Chapter 22 – What I Wanted to Hear
"What do you mean by 'win', you coward!"
Our one-on-one duel was interrupted, right!?
"What are you talking about? You lost because you couldn't stand up to my strength."
... You bastard, you're seriously saying that.
What was that crap about heroes! That they shouldn't own slaves!
You trash, acting like a hero while rigging this battle to satisfy yourself.
"Your comrade interfered in the middle of our fight! That's why I staggered!"
"Ha! Is that lie the bitching of a loser?"
"That's not it, you asshole!"
The coward Motoyasu looked down on me, ignoring my complaints while feeling victorious.
Even though there really was an intrusion... that bastard!
"Is that so."
The spectators had their eyes on Motoyasu.
Did they not see what happened..? Everyone was completely silent.
"There is no need to believe the words of a criminal Hero. Hero of the Spear! It is your victory!"
Just like that, the king boldly announced the result.
Even then, some of the crowd were unsure. They looked around as if they wanted to speak up. However, there was no one who would challenge what the king had declared.
Because the king has silenced all dissent.
This kingdom is a complete dictatorship!
"As expected of Motoyasu-sama!"
The bitch who was the instigator of this incident shamelessly rushed to Motoyasu's side.
Furthermore, the castle's magicians only cast healing magic on Motoyasu, treating his wounds.
Looks like they have no intention of helping me.
"Fumu, as expected of the Hero who my daughter, Malty, has selected."
The king says as he places his hand on Mein's shoulder.
Mein is the king's daughter!?
"Ah... I was also surprised at the time upon hearing that Mein is a princess. She used a fake name to slip amongst us."
"Yes... I wanted to help for the sake of world peace~"
... I see. So it's like that.
It seemed strange how easily I was labeled a criminal with just the victim's testimony.
So that's what it was... The king overlooked his idiotic daughter's selfishness and pushed a false crime onto me using fake evidence. For the sake of the Hero that his daughter chooses, he sacrificed me and reclaimed my money because I was the weakest among the Heroes.
And because Motoyasu saved the princess from me, they ended up becoming closer, more so than all the other girls around him.
This also explains why I received additional funds at the beginning.
In other words, she is able to obtain good equipment for herself as well as to support her chosen hero, Motoyasu.
If Motoyasu alone started off with equipment far better than the other Heroes, then even he would find it suspicious and be wary.
With such meticulous planning, there's definitely no way to find the truth other than from the culprits themselves. In the end the result was a worthless, criminal Shield Hero and the Spear Hero who magnificently saved the princess.
Piece by piece, everything begins to make sense.
There is no evidence other then the blow I received, which did no damage apart from making me stagger. There was no clear evidence that the princess was cheating.
Any objections to this rigged match were probably silenced behind the scenes.
So she could interfere in our duel and cover for her favored hero, Motoyasu.
In that case, it must have been planned from the start for Motoyoasu and I to have this duel.
...Oh, it's so simple. All she had to do was whisper this to him:
"'That girl has been forced into slavery by the Shield Hero. Please save her.'"
A chance to both test her potential husband as well as to show herself in a good light. If it's her, she definitely won't let that chance slip by.
If they do get married in the end, this will become a heroic tale of how they rescued a slave from a criminal.
And in the distant future, her name will be carried on as the wife of the virtuous Hero who defeated the evil Hero.
Shit! This trash king and bitch princess!
No, wait... the princess, a bitch...?
This phase, where have I heard it before?
Where? Where did I hear such a thing?
... I remember now. I read it in the 'Four Heavenly Weapon's Manual'.
In that book the princess was a bitch who whored herself to all the Heroes.
If the book I read in the library is related to this world, then it makes sense that the princess is a bitch. The same can apply to all these other shitty Heroes.
A seething rage from the very depths of my body envelops me.
The conditions for unlocking this shield have been met.
My vision distorts as my shield is swallowed by the pitch black emotion overflowing from my heart.
"Now then Motoyasu-dono, the girl which the Shield Hero has kept enslaved is waiting."
The crowd separates as the magicians begin to release Raphtalia from the slave curse.
The magicians bring a bowl overflowing with a certain liquid and smear it on the slave mark etched into her chest.
The mark fades away before my eyes.
Raphtalia is now officially freed from my enslavement.
My stomach churns as my heart is consumed by a dark feeling.
It's as if this world is ridiculing and scorning me, all the while laughing at my struggles.
All I can see... are the dark grins of the shadowy presences around me.
Motoyasu rushes over to her.
Raphtalia, with the gag now removed from her mouth and tears flowing down her face--
Motoyasu had a dumbfounded look on his face after being hit.
"I never asked to be saved by your cowardly tactics!"
"B-but Raphtalia-chan was being exploited by him, right?"
"Naofumi-sama has never forced me to do anything! Only when I was too afraid to fight did he use the curse!"
Slipping in and out of consciousness, I couldn't hear what was being said.
No, I could actually hear it.
But I did not want to listen to anyone.
I just want to hurry and run away from here.
I want to return to my world.
"He shouldn't have done that!"
"Naofumi-sama can't defeat any monsters by himself. That's why he has to rely on someone else to defeat them!"
"You don't need to do that! He'll just use you until you're broken!"
"Naofumi-sama has never once let any monsters hurt me! And if I become tired he lets me rest!"
"N, No... he's not the type to be so considerate..."
"... Would you be able to offer your hand to a dirty slave wrecked with illness?"
"Naofumi-sama has done so much for me. He allowed me eat whatever I wanted. He gave me precious medicine when I was sick. Would you be able to do that?"
"I- I would!"
"Then you should have another slave by your side right now!"
For some reason... Raphtalia ran over to me.
This... is hell.
A maliciously created world.
Women - no - everyone in this world scorns me as if to torture me.
If she touches me, then I'll just be reliving those bad memories.
Raphtalia witnesses my condition and again glares at Motoyasu.
"I've heard the rumors... that Naofumi-sama forced himself on his companion, that he is an awful Hero."
"A-Ah. He's a rapist! As a female slave, you should understand that, right!?"
"Why would I!? Naofumi-sama has never once laid his hands on me!"
Raphtalia then grabbed my hand.
"Naofumi-sama... How can I earn your trust?"
"Let go of my hand!"
Everyone in this world accuses me of a crime I didn't commit.
"I didn't do it!"
My frenzied self was covered by something.
"No matter what, I will always believe in Naofumi-sama."
"Shut up! You people are just going to pin more crimes on me!"
"...I don't believe those rumors. You are a person who would never do such a thing."
I heard the words that I've been wanting to hear ever since arriving in this world.
Gently, the shadows that clouded my vision disappeared.
I received the tender warmth of another person.
"Even if the whole world blames Naofumi-sama, I am different... No matter how many times it takes, I will refute them all."
When I lifted my head, what laid in front of me was not a little girl but a young woman around the age of seventeen.
While her features looked like those of Raphtalia, she was an unbelievably cute girl.
What should have been dry, cracked skin was now a healthy complexion, with beautiful hair that was slightly dusty in color.
The body that was once all skin and bones was now curvy with a fit, robust figure.
Most prominently, her eyes were no longer filled with hopelessness, but filled with a gleam of strong will.
I could not recognize a girl like her.
"Naofumi-sama, now let's go and place the curse on me again."
"W-who are you?"
"Eh? What are you saying? It's me, Raphtalia."
"No-no-no, isn't Raphtalia a little girl?"
She claims herself as Raphtalia. Troubled, she tilts her head while trying to convince me.
"Geez, Naofumi-sama is always treating me like a child."
That voice... is definitely the voice of the Raphtalia I remember.
However, her body is completely different.
No-no-no, this is strange even if she is Raphtalia.
"Naofumi-sama, I'll say this due to the circumstances."
"When young Demi-humans raise their level, their bodies also matures quickly in order to match their level growth."
"Demi-humans are not like humans. It is the same with monsters."
Embarrassed, the girl who claimed to be Raphtalia continues.
"Although my... my mind is still that of a child, my body has already become similar to an adult."
While telling me this, Raphtalia once again buries my head into her voluptuous chest.
"Please believe me. I believe that Naofumi-sama has not committed any crimes. You are the great Shield Hero who has saved my life, gave me precious medicine, taught me how to survive and how to fight. I am your sword, and I will follow you no matter what hardships we may face."
Those were... words that I wanted to hear.
The words spoken ever since Raphtalia swore to fight alongside with me.
"If you don't believe me, make me your slave or do whatever you wish with me. I will always stay with you."
From the first kind words that I received since arriving in this world, I unwittingly began to weep.
Although I felt that I shouldn't cry no matter what, I couldn't stop the tears from falling.
"The duel just now... Motoyasu, you are disqualified."
Ren and Itsuki appeared from within the crowds and said.
"We saw it clearly from above, your companion targeted Naofumi with wind magic."
"No, but... That can't be."
"The king has become silent. You understand from that much, right?"
"... Is that what happened?"
Motoyasu's head went around the room looking at the audience.
"But he attacked me with monsters."
"They did no damage. You can check it for yourself."
Acting self-righteous now, Ren scolds Motoyasu.
"But... He! He aimed for my face and crotch!"
"Using dirty tactics after being forced into a fight where he had no chance of winning. We should overlook something like that."
After hearing Itsuki's words, Moyotasu gave up arguing after with a displeased look.
"This fight seems to be your mistake this time, so just let it go."
"Hmph... what a shitty result. I'm still suspicious that Raphtalia-chan is being brainwashed."
"How can you still say that after looking at them like this?"
With the atmosphere turning awkward, the heroes began to leave while the crowd returned to the castle.
"... Hmph! How boring."
"Yes... this was quite a disappointing result."
The two who were unsatisfied with the match's conclusion left in irritation. Only me and Raphtalia were left in the yard.
"It must have been tough for you. I didn't realize it at all. From now on, I want to share in your hardships."
My consciousness drifted away when I heard her kind voice.
After that, I slept while being embraced by Raphtalia for about another hour.
I was surprised. I didn't realize Raphtalia had already grown up so much.
Why didn't I notice?
... I was too stressed, probably.
I didn't have the luxury of noticing Raphtalia's growth. All I could see were her rising stats in the status screen.
The feast has long ended. So I fell into a deep sleep in a dusty unused room, originally prepared for the servants.
Someone believes in me. With just that, I feel like a burden has been lifted from my heart.
The meaning of this became clear the next day during breakfast.
For the first time since I was betrayed by Mein, my sense of taste has returned.