Chapter Twenty-Three: All I’d Wanted to Hear.
“You didn’t win anything, you coward! Someone interfered with our one-on-one fight!”
“What are you talking about? You weren’t strong enough to hold me down, and now you’ve lost!”
Was he serious? The creep!
What a hero. What was he talking about slaves for?!
What kind of hero would be proud of winning a duel against someone who only had a shield?!
“Your little friend there interfered! That’s why I lost my balance!”
“Ha! So disappointed that you have to make up lies?!”
“That’s not it at all, you freak!”
He ignored me, and kept acting victorious.
But… But she really had cheated! And this… ARGH!
“Is that true?”
The crowd turned to Motoyasu.
There was no way to tell if they believed him or me. They were waiting there in silence.
“Why would we believe the words of a criminal! Spear Hero! The victory is yours!”
The jerk! The king ignored all the evidence, all the doubts, and proclaimed Motoyasu the winner.
Just when I had been about to win, he was looking down on me, vulgar-like. That was it! I could have won. I could have won!
It looked like the crowd had their doubts as well. Their eyes were looking us both over, but none of them had the courage to speak out against the king.
He probably would have had them killed for speaking out.
What was this, a dictatorship?
“Oh you did so good, Mr. Motoyasu!”
The root of all evil, that woman, was smiling innocently. A castle magician ran over and healed only Motoyasu’s wounds.
They just ignored me.
“Yes, my daughter. Malty has excellent choice in Heroes.”
… Said the king, and placed his hand on Myne’s shoulder.
Myne was the king’s daughter?!
“Yeah, I was really surprised too. To think that the princess would use a fake name and infiltrate us!”
“Oh, yes, but naturally it was all for the peace of the kingdom.”
… So that’s how it was.
I’d thought it was strange that she was able to have me branded a criminal without a single shred of evidence.
The sneaky princess, in order to get the hero she wanted, she sacrificed the weakest hero, myself, stole my money, then ran to her father and got him to denounce me. It was a perfect way to frame me.
Then, because Motoyasu had saved her, she used that as an excuse to get closer to him than the other women were able to.
Now it all made sense, even why I’d been given more money at the start.
She’d wanted the good equipment for herself, and then she would attach herself to the best hero.
When I’d seen, at the very beginning, that Motoyasu had better equipment than the others, I should have been smarter and kept my distance.
They’d thought it all out, and there was no other recourse but to ask them directly. But considering how far they would go, I didn’t have a good reason to think they would not have covered their tracks. In the end it was the word of the disgraced and useless Shield Hero versus the word of the >Spear Hero who had saved the princess.
They’d planned it all from the beginning. It was a perfect trap.
And while it hadn’t damaged me directly, the Wing Blow was strong enough to knock me off balance, which suggests that the caster had been well educated. It was proof of the princess’s involvement.
That was why they’d set up this one-sided duel in the first place. It had been their plan from the start.
They’d known that he would win, and they’d known that the princess could interfere on Motoyasu’s behalf if the duel ever seemed to be in question.
It was simple. All that woman needed to do was whisper in his ear:
“That girl with the Shield Hero is a slave. He’s forcing her to cooperate. You have to save her.”
It was a perfect opportunity to make herself look good to her chosen future husband. They would not let it slip by.
If they ended up getting married, then saving a slave girl from the disgraced Shield Hero was the perfect end to their heroic story.
Legends are born through evil. The more evil you were, the better you’d be remembered.
Throughout history, they’d be remembered as the heroes that took care of the fallen Shield Hero and saved a little girl. They’d have songs written about them.
The king was a jerk, and the princess was even worse!
Wait a second… The princess was… a bitch?
The phrase sounded familiar to me.
But from where? I know I’d seen it before.
…I remember. It was in The Records of the Four Holy Weapons.
The princess in the book was a bitch that made eyes at all of the heroes.
If those heroes were the same as the heroes in that book I’d read at the library, then it must have been connected somehow to this world, so it only made since that the princess would be a bitch.
I was filled with a burning hatred, and it ran powerfully through my body.
My shield was… pulsing.
Curse Series Shield: conditions met
The seething black hatred absorbed my shield, and my field of vision warped.
“Now then, Mr. Motoyasu, the girl that the Shield Hero was using as a slave is waiting.”
The people parted, and Raphtalia was there with the castle priests. They were about to remove the slave spell from her.
The magicians were holding a bowl filled with some kind of liquid which they smeared over the slave mark on her chest.
As they did so, the slave icon in my field of vision vanished.
And that made it official: she was no longer my slave.
The seething hatred was burning, and it took control of me.
The whole world was laughing at me. Mocking me. They were happy when I was in pain, when I was humiliated.
Yes, all I could see was shadows and dark smiles.
Motoyasu rushed over to her.
They’d removed the gag from her mouth, and as Motoyasu approached, her eyes filled with tears, and she turned to say something…
And slapped him.
Motoyasu looked stunned and confused.
“Of course I don’t forgive your cowardice, but when did I ever ask for your help?!”
“But Raphtalia… He… He was abusing you!”
“Mr. Naofumi never made me do anything I didn’t want to do. The spell only made me fight when I was too afraid to have done it otherwise!”
I felt very light-headed and couldn’t really follow what everyone was saying.
No, I could hear them, but I didn’t want to listen.
I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
I wanted to go back to my own world.
“But that’s not okay!”
“Mr. Naofumi can’t attack monsters, so he needs someone to help him!”
“That doesn’t have to be you! He’ll work you to the bone!”
“Mr. Naofumi hasn’t let a monster hurt me, not even once! When I got tired, he always let me rest!”
“N… No… He’s not the kind of thoughtful person you… you think he is.”
“Would you reach out to a sick, filthy slave?
“Mr. Naofumi did a lot for me. He fed me whenever I was hungry. When I was sick he made medicine for me. Would you? Would you have done those things?!”
“Then you must have slaves of your own!”
Raphtalia rushed over to me.
This place was hell.
The whole world was made of duplicity and evil.
The women, no… The whole world was laughing at me, punishing me, trying to hurt me.
When she touched me, I felt hatred boil inside of me
When Raphtalia saw the way I reacted, she turned and glared at Motoyasu.
“I heard the rumors… That Mr. Naofumi forced himself on his friend, that he was the worst of the Heroes.”
“Right. Yes, he’s a criminal! You should know since he made a sex slave out of you too!”
“How can you say that?! Mr. Naofumi has never touched me, ever! Not even once!”
She reached out and held my hand.
“Let me go!”
“Mr. Naofumi… What can I do… What can I do to earn your trust?”
“Let me go!”
The whole world thought I was contemptible! They blamed me for everything!
“I didn’t do it!”
I was flying into a fury, when something covered me.
“Mr. Naofumi, please, please, calm down. Let me… Listen to me. Let me earn your trust.”
“If you can only believe a slave, because they are incapable of hurting you, then let’s go back! Take me back to that tent, and I’ll take the curse again.”
“Liar! What do you want from me?”
What? What was this voice that forced its way into my heart?
“Whatever happens, I believe you. I believe you, Mr. Naofumi.”
“Shut up! You want to frame me for something else!”
“I know that you wouldn’t do what they accuse you of. You wouldn’t force yourself on anyone. You aren’t that kind of person.”
It was the first time I’d heard the words I wanted to hear. The first time since I’d come to this world.
I felt like the dark shadows surrounding me were starting to fall apart.
I felt kindness.
“The whole world might accuse you, might blame you, but I won’t. I’ll say it again and again: you didn’t do it.”
I opened my eyes, and when I saw her she was no longer a little girl. She was a seventeen-year-old woman.
I could tell that it was still Raphtalia. It was Raphtalia’s face, but she was the cutest girl I’d ever seen.
Her hair had been so dirty, but here it was, beautiful and long, her dry and cracked skin was somehow changed. She had a healthy glow.
She had been so skinny, but now there was meat on her bones, and she was full and healthy and energetic.
She was looking at me. Her sad, dull eyes that always showed her surrender to life and its monstrosities were clear and bright and full of life.
I didn’t know who she was.
“Mr. Naofumi, take me back to the tent. Let’s put the spell back on.”
“W…Who are you?!”
“Huh? What are you saying? It’s me, Raphtalia.”
“Ahaha, no. Raphtalia is just a little girl!”
This woman was claiming to be Raphtalia, the girl who’d just sworn to believe me. She looked confused, and cocked her head to the side.
“Oh c’mon. Mr. Naofumi, you’re always treating me like a kid.”
Her voice… It sounded just like Raphtalia’s.
But she looked totally different.
No way, no way. This didn’t make any sense at all.
“Mr. Naofumi, let me tell you something.”
“Demi-humans, we… When we are young, our bodies grow with our levels. So we grow very quickly as we level up.”
“Demi-humans are not humans. This is one of the reasons that some people treat us as monsters.
The girl who called herself Raphtalia kept talking.
“Sure, I’m still… I mean I guess I’m not emotionally that mature, but my body has matured. I’m basically an adult.”
She pulled me close and… and buried my face in her large, voluptuous breasts as she spoke.
“Please believe me. I believe, I KNOW, that you never committed any crime. You gave me medicine, saved my life, and taught me what I needed to survive. You are the great Shield Hero, and I am your sword. No matter how rough the path, I will follow you.”
I’d… I’d wanted to hear that for so long.
Raphtalia kept swearing that she would fight with me.
“If you can’t believe me, then please, turn me back into a slave. I want to stay with you. I will follow you!”
Hearing such nice words, for the first time, I found myself involuntarily sobbing.
I told myself to stop, to get a hold of myself. But I couldn’t. The tears wouldn’t stop.
“Ah… Ahhhhhhh… Ugggg…”
Raphtalia hugged me and pulled me against her as I cried.
“Motoyasu, you lose the duel. You broke the rules.”
Ren and Itsuki spoke as they pushed through the crowd.
“We saw it all from up there. Your friend attacked Naofumi from behind with wind magic.”
“No. That… That’s not true!”
“The king had fallen silent. Can’t you see that?”
Motoyasu looked to the crowd, but everyone turned their faces away.
“But he threw monsters at me!”
“He has no attack power. You have to give him that much. You’re in the wrong for challenging him to a duel in the first place.”
He turned to Ren and Itsuki, self-righteous, and shouted:
“But he… He… He concentrated his attacks on my face and crotch!”
“He knew he couldn’t win, so he just did all that he could to hurt you. I don’t think we can begrudge him that.”
Motoyasu was indignant at Itsuki’s words, but soon he relented.
“It looks like you have some fault, at least in this particular fight. Give it up.”
“Damn… This isn’t fair… I mean… Raphtalia is obviously brainwashed!”
“How can you say that, after the scene we just witnessed?”
It was growing awkward, so the heroes made to leave. The crowd returned to the castle.
“Geez! That was boring!”
“I know… It was a disappointing result, to say the least.”
The last two spectators, apparently unimpressed, slumped their shoulders and walked off. The two of us were left alone in the garden.
“It must have been so hard on you. I never knew. Please, share your pain with me.”
At the kindness in her voice, I drifted off…
A slept for an hour, and Raphtalia held me the whole time.
I was surprised. I hadn’t noticed how much she had grown.
How could I have not noticed? I was… probably too stressed.
I was too stressed to notice her growing. I had trained all my focus on her status and focused only on the rising numbers.