“Huh...It’s not often you place so much trust in others.”
Those words from Melty rung in his ears after the wave had ended. L’Arc and Therese were gone, as well as that woman, Glass. They betrayed him, just as all the rest had. No, he still had Raphtalia, Filo, and Melty. They had not betrayed him, not that Raphtalia or Filo could ever with the slave marks. So, why did this one sting more than the rest?
L’Arc and Therese did not believe Naofumi to be the Shield Hero. They had heard the rumors and had conjured the face of a demon to wield the Shield of Legend, instead to realize it was their companion in Cal Mira Archipelago. They were the ones that chose to believe those nasty rumors, they were the ones that refused Naofumi’s claim to his own name.
Naofumi punched the tree in front of him.
He had left Raphtalia and Filo in the inn they were currently renting a room from, in favor of clearing his head with a walk through the night. They had stopped in a small village while traveling towards a far off town that had sent a request for the help of a Hero to rid the area of some monsters that had been spotted near some homes.
Naofumi knew why he felt so angry and he hated it. L’Arc and Therese, they had respected him and were kind in him. They believed in his abilities without knowing he was one of the Legendary Heroes. They treated him like a person without knowing anything about him besides what they had seen when they level grinded together. Naofumi remembered the warmth he felt from the two in the tavern. They could have been comrades, friends even.
Now, they were the enemy.
Or...where they? They were just trying to save their world.
Save their world by killing Naofumi and the rest of the summoned Heroes.
Naofumi bit his lip, refusing to let anymore of his emotion escape him.
The Shield Hero returned to the inn where his room was and fell into a fitful sleep where he dreamt of a red head with eyes of carmine and an aqua haired woman with matching eyes.
“Naofumi-sama,” Raphtalia greeted at the door when the Shield Hero finally gave way to the persistent knockings, “it’s time to go.”
“What took you so long, master?” Filo asked, right next to the demi-raccoon.
“I wanted to sleep,” he dead panned, letting his tired eyes sag as he stared back at the two. He was exhausted and not just from staying up late. He felt as if he had been pushing his body to the extreme as of late.
“The inn needs us to check out so they can tend to the rooms,” Raphtalia reasoned.
“You can sleep in the carriage,” Filo cheerfully suggested.
He sighed and grabbed his things, knowing that Raphtalia spoke the truth. Besides, they were needed elsewhere.
He was unable to sleep in the carriage. Raphtalia was still squeamish about ridding for long periods of time, the poor girl, and Naofumi did not trust Filo to drive the cart alone. Eventually, they made it to the village that had requested their help.
The quest went out smoothly while Raphtalia and Filo decided to not comment if Naofumi was a little angrier during fights than usual.
Two weeks passed and there was no word from their mysterious enemies. The scythe wielding red and the magic casting aqua were nowhere to be seen, nor were there rumors. It was as if they had vanished with the wave.
Naofumi tried to not let their silence bother him. Perhaps it was a gift, something to be cherished, as that also meant that the pain in his chest could dull from their absence.
They had two weeks until the next wave to prepare for a potential confrontation.
Two weeks and he may see them again.
It was only two days till Naofumi’s path crossed with Ren’s. The Sword Hero had sought him out, which surprised the party.
“I have a favor to ask of you,” the fellow hero began. They happened to be eating at the same tavern within the capital.
“What does the Sword Hero need with me?” Naofumi asked, adverting his eyes from the man who approached his table.
Raphtalia and Filo stayed quiet at the silent behest of their master, although they were fuming.
“Your shield is strong,” Ren states, simply. “I wish to see how strong. My sword is the perfect tool to test its defense.”
“You wish to spar?”
“I wish to test how near or far we are from each other.”
Naofumi snorts, but then gives the often broody boy a smirk. “Sure.”
They moved outside of the capital, to an open field where they wouldn’t have to worry about causing any harm or damage to the nearby residents.
“Don’t hold back, Naofumi,” Ren says before lunging.
“Shit,” Naofumi curses, caught off guard by the sudden attack.
Ren swipes at the older man, only meeting the hardness of the shield, instead of soft flesh.
“You were serious,” Naofumi states, getting a better footing and then leaping out of Ren’s range.
They continue their spar in mostly silence, with Naofumi dodging and blocking Ren’s attacks with precision. That is, until the man suddenly launches an attack that has Naofumi feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. He had seen the move before from someone that was certainly not Ren. It was Air Scythe Suite, but with a sword. Ren had copied L’Arc’s move and used it against Naofumi.
Naofumi lost his footing and fell on his ass as he stared up at the Sword Hero, who had also stopped at the fall of his opponent.
“You’re distracted,” Ren said, lowering his sword.
“Where did you learn that?” Naofumi demands, ignoring the other.
Ren simply stares for a moment, studying Naofumi’s expression of anger. “I saw that scythe guy use it, so I made it my own. Why do you care?”
Naofumi didn’t reply, only stood up and began to walk away. “We’re done sparring,” was all he said.
The wave countdown had reached thirty minutes.
Thirty minutes till Naofumi and company would be whisked away to whatever poor village or city was being ravaged by the unspeakable.
“Naofumi-sama?” Raphtalia questioned, studying her master. “Are you ready?”
“Yes, Raphtalia,” he replied, short. After his spar with Ren, Naofumi had reverted to how he once was; seemingly uncaring and cold towards his slaves. His normal kindness towards his seemingly adopted children had seemed to dry up as the waves came closer.
Raphtalia accepted the answer as it was, a lie. It hurt to hear and it hurt knowing that it came off his lips so easily. He didn’t even look at her.
The time had come and Naofumi had appeared next to Ren and Motoyasu, with Itsuki across from him.
“If we want to win this, we need to work together,” Naofumi stated, shocking the lot of them.
“I agree,” Itsuki stated, not enjoying the fact.
“They are a whole lot stronger than us when we fight alone,” Naofumi said, putting aside his pride. “We can’t beat them with us fighting against each other.”
“Hey,” Motoyasu complained.
“Shut up,” Ren said calmly before looking back to Naofumi and nodding for him to continue.
“We need a plan of attack.”
The wave passed. Glass, L’Arc, and Therese where nowhere to be seen the entire time.
They were all nursing their wounds, as minor as they were. Despite the three not appearing, the wave was still one to be taken seriously. All four of the Heroes had their own bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes.
“We were able to work together,” Motoyasu said, breaking the tension.
“Yeah,” Naofumi acknowledged quietly.
“Maybe they didn’t know where the wave was,” Itsuki suggested. All four heroes had been anticipating their return.
Another wave passed with no sign of the three. Naofumi began to consider the possibility of never seeing the three again, a thought with equally eased and unnerved him.
It was another night under the stars with Raphtalia and Filo. The two had been antsy around him lately and tonight, it seemed, they had had enough.
“You better explain yourself,” Raphtalia crossed her arms.
“Yeah, master, why have you been so grumpy?”
Naofumi cocked an eyebrow and then let out a sigh. “Stress from the waves,” he told him.
“What else?” Raphtalia asked, not accepting that as the only answer.
A pout bloomed upon his face and he rolled his eyes, moving to lay down on his rollout bed.
“Naofumi-sama, we’re worried about you.”
“You haven’t been yourself, lately,” Filo added.
“I’ll do better,” was all he said before rolling over to face away from them.
Two nights later, Naofumi went on another late night walk through the trees.
“You’re here,” a voice softly called out from behind him.
Naofumi turned to the direction of the voice, readying himself in a defensive stance.
“I didn’t come to fight, kiddo,” the voice said, hiding away in the brush and darkness of the night.
“Then why did you come?” Naofumi questioned, gritting his teeth at the sound of the voice.
“I came to talk.” There was a figure walking towards him. The red hair that populated Naofumi’s dreams and nightmares was illuminated by the creeping moonlight through the branches. Carmine eyes stared at him, looking tired and sorrowful.
“What do you want?” Naofumi demanded, not dropping his stance for a second.
“To see you,” L’Arc said, raising his hands in defeat. “I am unarmed, I don’t want to fight.”
Hesitantly, Naofumi dropped his shield.
L’Arc moved to a fallen log and sat on it, patting the spot next to him for Naofumi to join.
“I’d rather stand at the moment,” Naofumi responded.
The red head nodded, lowering his head. “My world is falling apart and I don’t think killing you all will save it anymore,” he admitted. “I think we need your help, Shield Hero.”
“What made you think killing us would save your world in the first place?” Naofumi asked, finally moving closer to the other and flicking his ear as he sat next to him, receiving a pout from the other.
“When you’re desperate, anything will sound like the solution,” he said.
There was a pregnant pause that hung between the two before Naofumi let out a sigh and then another, followed by a louder and more exaggerated one, cutting all the tension from before.
“Fine, I guess I can’t help but play the role given to me.”
L’Arc gave a small smile. “Asking for your help wasn’t the only reason I came,” he admitted.
“I missed our time at Cal Mira together.”
Naofumi snorted before turning into a full laugh. It felt amazing to truly laugh after so long.
L’Arc looked over at the man, concerned and confused by the sudden outburst.
“You know,” Naofumi began, trying to calm himself, “I haven’t been able to get you and Therese out of my head since the night at the tavern.”
“That, my friend, is called a crush.”
Naofumi’s laughter died off and he considered the thought. “A crush?”
“Therese is beautiful and I’m super hot, so it’s not that difficult of a thought to fall for us,” L’Arc teased, pinching Naofumi’s cheek.
The Shield Hero swatted his hand away. “How could I find someone so childish attractive?” he asked.
“So, you admit it!”
“Nonsense,” Naofumi then stands and sighed again. “I trusted you,” he admitted, more so to himself than to L’Arc, “you and Therese.”
“I will make sure you can trust us again,” L’Arc assured.
“My trust does not come easy, especially when it has already been broken once.”
L’Arc takes Naofumi’s hand. “I will do anything to make up for what we have done. Therese, Glass, and I were fooled.”
“Where is Therese?” Naofumi asked, looking around them.
“She chose to stay,” he explained. “She believed that one person should approach you for our request.”
“She thought that you were the best option to propose an alliance?” Naofumi questioned.
L’Arc shook his head and smiled softly. “I chose to come,” he said. “Perhaps I should say that I insisted I be the one to come.”
Naofumi looked down at their hands, still entwined, as L’Arc began to squeeze his a little tighter.
“I was wrong about you, Shield Hero.”
“Yeah, well, a lot of people are,” was all Naofumi said and he averted his eyes.
“I want to place my trust in you,” L’Arc continued. “How can I get you to trust me again?”
“I don’t know,” the other said, truthfully.
“Then, I shall work my hardest to discover a way for both of us,” L’Arc announced, raising Naofumi’s hand to his own and placing his lips upon it.
The gesture was sudden, catching Naofumi off guard and causing a blush to dust his cheeks.
“Do you accept my scythe to serve you, Shield Hero?” L’Arc asked, defiantly noticing the added color to Naofumi’s features.
Naofumi composed himself, removing his hand from L’Arc’s. “You will do as I say and will not question my orders. Raphtalia and Filo may not like this arrangement, but cannot do anything against my wishes. The fact that you can serves a problem, however, we are too far off from the slave trader.”
“Slave trader?” L’Arc nearly gasped.
“Raphtalia and Filo, apart from being my loyal companions, are my slaves,” Naofumi replied bluntly.
“So that is how you get women to hang out with you,” L’Arc joked.
“Ugh, you are insufferable. Why should I help you, again? Besides, Raphtalia and Filo are practically my kids.”
L’Arc’s amusement only grew. “You should help me because,” he moved in closer, “you like me,” he smiled, “and I like you.”
“You suck at flirting,” Naofumi said, blush heating up his face once more as L’Arc closed the distance between them before quickly pulling back. He did not discredit L’Arc’s claim, despite his own reservations to the thought.
“I suck?” he pouted. “I’ll have to work on that.”
Naofumi nervously chuckled. “You better,” was all he added.
“I really do admire you,” L’Arc began, all pretense of flirting now gone. “When we first met, I thought you were a fool to pretend to be the Shield Hero. Now, I see that what I had heard was false. You truly deserve the title of hero, kiddo.”
“What made you change your mind about the Shield?”
“Your actions speak louder than your scowl, kiddo.”
“So, you’ve been watching us?”
“Of course,” L’Arc easily admitted. “I had to make sure you survived through the waves in order for me to approach you. I could hardly trust those other three idiots.”
“Hopefully we won’t need them,” Naofumi stated.
“So, are you going to lead us to camp?” L’Arc asked.
Naofumi nodded, tensing as he grew closer. Raphtalia and Filo would not be happy, but he trusted L’Arc once. He felt he could again...