast over the battlefield while giving the monsters the smallest window possible to attack them. After a long minute, Fohl's eyesight and hearing started to return around the same time they had stopped moving.
The warrior let go of him and dropped him back onto his feet, which managed to hold his weight without trouble. Fohl realized with a start, while he still felt some pain, it was but a minor annoyance compared to what he had felt before. The quality of that Healing Potion earlier must have been out of this world to achieve that. The injuries he'd had…
More surprisingly, he once again found himself in the shadow of the city wall of the capital they had been defending. It was a reasonably safe location behind the frontline of his fellow Gladiator Slaves, who even now were keeping the encroaching monsters at bay.
"T-Thank you," Fohl managed to chock out, not quite yet ready to believe his survival.
"Don't mention it," Shirou smiled, and Fohl was struck how truly happy this warrior looked at that very moment. Was one life, one random boy amongst the Gladiator Slaves, truly worth so much that it merited so much joy at just saving that inconsequential life? Why had this man acted to safe him so quickly and with such ferocity? What drove him to do such a thing for but a random stranger?
Before Fohl could ponder the mystery this warrior represented, Shirou had already turned away from him. The reason why was obvious: the battle was still raging, and a warrior of this caliber was needed on the frontlines.
"W-Wait!" Fohl grabbed Shirou by the sleeve. "I can still fight. Let me come with you!"
Fohl, at the end of the day, even if he had just had his life saved, still had a modicum of pride that would never waver. That pride would not allow him to stand back and cower away while a battle was going on, nor would it allow him to leave a debt unpaid. It was because of Shirou that he was still alive. More importantly, his life equaled Atla's life. Earlier, he had lost sight of that and acted recklessly and nearly gotten himself killed, but now that notion came roaring back full force in his mind. In other words, this man had saved Atla's life, and such a man deserved his aid, even if it would be but a pittance in the end.
His pride demanded it.
"I know you can still fight," Shirou answered with a level voice. "The question is, should you do so?"
Shirou carried on before Fohl could respond.
"Isn't there someone waiting for you to come back to them?" he questioned pointedly.
Fohl stilled. His life equaled Atla's life…
"It may not be obvious, but the battle has started to wind down. The number of monsters have noticeably dropped. Moreover, you're still somewhat injured, and even Healing Potions can only do so much for blood loss. There's no need for you to continue to risk your life, and going by your reaction just now, plenty of reasons to withdraw from this battle."
Even as he said it, Shirou was aware of his flagrant hypocrisy. If he was in Fohl's shoes, he would also continue to insist on fighting, to aid the one that had saved him. However, he was also aware of how much Atla loved her brother, and how sad she would be were Fohl to die. For that reason, Shirou did not mind being a hypocrite in order to talk Fohl down from continuing to fight.
Fohl didn't say anything. However, his expression conveyed that he was hesitant to accept Shirou's words.
"If you want to pay me back, then just survive this battle. It would be terrible if you were to die after I just saved you," Shirou continued to spout half-truths.
"…Okay," Fohl mumbled, accepting Shirou's words for Atla's sake.
With that, with Fohl unaware that their actions had been guided with wellbeing of the same person in mind, Shirou departed for the frontlines.
Like promised, Fohl remained behind said frontlines, just watching the battle unfold. Just like him, some Gladiator Slaves fell back to join him there having either been exhausted or injured to the point that continuing to fight would mean unduly risking their lives. This was also done in the knowledge that the battle was winding to a close, as the size of the enemy host continued to steadily drop. They would step up and continue to fight if needed, but it didn't look like that would be needed.
Half an hour later, that expectation and Shirou's words were proven true. The Wave in Zeltoble came to an end when the last of the Wave spawned monsters were put to the sword.
There were no deaths amongst the Gladiator Slaves.
That night, back in their cage in the Zeltoble Slave Trader's underground complex, Fohl was talking to Atla, regaling her the tale of the Wave of Calamity.
"…The battle was difficult, yes," Fohl admitted to his sister.
"But you're fine?" Atla asked, curled up underneath her thin blanket.
"I'm here, aren't I? I was never in any real danger," Fohl assured her.
"…You're lying, Onii-chan," Atla sighed.
Fohl winced. Atla was blind, but in exchange for that she could 'see' the auras of people. This, in turn, amongst other things, allowed her to 'see' emotions people were feeling. With such a power, telling when someone was lying was child's play. Fohl had known this advance and yet had still tried to tell a white lie in order to not unduly worry Atla, even if he had known the attempt was doomed to failure.
"I might have had a close call, but a companion of the Shield Hero saved me in the nick of time," Fohl admitted.
Atla sniffed the air. "I don't smell any blood."
"The Shield Hero treated my injuries after the battle," Fohl explained. Really, the Shield Hero and his companions were all sorts of unreasonable when it came to combat abilities. Even Fohl who, as a Hakuko, was a member of a powerful race that had greater Stats at similar Levels compared to most other people, found himself envying their level of strength.
"And the one that saved you?" Atla continued to question.
Fohl paused. "He…I didn't get to see much of him, but when I was cornered by monsters, he raced to help me. Honestly, he manhandled those monsters. If he didn't have to get me to safety first, I am fairly certain he could have cleared that entire area on his own."
Atla took that in quietly, then opened her mouth again, "What was his name?"
Fohl was about to respond, but stopped and blinked when he realized one very important fact.
"I…Don't know," Fohl winced. "I forgot to ask," he admitted, feeling terrible. He didn't even know the name of the man who he owed his, and Atla's life, to.
Atla fell silent again, and desperately Fohl tried to think up another conversation topic. However, Atla suddenly shifted underneath her blanket and let out a gasp.
Fohl was by her side immediately.
"Several strong auras are approaching," Atla informed him before he could give voice to his worries. Her gasp was not one of pain, but one of surprise. Not so much because of how strong those auras were, but that one particular aura amongst their number stood out amongst them. An aura that was highly familiar, one that exuded a constant feeling of warmth and care…
The door leading into the room opened up, and several people were ushered in.
Fohl's eyes widened. He recognized all of them. There was the revolting slave trader, but, more importantly, the Shield Hero and his companions, including the one that had saved him, followed in behind the man. Only the one in the mask and cloak was missing.
The Zeltoble Slave Trader led the Shield Hero's party to the cage that held him and his sister. Fohl could little else but look at them in numb surprise. What where these people even doing here? What did they want?
"Right this way good sir, yes. Here are-"
"Are these the one's?" Naofumi cut the Zeltoble Slave Trader off. His question was not directed at the slaver, but at Shirou.
Shirou, for his part, was focused on Atla and Fohl. Atla looked back at him, wide eyed, even if she was blind.
"Yes," was his clear response.
"Then we'll take them," Naofumi answered back.
The central jewel of the Legendary Shield flashed once. An enormous pile of gold appeared, dropping down from midair and falling to the ground. It kept coming until a good portion of the room's floor was covered in glittering gold. Even that was but a tiny, tiny fraction of the wealth they had taken for their own from Idol.
"And everyone else, if you don't mind," Naofumi amended.
Shirou smiled at her as Atla's lip wobbled and tears gathered in the corner of her eyes. He didn't say anything further, but then again, he didn't need to. The warmth and care of Shirou's aura increased, as was the readily apparent joy he was feeling. And Atla knew why. She had realized something crucial about Shirou just now, something that not even his closest companions - except for Elrasla - had internalized yet, something that she had managed 'read' from his aura and his mannerisms the previous time they had met.
I've come back for you. Just like I promised I would.
Atla smiled through her tears. It was a small thing, but it was a true, honest smile. And as he saw it, Shirou's own smile grew to match her joy.
After all, Shirou was at his most happy when he was making other people happy.
Hey, guys. The next chapter. Took longer than I wanted it to, but I've been busy with a lot of things lately. I hope you guys at least enjoyed the read. I, for one, am really excited now that Fohl and Atla are joining the main cast.