Chapter 7 – False Accusations
Once we arrived at the castle, the knights marched me - still in my underwear - into the royal audience chamber, spears prodding at my back. The king and minister were waiting for me with sullen looks on their faces.
Not only were Ren, Motoyasu, and Itsuki already there, along with all of their followers, but Mine as well. However, when I called out to her she shrank back behind Motoyasu and glared at me.
"Huh? What's with that reaction?"
Everybody was looking at me as if I was a villain.
"You're saying you don't remember?"
Motoyasu questioned me with a threat of menace in his voice. What the hell was all this?
"Don't remember wha... huh?"
I suddenly realized that Motoyasu was wearing my chain mail.
"Wait a minute... you! You're the thief!"
"Who are you to accuse anybody!? I never thought you could stoop so low, you... you fiend!"
"Fiend? What are you talking about?"
At that, the atmosphere in the audience chamber shifted. I had the distinct feeling that I was in a courtroom.
"Yes, please state the charges against the Shield Hero."
"Charges? What are you talking about?"
"L-last night the Shield Hero got drunk, burst into my room, and... and... f-forced me down against my will!"
"He... he told me that the night was still young, and then started r-ripping off my clothes..."
Mine clung to Motoyasu's back, crying and accusing me through her sobs.
"It was so scary... I only barely managed to escape from the room, screaming. Thankfully Lord Motoyasu was there to help me."
Where was all this coming from? All I remembered doing last night was going to bed early and sleeping like a baby.
I looked at Mine in bewilderment.
"What are you talking about? After dinner yesterday, all I did was go to my room and sleep."
"Liar! If that were true, why would Mine be crying like this?"
"Why are you being so protective of her? You barely know her! And while you're at it, explain where you got that chain mail!"
Didn't they meet for the first time yesterday?
"Oh, this? I just happened to run into Mine while I was drinking alone at the tavern, yesterday. We talked for a while, and she gave it to me as a gift."
No matter how I looked at it, it was my chain mail. I mean, the chances that Mine had bought it with her own money weren't zero, but given that my own chain mail had disappeared right before Motoyasu suddenly got a brand new set for himself, well... anybody would be suspicious.
I gave up on talking with Motoyasu and appealed directly to the king.
"Your Majesty! Last night all of my possessions except my shield were stolen away in the night by some thief! I beg of you, please, find out who did it and arrest them."
The king bluntly denied my proposal.
"Committing an act of sexual assault on one of my citizens is an unforgivable offense. If you weren't a Hero I would have you put to death on the spot!"
"I'm telling you, it's a misunderstanding! I didn't do anything!"
However, everybody in the room had already decided I was guilty. It felt like the world had suddenly dropped out from under me.
What the hell? What the hell!? WHAT THE HELL!?
Why did I have to suffer this kind of abuse for something I didn't do?
And then it happened. As soon as she was sure that nobody was looking at her, Mine's expression changed. A self-satisfied smirk floated across her face, and she stuck her tongue out at me derisively.
Everything fell into place.
I glared at Motoyasu as a terrible, dark emotion began to well up from the pit of my stomach.
"You! You did this! You set this whole thing up!"
Even I was surprised by the voice that came out of my mouth.
"Ha! Like anyone would listen to the words of a damned rapist!"
Motoyasu stepped between me and Mine as if telling me to keep my filthy eyes off her, and played himself up as the hero helping the hapless victim.
"Don't fuck with me! That's what happened, isn't it!? You planned all this just to get my money and equipment!"
He probably knew that I'd end up buying Mine lots of nice things to compensate for my own weakness. His plan must have been to have her squeeze me for everything she could, then skip out with whatever money was left. Then, this entire charade was just to take me out of the picture entirely and ensure they never got caught.
...Fuck, I was almost impressed.
Come to think of it, she never once called me by my name, did she? Was that her way of saying this world didn't need more than one Hero?
"Doing something like that to his only ally in another world... what trash."
"You're right. Even I can't bring myself to pity him."
Ren and Itsuki didn't hesitate to condemn me either. So, they were all in on it from the very beginning, huh? Since I had a shield, since I was weak, since I couldn't fight, they all just decided to trample over me for their own benefit?
They were all cowardly filth. None of them had ever believed in me. Well, screw that! Why should I have to protect people like them! This world could burn for all I cared!
"...Fine, whatever. Why don't you just send me back to where I came from? Then you can get yourselves a new Shield Hero."
Another world? Ha! Why did I need to go so far just to feel like this!?
"As soon as things get inconvenient he runs away, huh? How disgusting."
"I agree. Somebody who would throw away their duty and assault a women is just..."
"Just go! A person like you could never be a Hero!"
I wanted to kill them. Ren, Motoyasu, Itsuki - I wanted to kill them right there. This should have been my chance to enjoy an adventure in another world, and they had ruined it.
"Well, what are you waiting for!? Send me back!"
However, the king merely folded his arms and frowned.
"I wish there was a way to send a Hero like this back to where he came from, I truly do. However, my researchers have informed me that another summoning is only possible after all four of the current Heroes have perished."
"That can't be..."
Finally, even the other three Heroes were at a loss for words.
There was no way to return to our original worlds?
"You're saying we're stuck here!?"
This had to be some sort of joke!
"You guys can let go of me any time now!"
I struggled out of the knights' grasp.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?"
"Don't even try escaping!"
In response, one of them punched me.
What a nice sound. However, it didn't hurt at all. It seemed the same couldn't be said for the knight that did it, though, since he was clutching at the arm he used to hit me and grimacing in pain.
"So? If you can't send me back, what are you gonna do with me?"
I shook the numbness of being restrained out of my arms, and addressed the king.
"...Nothing. You exist to fight the Wave of Calamity, so there will be no official punishment. However. Your crime is already well-known amongst the citizens. That shall be your punishment. Do not expect to find any work in my kingdom."
"Oh, boy, you sure are generous!"
In short, he was telling me to raise my level as an adventurer and prepare for the Wave.
"You will return here in a month to fight. Even if you are a criminal, you are still the Shield Hero. Make no attempt to escape your duty."
"I get it! I'm weak, after all. And time's wasting."
Ah, that's right. I had totally forgotten about the money hidden in my shield.
"Hey! This is what you wanted, right!?"
I hurled my last 30 silver coins right in Motoyasu's face.
"Woah! What the hell are you...!"
Of course, Motoyasu started ranting at me again, but I ignored it.
As I left the castle, people pointed in my direction and started whispering among themselves. I couldn't really say it was surprising. Rumors here spread quickly, after all.
At any rate, my trust and my money both disappeared completely.
This was the true, miserable start of my adventure in another world.