Chapter 4 – Special Hiring Bonuses
The next morning.
After breakfast, we eagerly waited to be summoned by the king. But of course, nothing was going to happen so early in the morning. Judging from the position of the sun, it must have been around ten o'clock when they finally came to get us. We headed out with excitement fluttering in our hearts.
Inside the audience chamber, twelve men and women dressed like adventurers had been gathered. There were even a few that looked like honest-to-goodness knights. The king's assistance was really amazing...
We bowed in greeting.
"As promised, we have gathered companions to follow you on your journey. They are all eager to make your acquaintance."
This was perfect! There were just enough people here for each of us to get three companions, with nobody left over.
"Now, future heroes of this country. Choose the one you wish to serve."
Eh? They got to choose who they were going to follow themselves? That was surprising, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Obviously they would favor their own citizens over a bunch of strangers.
One by one, the adventurers briskly crossed the room and gathered into groups in front of each of us. As for the final tally...
Ren: 5 followers.
Motoyasu: 4 followers.
Itsuki: 3 followers.
Me: None at all!?
"Wait a minute, Your Majesty!"
What the hell!? This was just too cruel!
The king didn't seem quite sure how to respond.
"H-Hrm. To be frank, I never imagined something like this could happen."
"He isn't very popular, is he?"
Even the minister threw me under the bus, a shocked expression on his face.
Just then, a robed man whispered something to the king.
"I see. So there was that kind of rumor..."
"Did something happen?"
Motoyasu delicately tried to break the tension, but it was too late. It felt like I was back in elementary school being excluded by the other kids during gym class all over again. This wasn't the kind of thing that's supposed to happen when you come to another world!
"Apparently, a rumor has been circulating around the castle that out of all the Heroes, the Shield Hero is the least acquainted with the ways of our world."
"In legend, it is written that the Heroes are ones with a deep understanding of the inner workings of this world. If I am not mistaken, that does not apply to you?"
Motoyasu nudged me with his elbow.
"Guess they were eavesdropping on our conversation last night, huh?"
Wait. Was he talking about the fact that I'd never played a game like this before? That was the reason nobody wanted to join me? No, more importantly, what was with that bogus legend in the first place? Even if I wasn't as well informed as the others, I was still a Hero, wasn't I!? Who cared if shields sucked in a few shitty games? This wasn't a game, it was reality!
"C'mon on, Ren! You've got five followers, can't you spare one or two?"
Ren's followers (men included) shrank back behind him like frightened children, while Ren himself simply sighed and scratched his head.
"Well, I can't say I'm a fan of company. I'll leave behind anybody that doesn't think they can keep up with me."
However, even in the face of such cold words from their lord, none of Ren's followers so much as moved a muscle.
"What about you, Motoyasu? Don't you think this is too cruel!?"
Incidentally, I forgot to mention it earlier, but the ratio of men and women in the adventurers gathered for us was heavily weighted toward women. It was quite the mystery.
"It's... not my decision to make."
Itsuki seemed genuinely troubled by my situation, but didn't want to reject the companions that had chosen him, either.
Incidentally, I forgot to mention it earlier, but every single one of Motoyasu's followers was a woman. It seemed he was genetically predisposed to having women flock to him no matter where he was.
"I do think it would be best if we each had three followers, but... forcing them into it against their will would be terrible for morale."
Everybody in the room nodded at Itsuki's reasonable words.
"Then, I have to set off on my journey alone!?"
But all I had was a shield! How was I supposed to get any stronger without companions!?
"My Lord, I will travel with the Shield Hero."
One of Motoyasu's subordinates raised her hand and volunteered to join my party.
"Oh? Are you sure?"
She was a lovely young woman with shoulder-length red hair. Actually, more than that, she was stunning, wasn't she? Her features were a bit childish, but even so she was only a little shorter than me.
"Are there any others willing to go to Naofumi's side?"
I could almost see the tumbleweeds rolling. Not a single other person showed even the slightest inclination of volunteering.
The king breathed a sigh of regret.
"Very well. Naofumi, from this point on you are to scout suitable companions on your own and bolster your ranks. Because of these decidedly unique circumstances, I will make a special exception just this once and increase your aid for the month over that of the other Heroes."
"Y-Yes, Your Majesty!"
It was a sound judgment. If nobody here wanted anything to do with me, then I just had to go out and find some people that did.
"Then, I shall distribute the funds."
At the king's signal, we were presented with four heavy, jangling moneybags. As promised, mine was slightly larger than the others.
"I hereby bequeath 800 silver coins to Naofumi, and 600 silver coins to the other Heroes. Use it to equip yourselves, and then begin your journey!"
And so, our audience with the king ended. Everybody filed out into the hall, and began their self-introductions.
"Nice to meet you, Shield Hero. My name is Mine Sphere. Let's do our best together, okay?"
I was grateful to Mine for speaking frankly, without holding anything back. Though I had taken a hit to my self-confidence from the ordeal I just went through, the fact remained that this girl became my companion. And I had to cherish my companions! Because, compared to the other heroes my weapon was essentially useless.
"Then, shall we go now, Mine?"
Mine nodded enthusiastically and fell into step behind me.
The spectacle that greeted us when we crossed the drawbridge from the castle into the town nearly blew me away. Though I had caught a glimpse of it through the window yesterday, seeing it up close really drilled in the fact that I had come to another world. Wooden signboards hung over stone streets and storefronts, and delicious smells wafted through the air. It really made quite an impression.
"What should we do now?"
"First I want to find a shop that sells weapons and armor. We should definitely be able to buy something decent with this much money."
Right. Since I only had a shield, the first thing I needed was a real weapon. Without that, I would never be able to fight monsters (or anything else, for that matter), and catching up to those guys would be next to impossible. On the other hand, they all had weapons they had to develop from scratch. If I could get a head start out of the gate, I'd be able to pass them in a flash.
"In that case, I know of a great little shop I can take you to."
"You'd do that for me?"
"Of course! We're partners, aren't we?"
Mine guided me through the streets with a skip in her step. Then, after about ten minutes she suddenly came to a stop. We were in front of a shop with a conspicuously huge sign, emblazoned with nothing but a sword.
"Here it is."
Peeking in through the door, I could see that the walls were covered with weapons from floor to ceiling. Without a doubt, this was an honest-to-god weapon shop! And not only that, it looked like they also dealt in armor and useful tools for adventurers.
The shopkeeper bellowed out a greeting as we entered. His enormous, muscular frame was exactly what you'd expect from the owner of a weapon shop. But that was great! I would have been a little disappointed if he had ended up being some sleazy ball of grease. This really was another world, huh?
"So this is a weapon shop...?"
"Ah, a new customer! The fact that you came in means you must have an eye for quality!"
"Actually this girl here recommended you."
I pointed at Mine, who gave a quick wave to the shopkeeper.
"Well, thanks for that missy."
"Oh, don't worry about it. Your shop is famous around these parts, that's all."
"You flatter me! Anyway, this strangely dressed fellow is you boyfriend, I presume?"
That's right. To the people of this world, my clothes must have seemed otherworldly. Anybody judging me by my appearance alone would think I was a total weirdo.
"You can't tell who he is just by looking?"
"Wait, you don't mean... he's a Hero!?"
The shopkeeper stared at me for what seemed like an eternity.
"He doesn't seem very reliable..."
"If you have something to say, say it."
Of course, even if I didn't want to admit it, I probably did look pretty unreliable. But that's why I wanted to get stronger!
"I'm just saying, if you don't load yourself up with quality equipment nobody will take you seriously."
"That's probably true..."
Hahaha... he was a straight shooter alright.
"From the looks of you I'd say... you must be the failure of the Heroes, right?"
Urk. I could feel my cheek twitching. Why did rumors about me seem to spread so fast? Well, whatever. I couldn't let it get me down.
"I'm the Shield Hero, Iwatani Naofumi. I'll be getting into a lot of dangerous situations from here on out, so I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of each other."
I figured it would be best to introduce myself properly and clear up any misunderstandings.
"Naofumi, huh? Well, if you're already planning on becoming a repeat customer then I think we'll get along just fine. Nice to meet you!"
Geez, this guy was energetic.
"Hey, mister. Don't you have any good equipment on sale?"
Mine pouted a little and batted her eyes at the shopkeeper.
"What's your budget?
Mine looked me over like she was appraising my value.
"I'd say... 250 silver coins, or thereabouts."
250 of my 800 silver coins...? I wondered if she was figuring in the cost of recruiting allies and paying for lodgings.
"Understood! Wait there moment."
The shopkeeper left the counter and wandered around a bit, before finally returning with a pile of weapons from various sections of the shop.
"So, kiddo. Do you have a preference for any particular weapon type?"
"Not really. I've never actually held a real weapon before in my life."
"In that case, I'd recommend a sword made for novices."
He lined up a selection of swords on the counter in front of me.
"All of these come with a coating of BloodClean already applied."
"It's a special coating that makes blood and gore slide right off the blade, to preserve cutting ability."
Now that he mentioned it, I was pretty sure I'd heard something in my world about blades wearing down after being used to cut meat a lot. So then, basically he was saying these were all swords that never go dull? Amazing...
"From least to most expensive, we've got iron, magic iron, magic steel, and mithril. You might think they're a bit pricey, but I can guarantee their performance."
Interesting. Did the toughness of the weapon vary by material?
"We've got even better weapons in stock, of course, but these are the ones that fit your budget."
Normally in console games the shops in the first town were full of crap items, but there seemed to be an amazing assortment of products here. This world really was like an online game, wasn't it?
...Wait, no, what was I thinking? This wasn't a game, it was reality. It made perfect sense that a weapon shop in the capital of a major country would be well-stocked.
"Maybe... the iron sword?"
I gingerly wrapped my fingers around the hilt and picked it up. There was a hefty weight to it, like you'd expect from a weapon. Compared to my shield, it was surprisingly heavy. Would I really be able to fight monsters with this...?
Suddenly, I felt a shock like I had been struck by lightning, and the sword snapped out of my hands.
The shopkeeper and Mine were looking back and forth between me and the sword with looks of wonder on their faces.
I bent over and picked up the sword again. It seemed perfectly normal. So then, what was that before? Was it just a fluke?
What the hell? Was the shopkeeper playing a prank or something? I glared at him, but he just shook his head and shrugged. He was clearly just as confused as me. Maybe Mine knew what was going on? I couldn't imagine that she was responsible for this, but she was the only other one here...
"Didn't it just fly out of your hands on its own?"
Ridiculous. That was impossible. I stared at my palms in disbelief. As I did, a message appeared in my field of vision.
Legendary Weapon Rule Violation: Contact With Unauthorized Weapon
Wait, what? I quickly pulled up the Help menu and consulted the user's manual. There had to be something in there about... aha!
A Hero can't fight with anything other than the legendary weapon in his possession.
Seriously!? I couldn't use anything to fight except my shield!? What kind of shitty game was this?
"Umm... sorry, but apparently this shield is the only weapon I'm allowed to have."
I raised my head and smiled bitterly.
"Really? Could I have a look at it?"
Since I couldn't take the shield off, I held out my entire shield arm for the shopkeeper. I felt a little silly, but there was no way around it. He muttered something under his breath, and a small ball of light flew toward my shield and burst apart.
"Hmm. At first glance, it's just a normal small shield. But there's something strange about it..."
"Ah, you can tell?"
I was painfully aware that it was just a small shield. Even the status magic said so. (Though, it did have the designation "Legendary Weapon" attached.)
"See this jewel fixed in the center here? I can feel a powerful energy radiating from it. I tried examining it with appraisal magic, but I wasn't able to see much. Even though there shouldn't be a type of magic I can't identify..."
The shopkeeper gazed at me and thoughtfully stroked his trademark beard.
"It really is interesting... ahem. Anyway, if weapons are out, how about some protective gear?"
"Yeah, okay. That sounds good."
"Let's see... you already have a shield so there's no need to worry about that. And since there's no point in splitting your budget between weapons and armor anymore, you should be able to afford something pretty nice."
The shopkeeper started pointing out various sets of armor on display.
"Full plate armor restricts your movements, so it's not really suitable for adventuring. I'd say that a nice set of entry-level chain mail is just what you need."
I walked over to the armor he had recommended and touched my hand to it. The countless chain links jangled and swayed. I wondered what its defensive abilities were like...
Huh? An icon popped up.
Defense Up, Slash Resist S
Strange, nothing like that had appeared when I was looking at the swords. Maybe it was because I couldn't equip them?
"How much does it cost?"
Mine addressed the shopkeeper.
"For you? I'll knock it down to 120 silver coins."
"Do you do buybacks?"
"Hmm? Well, I guess if you brought it back in good shape I'd be willing to pay 100 silver coins for it."
"What's going on?"
"Oh, Shield Hero. I was just asking him how much we could make back on this armor once you outgrow it."
Ah, of course. That made sense. Right now I was only level one, but as I grew stronger it stood to reason that I'd be able to equip more powerful equipment as well. This chain mail was just the best thing I could equip at the moment.
"Okay, I'll take it."
"Wonderful! I'll even throw in the innerwear for free!"
The shopkeeper's generosity rendered me speechless. I handed him the 120 silver coins for the chain mail.
"Would you like to wear it out?"
"Okay then, right this way."
I was guided to a room at the back of the shop, where I changed into the innerwear and chain mail. I put my original clothes into a bag the shopkeeper gave me.
"Gahaha, it's not much, but you definitely look a little sturdier now!
I was pretty sure that was supposed to be a compliment.
"Well then, Shield Hero. Shall we head out into the field?"
I was in high spirits as I left the shop with Mine. I looked like a real adventurer now!
Afterward, we walked toward the edge of town and exited through the castle gates. The guards posted as lookouts acknowledged our presence with a nod, and I greeted them cheerfully in return. This was it! The start of my adventure was finally here!