Chapter 5 – Harsh Reality of the Shield
Outside the castle gates, grassy plains extended far as the eye could see. There was a stone road (of sorts)leading off into the distance, but aside from that there wasn't so much as a trace of human civilization to be found.
The last time I had seen anything like it was when I went on a trip to Hokkaido, but even that paled in comparison to this endless blue sky, this sea of green that stretched all the way to the horizon. The only thing that kept me from running around and frolicking to my heart's content was the knowledge that if anybody saw me doing it, my stock as a hero would plummet even further than it already had.
"Just a minute, Shield Hero. This area is home to many weak monsters. We should should use this as an opportunity to warm up before things get tougher.
"Sounds good to me! This is my first time fighting, so let's do our best!"
"Yes. Please do your best."
"Wait. Are you saying you're not going to help?"
"I will. But before that, I thought it would be good if we figure out how strong you are on your own."
"Oh... I guess that makes sense."
Thinking about it, Mine was probably already fairly experienced, while I had no idea what I was even capable of. If she thought the monsters here were safe for me to start with, I should trust her judgment.
We plodded through the plains for a while, until eventually we stumbled across a conspicuously orange balloon-like... something.
"Ah, there's one now. An Orange Balloon, by the looks of it. Be careful, Shield Hero... it's weak, but extremely aggressive."
What was with that naming sense? It looked like an orange balloon, so it was called an Orange Balloon? I almost felt sorry for the thing.
I could practically feel the hostility emanating from its ferocious growls and two vicious little eyes. The instant it noticed my presence, it charged right at me.
"Good luck, Shield Hero!"
This was my chance to shine. I steadied my shield with my right hand, then brought it down on the Orange Balloon.
The spot I hit popped back up as if nothing had happened. It was surprisingly elastic! I had been sure it would burst immediately...
The Orange Balloon snarled and snapped its teeth at me.
It made a solid-sounding noise, but I ignored it. Even though the Orange Balloon was gnawing on my arm, it wasn't having any effect at all. It almost felt like a faint barrier was being emitted by my shield and protecting me.
I looked at Mine without saying anything.
"You can do it!"
...Could I, though? Sure I wasn't taking any damage, but I wasn't dealing any either. I needed to change my strategy.
"ORA ORA ORA ORA ORA!"
I channeled my inner martial artist and pummeled the Orange Balloon with my fists.
Then, after five minutes...
It finally split open.
I heard a ping, and a message saying I had gained 1 EXP appeared. To fight so hard for one measly experience point... it didn't bode well. These guys were way tougher than I'd thought they'd be. There was a limit to what I could do with my bare hands.
"Good job, Shield Hero."
Mine was clapping, but it seemed a little forced.
Just then, I noticed the sound of footsteps somewhere in the distance slowly growing louder. I turned my head to see what it was, and saw Ren and his followers trotting along at a brisk pace. I briefly considered calling out a greeting, but I didn't have the nerve to disturb people running with such serious expressions.
Suddenly, three Orange Balloons appeared in front of them.
Without hesitation, Ren drew an arc with his sword, popping them one after the other.
He took them all out with one strike!? Just how high was his attack score!?
Mine waved her hand in front of my face to snap me out of my daze.
"Don't worry about it so much. Every Hero has their own way of fighting, that's all."
That's right. I had just been used as a chew toy for five whole minutes without getting so much as a scratch. It seemed my defense score, at least, was actually pretty high. With my spirits rising a bit, I stooped down and picked up the remains of the Orange Balloon I'd defeated. As I did, a faint sound began to emanate from my shield.
I slowly brought the balloon scraps toward my shield. The instant I touched them together, a faint light glimmered, and the orange, rubbery material was sucked into the shield's jewel.
Orange Balloon's Balloon Scraps Acquired
I noticed that the Weapon Book was lit up now. I opened it up to see if anything had changed, and saw that an icon for an "Orange Small Shield" had appeared. It was still locked, though - apparently I needed to gather more materials before I could actually use it.
"Is that the power of the legendary weapons?"
"Yeah. It seems I can fuse certain materials into it to unlock new forms."
"Incidentally, are those balloon scraps worth anything?
"You'd be lucky to get a single copper coin for them."
"...And how many copper coins are in a silver coin?"
Oh, well. I didn't really expect it to sell for much anyway.
"Anyway, you're up next, right?"
"I suppose I am."
Two more Orange Balloons had approached us as we were speaking. However, Mine drew her blade and struck them down with two swift, elegant cuts. They didn't even last a second.
No way... even Mine...?
This was my second day as an official Hero of another world, and after just five minutes of battle, I understood my standing perfectly. I finally realized just how weak I - or rather, this shield - really was.
...It would probably be best to let Mine handle the fighting from now on.
"Okay, new plan. You attack and I'll defend. Let's see how far we can get."
Mine agreed immediately. Afterward, we walked through the plains until the sun had nearly set, slaying every Balloon we encountered. Apparently they came in a variety of colors, since aside from the standard Orange Balloons we ended up fighting a few Yellow Balloons, too.
"There are stronger monsters up ahead, but we should probably head back to the castle soon before it gets dark."
"Aww, but I wanted to keep fighting some more..."
Since I wasn't taking any damage, defending against the Balloons' attacks was really easy. I felt like I could keep going all day.
"I understand your feelings, Shield Hero, but I was hoping we could visit the weapon shop again before they close. If you buy me better equipment, we will easily be able to progress much further than this tomorrow."
"...I guess I can't argue when you put it like that."
But was it really okay to stop here, when I was so close to leveling up? I had already fulfilled the material conditions for the Orange and Yellow small shields, so all I had to do now was gain a little bit more experience and I'd actually be able to use them.
(By the way, I kept collecting balloon scraps even after fulfilling the conditions. They might only be worth a single copper coin each, but hey, money was money!)
In the end, though, Mine got her way, and we paused our adventure midway to return to town.