Chapter 6 – Mine's Betrayal
By the time we got back to the castle town, it was already evening. We headed straight for the weapons shop.
"Ah, if it isn't the shield kiddo. You know, the other Heroes stopped by after you left."
So everybody ended up outfitting themselves at this shop, huh? No wonder the shopkeeper looked so pleased with himself.
"I see. Say, you wouldn't be willing to buy these, would you?"
I showed him the scraps I had scavenged from the Orange Balloons we hunted today, but he just waved toward the door indifferently.
"There's a shop around here that specializes in buying and selling materials from monsters. I'm sure they'd be willing to take them off your hands."
"No problem. So, do you need anything else?"
"Yes. I wanted to buy some equipment for my companion, here."
I looked around the store for Mine and found her staring intently at the equipment on display.
"What's your budget this time?"
I still had 680 silver coins left. What was the best way to spend them?
"What do you think, Mine?"
Mine was comparing equipment with a serious look on her face and didn't seem to hear me at all. I really needed her input here, though. After all, when we were done shopping we needed to have enough left over to get us through the rest of the month, but I didn't even know how much lodgings would cost, let alone everything else.
"Equipment for your companion, huh? Well, it will definitely make her stronger..."
Since I couldn't attack at all, we'd get get more bang for our buck by making sure Mine was as well-equipped as possible. Or at least, that was the idea.
"It'll probably be pretty expensive, though, so why don't we negotiate a discount?"
"You sure say some amusing things, Mr. Hero."
"Are you crazy!? 20% increase!"
"You're going in the wrong direction! 79% off!"
"Even double-price is too good for some bastard trying to haggle without looking at the wares!"
"Tch! 21% increase!"
"Stop trying to bump up the price! 100% off!"
"That's just asking for it for free! Ugh, fine, 5% off!"
"Not enough! 92% off!"
And so on.
Eventually Mine came back to the counter, carrying a lovely set of armor and a sword made out of a strangely expensive-looking metal.
"I'm done shopping, Shield Hero."
"So what's the total, pops? Including the 60% off, of course."
"480 silver coins. 59% off is as low as I'll go!
My preemptive haggling had been surprisingly effective at dropping the price. Still, to be left with just 200 silver coins...
"Mine... can't you be a little more understanding? I've still got lodging fees and living expenses to think about, you know."
"It's fine, Shield Hero. If I get stronger, we'll be able to defeat stronger monsters and make back the money by selling their materials, right?"
Mine pressed her chest into my arm and pleaded with me. Her eyes were sparkling.
"W-Well, if you insist..."
Come to think of it, those 200 silver coins had been given to me to make up for my lack of followers. The rest was meant to be used on equipment from the start. Looking at it from that point of view, there was a good chance that the amount of 200 silver coins was chosen specifically because it would be enough to get me through the month.
...That said, I'd still feel more comfortable if I leveled up a bit and got a steady source of income before trying to recruit anybody.
"Okay! I guess I'll take these, then."
"Thank you very much! You're a pretty ridiculous Hero, you know that?
"Ha ha, well. I just really enjoy business, that's all."
In online games, I always enjoyed making money. I had an uncanny ability to buy low, sell high, and play the auctions. And it wasn't like it was easy, mind you. With all the information available at their fingertips, actual humans in games were tough to haggle with!
"Thank you, Shield Hero."
Mine gently kissed my hand in gratitude.
...Yeah! Affection Points: UP! Our journey from tomorrow on was sure to be more enjoyable!
At any rate, New equipment in hand, Mine and I headed to the town's inn. The rates were 30 copper coins per person per night.
"We'll take two rooms."
Mine was emitting a silent pressure.
Urk... I had the feeling I'd already lost this one.
"Okay, two rooms it is."
"Right, right. Thanks for your patronage."
The innkeeper rubbed his hands together greedily and told us about the rooms we'd be renting. After having an unreasonable amount of information hammered into my head, we stopped in at the tavern next door for dinner. I ordered two deluxe specials, which ran five copper coins a piece.
"Which reminds me..."
I spread out the map I'd purchased on the way back into town and asked Mine to help me get my bearings.
"This here is the plain we were fighting in today, right?"
I was making notes about this area's terrain on the map, for future reference. It might have been better to ask Ren or Motoyasu about it, but judging from the way they were acting yesterday, they probably wouldn't have told me anything. Guys like that would do anything to get a leg up on other people, without a second thought. I wouldn't be surprised if they took advantage of my ignorance to guide me right into a nest of powerful monsters or something.
That was why I had decided to consult with Mine, who seemed knowledgeable enough about this sort of thing.
"Yes, that's right."
"And from our conversation earlier, would I be right in thinking this forest here is the next hunting ground after the plains?"
The map gave a broad overview of this country's terrain. Basically, there was a vast plain with the castle at its center. From there, there were roads running toward the forest and the mountains, as well as roads that intersected with rivers and villages.
However, since this map was so small, only a few villages near the castle were actually shown. It didn't give any indication of what to expect beyond the forest, either, which was problematic. Without knowing where to go and what kind of monsters would be there, it was impossible to progress.
"Yes. It's not recorded on this map, but our current goal is Raffin Village, on the other side of the forest."
"And, just past Raffin is a dungeon well-suited for novice adventurers."
Sure, hunting monsters was the basis of online games, but that was aiming too high!
"I doubt we'll find much of value, but it should be good for increasing your level."
"If you say so."
"Don't worry! The monsters there are strong, of course, but with my new equipment it will be an easy victory."
"Ha ha, thanks. This was all really helpful."
"Think nothing of it. By the way, aren't you going to drink any wine?"
Since this was a tavern, they had brought out alcohol along with the food. However, I hadn't touched it at all.
"Ah, sorry. I don't really like the stuff."
It wasn't like I couldn't handle myself. On the contrary, I had such a high tolerance that it was almost impossible for me to get drunk. I just didn't really have an interest in it, that's all. It probably stemmed back to the times I went out drinking with friends in college, and had to sit there and watch everybody get drunk off their asses while I stayed stone-cold sober. It wasn't very fun.
"Not even just one glass?"
"Seriously, I'd rather not."
Mine put down the bottle of wine with a disappointed look on her face.
"Anyway, I'm glad we were able to talk about our plans for tomorrow, but I think I'm going to go ahead and turn in early."
"Goodnight, Shield Hero."
I had already finished my meal, so I left the boisterous tavern and returned to my assigned room. Once I was there, I stripped off my chain mail and laid it on the chair.
I set down my pouch of silver coins on the table. This inn required payment in advance, which meant I was already down to 199 silver coins and some change. The uneasy feeling that gave me was probably an instinct I'd gained from spending so much of my life totally broke.
On a lark, I took about 30 silver coins out of the pouch and hid them under my shield. It was a really touristy thing to do, but somehow it made me feel better.
A whole lot of things happened today!
I knew what it was like to defeat monsters, now, even if it was just popping balloons.
I laid down on the bed and stared up at the unfamiliar ceiling, thoughts racing. This really was another world. Just like last night, the excited feeling in my chest wouldn't go away. I could feel it. Things were only going to get better from here on out. So what if I didn't have as many companions as the other Heroes? I had my own path ahead of me. There was no need for me to aim at being the strongest, as long as I did the best I could.
My eyes were getting heavy. A joyful racket was coming from the direction of the tavern, and I could almost swear I heard Motoyasu and Itsuki's voices amongst the noise. Maybe they were staying at this inn tonight too?
I reached out and extinguished the lamp lighting up the room. It was still a little early, but even so I quickly drifted off to sleep...
Huh...? A noise...? Were those guys in the bar still going at it?
So hot... clothes stuck...
It was cold.
There was sunlight shining on my face, which meant it must be morning. I wiped the sleepiness out of my eyes as I sat up, and looked out the window. Apparently I had been more tired than I thought, since the sun was already fairly high in the sky. It was probably about nine o'clock.
At some point I had ended up wearing nothing but my underwear. Did I strip in my sleep?
Well, whatever. It didn't matter.
Outside, the street was bustling with people going about their daily routines. The sight of restaurants and food stalls busily preparing for the lunch rush while carriages clattered along made me feel like I was in a dream.
This world was really amazing. Apparently there were two types of carriages: higher class horse-drawn ones, and lower class bird-drawn ones. The bird-drawn ones were being pulled by huge, ostrich-like things that kind of reminded me of chocobos.
The occasional ox-cart rounded out the medieval atmosphere.
"Well then, time for breakfast!"
I searched around the bed for the clothes I had (apparently?) taken off last night.
...Weird. They weren't there? Then, the chain mail I'd put on the chair... was nowhere to be found, either. On top of that, the sack of silver coins that should have been sitting right there on the table was gone too!
Even my original clothes, which I had kept just in case I ever needed them, had up and vanished.
I'd been robbed!? That was totally ridiculous! Didn't this inn have any security at all!?
Anyway, I had to tell Mine about this! I flung open the door to my room and ran next door.
"Mine! This is bad! All our money is gone, and my equipment too!"
But no matter how desperately I knocked, there was no response.
I was so preoccupied that I almost didn't notice the heavy footsteps approaching from down the hall. Before I knew it I had been surrounded by castle knights.
Thank goodness! I could see a light shining in the darkness. Once I explained what had happened, they'd definitely catch the guy that had done this. He'd regret ever messing with a Hero!
"You guys are from the castle, right? You've gotta help me!"
I earnestly appealed to the knights. Where the hell was Mine? This was serious!
Huh? Their response seemed somehow... hostile.
"You've been ordered to appear before the king. Come with us."
"Appear before the...? Wait, no, first you have to help me! A thief came in the night and..."
"I said let's go!"
The knights roughly took hold of my arms and started dragging me down the hall.
"Hey, stop! Listen to me!"
What were they doing? I was still in my underwear for god's sake!
But the knights ignored my cries, and I was forcibly brought back to the castle in one of the very carriages I had thought were so wondrous just a little earlier. Nobody told me anything. I had no idea what was going on. The only certainty was their eyes - their eyes that clearly regarded me as a criminal.