Chapter Twenty-Seven: Criminal Hero
It'd been three days since the incident in the dungeon.
Naofumi and Raphtalia sat together under a tree. Raphtalia was cuddled against Naofumi's side watching the coming sunset while Naofumi worked on a gold bangle. He had a Lotium Gemstone sitting nearby in the grass for when the Bangle was done.
'This… this feels nice.'
Several weeks ago, just the thought of cuddling with Raphtalia had been enough to make Naofumi feel conflicted. Now, it felt natural for her to be at his side.
Maybe it was because of what happened in the dungeon. Or maybe it was because no one was around to watch…
Either way, he could use more moments like this.
Raphtalia stayed quiet, watching the sun lower in the sky while observing Naofumi work on his little project. A calm breeze gently blew through her hair. One of her hands rested on his Legendary Shield.
She looked at peace...
Naofumi finished using his tools to make a slot for the gemstone on the bangle. She thought that he'd have put the gemstone in next to enchant it, but then he pulled out a different tool. An item he'd gotten selling the extra ore from the dungeon. He started carefully etching a design on the gold.
Strange. She'd never seen him put so much work into a single accessory.
Naofumi took his time. His movements were slow, his hand steady; like he was working on a painting instead of an object. Raphtalia wondered if he was doing this to test and see if he could get more money on this project.
He had a relaxed smile on his face though... so Raphtalia didn't question him about his sudden desire to put in more work than usual...
Filo came running up to the two of them. She was holding something shiny in her hands. "Look! Filo found a cool stone!"
Naofumi paused in what he was working on and examined it. It was times like this where Raphtalia thought she could almost see his HUD pop up in front of his face as he examined something. "Amber… where'd you find that Filo?" Naofumi asked in surprise.
"Filo found it lying at the root of a tree! Doesn't it look pretty?!" She asked excitedly.
Naofumi smiled as he examined the curious stone. 'Without even trying, this girl just found a good gemstone lying around.'
He had a small project he was working on for Filo. The girl was at level 39, and would soon need the class up treatment like Raphtalia, so he was working on something to help improve her stats. An accessory she could wear while she was either in her large bird form or her little girl form.
This amber… he pictured the small project he was working on with the amber in it, and... to be honest, it looked much better to him than any of the other gemstones he currently had. He just hoped Amber was good enchantment wise.
He'd hate for the accessory to come out with a shoddy enchantment after all the work he'd put into it.
"Do you mind if I hold onto this for now?" Naofumi asked.
Filo became crestfallen at that. "But it's Filo's latest shiny…" She complained.
"Don't worry. When Daddy gives it back to you, it'll be shinier than before."
Filo looked surprised, then unsure… "You promise!?"
Naofumi nodded. "Of course. Trust me, you'll like it a lot more than you do now."
Filo thought about it for a moment more. And then she smiled. "Okay! Thanks Daddy!" With that, she turned around and ran off into the forest to search for more stones.
"Don't run too far!" Naofumi called after her.
"Filo won't!" Filo's voice faded as she ran off.
"... Master Naofumi… I think that was the first time I've seen you handle Filo all on your own without snapping at her." Raphtalia said happily beside him. She was smiling widely at seeing Naofumi acting like a real Father.
"Yeah, she still annoys me a little bit, but I think that girl is finally starting to listen to me," Naofumi said optimistically as he placed the Amber in his pack and got back to work on the Bangle.
'I mean… ever since that dungeon, it's like she's different… or maybe I'm finally starting to see her the way Raphtalia sees her...' Naofumi wasn't too certain what the change was. But it appeared in this case to be for the good.
She still seemed to be as loud and annoying and cheerful as ever, with the world's greatest appetite to boot, so perhaps that dungeon had changed him in more ways than he'd thought.
"I'm just happy that you get along with her a lot better now, Naofumi," Raphtalia said happily.
"Yeah, me too." He replied. "I feel a lot better now that I don't have to yell or lecture her every day."
"You didn't have to yell at her every day before."
"It sure felt like it." He sarcastically said. "But it doesn't change the fact that I prefer it like this. With all of us getting along, getting the chance to relax..."
Raphtalia sighed happily in response. He worked quietly for a while… nothing disturbing the peace besides the gentle breeze...
"Sometimes… I wish this could go on forever." Naofumi suddenly said.
"What do you mean?" Raphtalia asked.
"Well. I'm a runaway fugitive of Melromarc... the Church here wants to kill us both, and Siltvelt wants to kill you and bring me in as some sort of God figure... we still need to figure out where we're going to go after Filo reaches level 40... and besides that, we have the Wave of Catastrophe to deal with here in two weeks," Naofumi said, pondering on their realistic point of view.
"Then we'll have the one after that, and the one after that… and who knows how many more we'll have to deal with in the future…" The future seemed so very complicated.
Naofumi stayed silent for a moment. "Eventually, they're going to end. And if we survive everything else long enough for that to happen…"
Raphtalia stayed silent...
"I mean, I don't know when it'll happen. Whether it'll be in two months, two years, or two decades." Naofumi continued nervously. "It's just that when they end… if they end… if I'm still alive... I don't really have any plans on…" He found it hard to continue. But why was he finding it hard to continue?
Didn't he want to go back to his world after the Waves were over? Didn't he want to escape the place that wanted to take everything away from him? Didn't he... want to go back to where life was easy?
"Naofumi… once all the waves have been repelled… you'll probably go back… back to your homeworld, where I'll never see you again…" Raphtalia finally said sadly.
Of course, he should have realized it. With how often she read his mind. It was obvious she could guess what he wanted to say.
Still, hearing her say it didn't make him feel better. Because if he left... what would happen to Raphtalia and Filo?
"I understand why... so may I…" Raphtalia looked up into his face. "May I go with you when you leave?" She asked sincerely.
"... Raphtalia?" Naofumi questioned in surprise.
She continued. "I, I know that your world is different from mine… but I… I wouldn't want to stay if you're going." She said sadly. "I couldn't… I wouldn't. Not after everything we've been through together. I couldn't bear to be separated from you, Naofumi."
Naofumi stared at her for a moment… as happy as was to hear she'd whole-heartedly want to go back with him... "But… what about your friends… what about Filo…"
Raphtalia opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. She couldn't think of a response to that. She hung her head, and her tail sagged on the ground behind her. In her selfish hurry to want to affirm to Naofumi that she'd want to stay with him, she forgot about everyone else.
"I know you care a lot for me Raphtalia. I care a lot for you too… but if you want to come with me, there's obviously some things we'd have to take care of first." Naofumi said. "Besides the waves, we'd have to find someone who'd take care of Filo. And then there's your village friends to consider too… would you want to leave them in slavery?"
Raphtalia was torn by that question. She loved Naofumi… but she also loved her friends. She loved having Filo around. Everything she knew and loved was in this world.
"But…" Could she really leave all of it for Naofumi?... "I…" Could she really leave her friends and world in the state it was in?…
"... Right…" Raphtalia said depressedly at realizing the truth in Naofumi's words.
She still had her old friends here in this world. Friends she'd have to somehow save and provide a safe haven too if Itsuki didn't manage to save them... and even if they did accomplish all that somehow, there was still Filo. If both of her parents were to leave… who'd stay behind to take care of her?
Even then if she managed to accomplish all that was needed, could she bring herself to leave everything behind to follow Naofumi to a completely different world?...
"I'm not saying I'd hate to bring you with me. Hell, I'd love it if you could come." Naofumi said honestly, interrupting her thoughts. "But before that, I want to make sure that you could leave this world behind without any regrets about anything," Naofumi said.
"What if we were to both stay here?" Raphtalia asked.
Naofumi blinked at that. "What?"
Raphtalia looked down at her hands. "I know from what you've told me that you liked your world… and I know this world hasn't treated you kindly… but what if one day it did? What if, one day, we didn't have to hide... what if we had a home to stay in, and people who treated you kindly… would you want to stay then?" She asked quietly.
Naofumi thought about it. He hadn't really put much thought into staying here before… "I mean, you don't have to answer that now either," Raphtalia said, a slight blush traveling up her face. "I know it wouldn't be that easy... But if that was all it'd take… I'd do my best. I'd try everything I could to prove to everyone that you're the Great Shield Hero so you wouldn't have to leave us."
"..." Naofumi smiled. He could still remember when she'd called him that in the duel arena. He had no doubt she'd try.
"I guess we'll have to wait and see what the future holds for us," Naofumi said.
Raphtalia smiled widely at that, and her tail started to wag fiercely behind her again. Then a blush traveled up her face again, and she quickly turned away in embarrassment.
It was highly likely that she'd been thinking of kissing Naofumi at that moment.
Naofumi, ignorant of what that reaction meant, looked down at the Gold Bangle. Without meaning to, he'd finished up the rest of the engraving subconsciously while talking to Raphtalia. He held it up to examine his work. He didn't know if it was any influence on his skills from the shield or not, but the bangle looked pretty darn good. He pulled up his HUD and...
Gold Lotium Bangle
Quality: Very Good
"Alright, now let's see what we get here." Naofumi selected the option on his HUD to enchant the new accessory and hoped it'd be something good.
Gold Lotium Bangle: Magic Up (Small), Mana Regeneration (Medium), Max Mana Up (Slight)
Naofumi's eyes widened in surprise. This had never happened to him before!
Normally, the enchantment lowered the quality, and he only got one or two effects. But not only had the bangle's quality gone up, but it also had several great enchantments on it too!
Maybe Lotium was even better for enchantments than he'd realized. Either way, it was the perfect discovery! His small project had turned out to be a great success!
"Is something wrong Naofumi?" Raphtalia asked curiously.
"No, something went really right actually." He said, examining the accessory with a wide smile. He wished it had an Attack Up enchantment on it too so he could try it and see if it'd work for him or not. But he was happy with what it'd gotten.
Though he had to note, for all of his enchanting, he had as of yet to make something that could increase his attack stat. Like, not one item.
He was starting to wonder if his shield was keeping him from getting that effect for an accessory. Was he going to have to go to some random shop somewhere and find it on display so he could finally try it out on himself?
Well, he hadn't made it for himself anyway. He turned to Raphtalia and held it out to her. "Here, I want you to have it."
Raphtalia looked at Naofumi in surprise. "Are you sure? You could sell it for a lot of Silver!"
It looked really nice. And it'd look out of place on her with how simple her clothing and armor looked.
"Raphtalia. Try it on." He insisted.
Raphtalia reluctantly tried it on. It slipped onto her wrist just as easily as her old iron slave bands. He smiled, glad he had gotten the calculations right.
He quickly checked her stats and found her magic stats had received a sizable boost. "That should help you for now since you still can't class up." He said.
Raphtalia checked her own stats and looked astounded at the bangle's effects. "First your Slave User Shields, then my equipment upgrades, and now this?" Being a hero's companion had a lot of perks. She'd never dreamed she could be so strong before in her life.
"Master Naofumi, are you sure you don't prefer your women stout?" She unsurely asked.
"Why are you bringing that up?" Naofumi asked curiously.
"Every time you find a way to improve my stats. I keep on getting the feeling that I'm getting lighter, and I don't like it!" She said seriously.
Naofumi took a moment to observe her. "You still look the same as before... plus, it looks good on you."
Raphtalia again blushed. She had to admit a large part of her was grateful Naofumi had given one of his best accessories he'd put quite a bit of work into for her. However, a small part of her couldn't help but wonder if he'd been planning on giving it to her from the start.
Before she could ask though, Filo came running back from the forest in her Filolial form.
"Daddy, Daddy! Filo found a cute Filolial in the forest!" She said happily.
"Really?" Naofumi hummed in response.
"Yeah! It looked real tasty too! Filo wanted to chase after it and try a bite, but it freaked out and ran away-"
"Filo!" Naofumi yelled, interrupting her. "You're not supposed to find your own kind tasty!"
Filo looked surprised at hearing that. "But Filo's hungry Daddy." She complained. "And Filolials are monsters too!"
"No! You shouldn't be thinking about eating your own kind!" Hadn't he been happy about not having to yell at her earlier? And now she'd gone off trying to eat another Filolial?!
She really hadn't changed since the dungeon.
"But Daddy told Filo it's okay to eat monsters since they're evil!" Filo argued back.
Naofumi was briefly silenced by that response. Filo did indeed have a point. "Well, um…"
Raphtalia giggled into her hand. "You did tell her that, Master Naofumi." She agreed.
"Who's side are you on?" Naofumi asked her incredulously.
She only continued to laugh cutely into her hands. "Damn it. Fine Filo. I'll teach you more about why you can't eat your own kind while I make dinner." That was something he never thought he'd have to teach her.
"Yayyyyy!" Filo happily changed back into her child form as she cheered.
Naofumi got up, leaving Raphtalia under the tree. "Why'd I have to unlock those Chef Shields again?" Naofumi asked himself.
"Because it gives us another reason to love you Naofumi," Raphtalia answered happily.
"Yeah, yeah." Naofumi smiled despite his sarcastic response. "Have fun trying out your new accessory." He said as he walked away.
Raphtalia continued to smile as she looked down at her Bangle. Her fingers felt along the etched lines... "Hide Mirage." She cast the spell over herself and became invisible.
She checked her MP gauge. 'It's dropping a little slower than before...' After a few minutes, she canceled the spell. Her MP gauge stopped dropping. Then, quicker than it normally did, it started to fill back up. MP recharged much more slowly compared to SP according to Naofumi. However, the difference Raphtalia was noticing here was significant.
She smiled really widely. Now it'd be easier for her to practice using her magic in a wide variety of ways!
Raphtalia wasn't one for wearing something for cosmetic appeal. And her armor and simple state of dress didn't match up with something so fancy.
But… just this once... she decided it'd be okay to wear this accessory.
"So if eating wild Filolials is bad, why is Filo allowed to eat other wild monsters?" Filo asked back where Naofumi was cooking.
"Filo… ugh…" Naofumi groaned.
Children and their damn questions sometimes.
Why couldn't children be like adults and understand everything about the world?...
Itsuki sat in a tavern with his party. Almost all of them were stuffing their faces around the table happily. The patrons were all especially rowdy that night.
It was thirteen days until the next wave. It'd been over a month since he'd met Aksel, Crystal, and Marx. A couple weeks since he'd saved Rishia from that nobleman's cellar. And over a week and a half since Maya had joined their party.
"Thanks to the new demi brat, we took down that noble before he knew what hit them." Aksel, the now drunk armored knight, boasted proudly.
"I'm sorry, who are you calling a demi brat?" Maya asked while glaring, her voice tinged with venom.
The drunk tank realized what he'd said, and paled underneath his helmet. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I meant no offense!" He quickly got on his knees, begging for his life.
Maya's glare melted away back to a playful smile. "I was only kidding. Jeez, you look like you saw a ghost." She said playfully. "You don't think I'm that scary now, do you?"
Aksel, the armored knight, quickly got back up, blushing in embarrassment. "No, it's not that, it's just-" He stumbled over his speech as he tried to say something to defend himself. Maya then giggled as she tried to hug him, forcing Aksel to jump away.
"Awwww, look at that Rach," Karn said mockingly in a drunk slur. "Our knight friend here already has a crush on our newest party member."
"It looks like you're right." The normally reserved Rachel smiled.
"What a pervert. She was only a little girl last week and you're already trying to make moves on Maya now that she's grown up." Crystal, the silver-haired spearman, said unsympathetically.
"More like she's trying to make moves on me! What the hell do you think I'm doing to hit on her?!" Aksel asked angrily.
"That's our Axe for ya." Marx, the blonde-haired mage said with a sigh. "Hitting on any girl no matter their age. What a lolicon."
"Wha- NO! I'm not even hitting on her! Stop trying to lump us together just because she tries to hug me all the freaking time!" Aksel roared in anger at his friends. He was about to sip from his drink again, but felt to add one more thing to his previous statement.
"And I'm not a lolicon!"
"Sure, and you also weren't the one that worried the most about her safety after helping Rachel train her and level her up." Crystal said sarcastically. All the other party members around the table laughed.
"But, that was just because she was new, and..." Aksel drowned his frustration in another bottle of mead. Maya giggled at his expense. Some of the other members of the party around the table laughed again. Aksel just continued to frown and refused to meet their gazes.
"Those two are getting along well," Itsuki commented.
"Rishia, will you please stop whimpering at everything I say," Itsuki asked her, trying to sound calm. A little frustration leaked out with his tone though, and it caused the girl to shrink in on herself.
"Feh- I'm sorry Sir Itsuki!" Rishia said apologetically while bowing her head.
"I'm no lolicon! You all can just stop thinking I like this brat for all I care!" Aksel said angrily to his party.
"Awww, and we were getting along so well," Maya said as she lightly touched one of Aksel's arms.
"GAH!" Aksel tried to move away and fell backward off his seat. His armored legs stuck comically up in the air.
The party again laughed at the embarrassed knight's expense. Marx sighed and left the table. He was likely going to the guild to gather information for Itsuki. He couldn't bear to watch his knight friend make more of a fool of himself.
Itsuki sighed. But what Aksel had said earlier had been true. It was all thanks to Maya that they'd been able to take down this noble.
The noble they'd killed, Donry Levald, had made a public showing of several demihuman kids the day before.
He publicly whipped them, beat them, stripped them, and then burned them at the stake in front of a large crowd of people. He then told the crowd to spread the word that if this vigilante didn't turn himself in, he would kill more of his slaves the following night. Making the punishments they received before death gradually worse and worse until either he died, or the vigilante did.
Rachel hadn't had to tell him any of this noble's former crimes. Or any information about him in general.
Itsuki knew he had to die.
There had been a few problems initially though. Donry Levald is... was... a man like Idol Rabier. A commander from the former war with Siltvelt. A strategist who'd been preparing for Itsuki's coming ever since Itsuki had spread the demand for Melromarc's nobility to free their slaves or suffer his wrath. And the preparations had actually been pretty smart.
When they arrived undercover at the fortress city, they'd found security beefed up in his lands. Guards were constantly on patrol in the streets for anything suspicious. The noble's already walled off property had a 24-hour watch with classed up guards and mages patrolling the walls and perimeter continuously. Alarm spells had been cast all over his property. Anyone who tried to intrude without permission would awaken every guard in the city.
Further information gathering had also told them the noble never went anywhere outside of his property. And when he did, it was usually with an escort of strong classed up loyal guards. There were supposedly some mercenaries hired to patrol the area, but they hadn't come across any of them. But with everything going on, and with only a countdown of a few hours until midnight when the noble would choose what slaves to present for a public display torture/execution, they didn't have time to gather more information and come up with a solid plan.
It was all because of Maya...
And that was the other amazing thing too. When they'd first met, she'd been a little girl with dirty untamed black hair and a somewhat shy personality.
Now, oh man did she look different!
Her black hair was shiny, and held back in a ponytail. Her bushy tail behind her looked well-groomed. Her brown eyes almost seemed to pierce her surroundings, yet she always seemed to be smiling, and had grown a teaseful playful attitude with the other party members, quickly becoming friends with them.
He knew Rachel and Rishia had said before that demi-humans aged as they leveled, but this was insane! Only at level 30, he could have easily mistaken Maya to be eighteen years old!
Well, that was a tangent. But anyway, it was all thanks to Maya that they'd managed to take down the noble and rescue the slaves...
Under the guise of illusion magic, Maya held onto the bottom of a wagon as it rolled through the North Gate onto the noble's property. The sky up above was dark and pouring rain. Only two more hours until the execution. Only two hours for her to accomplish what Sir Itsuki needed her to do.
The wagon jolted to a stop, almost throwing off its hidden passenger. "What are you carrying in there?" A guard asked.
"Fresh produce and pastries. A gift from the noble Louie Vermoulli for the afterparty of tonight's event." The wagon driver answered.
"Alright. Just allow the mages to perform the usual inspection." The guard replied in a bored tone.
He was only a gate guard. He didn't get the privilege of participating in such events. He was forced to stay stuck out here in the pouring rain.
A group of mages started to walk alongside the wagon and the horses pulling it. They chanted spells under their breaths as they examined it… after a long moment, and after one of them checked under the wagon with the classic "Caught you!" but finding nothing trope, they waved the wagon along. "It's clear."
"Yeah. As if that vigilante would be dumb enough to try and sneak in on a wagon." The guard muttered to himself.
"Our Lord really is on edge these days. Think the assassination attempts made on him during the war are finally getting the better of him?" One of the mages asked.
"Who knows. It always seems like he's on edge about something." The guard muttered back. He wished that he could be back in the guard station so he could dry off by a warm fire.
"Thank the Gods for Sir Itsuki's hero abilities," Maya whispered to herself as the guard and mages talked.
The Bow Hero had abilities because of the Bow that allowed him to hide himself and magic from enemies by using SP instead of MP. The ability could also be used on party members, but at a higher cost.
It wouldn't have worked against higher tier detection magic, but fortunately, it didn't seem like these mages wanted to waste such energy on every wagon that passed through their Lord's gates. And with the mages casting an area of effect spell that gave the driver, the wagon, and it's hidden occupant permission to enter, Maya was no longer considered an intruder to the alarm spells as soon as it passed through the gates.
Okay, now, she needed to find a way inside.
Maya slipped out from underneath the back of the wagon and hid in the back amongst the produce while keeping herself hidden with illusion magic. Itsuki would be observing and would know when to cut his skill off.
The wagon stopped about thirty seconds after getting past the gate. Maya looked out and saw two large guards approaching the driver. Most likely to check what he had brought and, if they were nice, they'd offer to help with unloading it.
Maya didn't stick around long enough to overhear as she quietly snuck out the back behind the guards and entered the manor.
After sneaking through the doors, Maya found herself in a familiar long spacious hall. Wide ornate staircases on both sides led to the upper levels. Doorways were placed evenly on the ground floor, leading to servant hallways, the kitchens, the dungeons, and many other lower-level places. The large doors at the end led into the noble's spacious dining room. Unlike the first noble Itsuki had met, this noble was rich, and looking at the paintings and everything else on display was like having how rich he was shoved into your face.
She knew where she'd go after that. Right staircase. First hallway.
Once upon a time, she'd been a slave to this noble several masters before her last one. She'd never thought the day would come where she'd use her knowledge of the place to come back and have him killed. And while Itsuki was one to normally scout out a place ahead of time and gather information, that wasn't a luxury he had now. It was either her knowledge worked, or it didn't and another group of demi-kids would lose their lives.
She quickly moved along, and, sure enough, she found a few demi-human slaves in the first hallway. There were a few kids, teenagers and young adults dressed in maid outfits, hurriedly doing the evening cleaning for this section of the large manor. Working by the light of candles because of the storm going on outside the windows.
She remembered the noble not having a particular schedule. Yet, for some reason, he always liked to take an evening patrol to find mistakes the other demi-humans made in their meticulous dusting so he could have an excuse to beat them or whip them on the spot. Even if there was no mistake to be found.
This had led to his demi-humans rushing to finish in the evenings so they could go to their slave quarters without becoming his target. But the slaves in this hallway almost never finished in time since it was normally the first hallway the noble would check for offenders first.
She moved further down the hallway. Drinking a small amount of Magic Healing Water as she did so since her MP was low. It looked like the slaves had just finished cleaning here. Maya made sure no one was looking. Then she dispelled most of her illusion magic, causing her to reappear. A small layer stayed over her, however, making it look like she was dressed in a maid's outfit like the other slaves.
With the amount of mana she had left, she guessed she'd be able to hold her current illusion for another twenty minutes. She started to clean a familiar table with two vases resting on it. He should be coming this way soon.
A couple of the slaves looked at Maya with dead eyes. They didn't say anything though and got back to cleaning.
They'd already cleaned that area. If the master saw her first, it was likely he'd beat her instead of the rest of them for something he'd claim that she missed.
'I... I remember when I had those eyes…' Maya thought sadly to herself.
She remembered times when she'd hoped one of the other kids would fall behind in her cleaning so she wouldn't be targeted... she felt ashamed of that part of her past for a moment, and then shook her head.
That was in the past. Now, she was here to make things right.
A few minutes later, she heard footsteps coming down the hallway. She recognized them almost immediately. For how could one forget the sound of impending doom? The sound that signified the horrible beatings she and her parents had been forced to endure for months.
So familiar it was, the Raccoon girl unintentionally tensed in preparation. One of her hands almost moved to grab one of the daggers she'd sheathed under her illusion at her side. But, through sheer force of will, she stopped herself.
No. She had to make it believable. Otherwise, her illusion magic wouldn't work.
The footsteps got closer and closer. Maya forced herself not to look at who was approaching and cleaned the vase she was working on. All she had to do was wait for him to grab her. To point out something she'd done. She could then make a show of resisting. Then-
The footsteps stopped. "Careful with that. It's a priceless heirloom. Worth far more than a mangy creature such as yourself." A condescending voice spoke behind her.
Maya looked back. Donry Levald was a tall noble. He wasn't built like a bodybuilder, but he wasn't fat either. While he adorned his mansion with all sorts of riches, he didn't adorn himself like the other nobles.
He was dressed like a retired military officer. His face might have been handsome in a past time. A hideous scar, however, ran along the left side of his face. From his neck up to below his left eye. He always seemed to have a permanent scowl on his face. This time was no exception.
"Y-Yes sir," Maya stammered involuntarily before she got back to cleaning the vase.
The noble continued to scowl and moved on. It took only a second for Maya to pause and remember that she wasn't his slave anymore.
He was supposed to confront her. Itsuki's entire plan hinged on her distracting him and signaling Itsuki to where she was. She'd been so sure that by being a little in front of the other slaves that her former master would target her first. But that was out of character for him to just pass the first slave over… did he possibly realize that she wasn't one of his slaves? Had he checked his HUD as he approached her and-
"You, what is this!?"
Maya turned her head. The noble had stopped in the middle of the group of slaves. He was gripping a small demi-girl covered in hair by her arm. She squeaked in terror.
"No, not her! Please, anyone but her!" One of the older slaves, another girl covered in hair that looked like a mole, begged as she got on her knees. It was possible she was this demi-girl's sister.
The noble pulled a whip almost as if out of nowhere, and cracked at the tile in front of the slave. She fell back in shock. "You all were warned about the price of displeasing me!" He said angrily. "Are you saying the rest of you want to join the execution with her!"
The demi-girl shook with terror at the murderous look in the noble's eyes. And that was when Maya realized it. No wonder he hadn't chosen her.
He was already picking the demi-humans he was going to execute tonight. That was why he'd passed her. He wasn't going to execute a young adult. No, he was going to execute someone more innocent. Someone that'd draw the vigilante to him.
Someone that couldn't fight back.
He was going to execute more children.
"Now, you're coming with me-"
The noble and all the slaves in the hallway turned their heads. The remains of a shattered vase rested at Maya's feet.
"I'm sorry, did you say that was priceless?" Maya asked in a flat voice.
She rather purposefully shoved the other vase off its pedestal onto the ground. Enjoying the looks of shock and the various facial expressions the noble was sifting through at her sheer audacity.
"Ooh, that's going to be tough to clean up," Maya said in a disappointed tone as she surveyed the damage.
Maya crushed a large piece of vase under her 'maid high heels.' "I'm so sorry. It's just so hard to tell what I'm cleaning since it's so dark outside." She approached one of the windows to lookout. "I mean, if only this storm didn't make everything so dark. I wouldn't have made such a silly mistake. Sorry about that sir."
She turned to the side to look at the noble. His eyes were dilating with rage. He was completely focused on her. "Sir? Did I do something wrong?" She asked curiously, pretending naivety at her action.
He moved so quickly, she almost didn't react in time.
The noble grabbed 'Maya' by the throat, and slammed her head back into the window, cracking it. 'Maya' looked caught off guard by the action. "Do you have any idea what you've just done!?" He yelled furiously. His whip flailing at his side.
"Sir, what did I do wrong-"
The noble slammed 'Maya' into the windowpane again. "You know what you did you miserable mutt! You know exactly what you did!" He yelled furiously.
"But I don't know-"
The noble slammed 'Maya' into the window one more time, and then started to choke her. "I know. I'll use you alongside some other kids for the main demonstration today. You're old enough, so I can torture you in ways I couldn't do to mere brats. You can be an example of what happens when worthless slaves think they can do whatever they want and get away with it!" He screamed with rage.
'Maya' went along with the choking. Looking like she was on the verge of passing out. The noble was smiling cruelly… up till Maya got a bored look on her face.
"You know, if I'd known breaking the vases would cause you to drop your guard, I would have started with that." She said normally.
The noble looked confused. "What-" And then the illusion spell disappeared. The noble found himself standing alone in front of a brightly lit wide-open window. Rain battered at his surprised face. He was facing the west wall.
Before he could react, an arrow covered in a sinister aura sailed over the wall and went through his forehead. It was an incredible shot only possible because of three factors. A skill Itsuki had that allowed him to see what was going on from fifty feet above him. A ball of light, the signal Maya had set up above the noble's head. And an ability Itsuki had brought with him from his homeworld. An ability that helped him to naturally increase his accuracy by just enough for these kinds of shots.
The noble's head fell back, his face frozen forever in shock. The ball of light dispersed. The rest of his body fell forward. Out the window, and down onto the wet ground below. Right next to a patrolling guard.
"What the!" The guard jumped in surprise. Then he gasped loudly when he recognized the noble. His glassy eyes staring at nothing.
"Sound the alarms! Sound the alarms!" A male voice yelled from the open window. The guard quickly looked up. "The vigilante killed nobleman Donry Levald! He's fleeing to the South! Quick, let us avenge him before the murderer gets away!"
Pretty quickly, many of the guards and mages down below roared in anger and ran to the South Gate. None checked to see if the voice they'd heard had been fashioned from an illusion or not.
Maya yelled a few more encouraging things to them in a guard's voice, just in case. Then, after giggling to herself and feeling a sense of freedom with the nobleman's death, she finally turned to look at the shocked demi-human slaves. They were all staring at her, wondering what had just happened.
Maya smiled reassuringly. "You don't have to worry. There will be no executions for anyone else tonight."
"Who… who are you?" One of the slaves asked. It was the sister of the demi-girl that the noble had chosen to execute.
"I'm a friend of the Bow Hero," Maya answered. "And he's here to help every slave escape this place."
After that, there wasn't much else to tell. The token force the guards had left behind to protect the manor were easily defeated, knocked out, and tied up by Itsuki's other party members before they entered. By that point, Maya had managed to gather all the slaves from their quarters and had them lined up in the main hallway for when he entered.
All Itsuki had to do was add them to his party and then he used Transport Bow to teleport them all to Van's estate.
True to her word, there were no executions held that night.
"We really couldn't have done it without Maya's help," Itsuki said to himself.
'Maybe we'll finally be ready to take on Idol Rabier. The end goal of this quest. If he goes down, then the rest of the nobles will surrender... We'll finally be done with all the torture... We'll finally be done with all the killing...' Even now, looking at those he dispensed justice upon, he could still see the face of his best friend haunting him…
It was almost like she was asking him if he was sure he was doing the right thing…
He shook his head to clear it of the thought. For this was only a game. There were times it felt real, but he couldn't forget what it truly was.
Dimension Wave, his favorite game of all time. Sure, there were times it was different, but it was still his game. He'd already been blessed with being summoned to his favorite world after dying so pathetically in the real one. He couldn't let something like the memory of his best friend drag him from his duty of being a minister of justice.
Besides, it looked like his party members were having a good time.
It wouldn't do good to look down now.
"Sir Itsuki." Itsuki was dragged out of his thoughts by Marx. He'd just reappeared at the table. "I was at the guild getting information about what was going on in the kingdom, and the Guild had a message for you from Ren."
"What did he say?" Itsuki asked.
"He and his party managed to kill the plants ravaging Leruno. He wants to meet up with you soon after he goes to the Capital. It sounds like he might be willing to help us with our next target after he looks into something." Marx said seriously.
Itsuki looked surprised. The first time back in the Capital, Ren hadn't really cared about what Itsuki was doing. The last time he'd seen him, however, Ren had been genuine on wanting to know how he was doing. For him to now be saying he wanted to help Itsuki with taking down Idol Rabier…
Itsuki cheered up at the news. "That sounds great. We'll have to gather some funds, but then we can send a message back to Ren that we could meet up-" Itsuki stopped speaking as he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. A couple of hooded figures had just walked into the tavern.
The patrons all around stopped talking and went silent at their appearance.
"Wait a moment," Itsuki whispered to Marx. The young mage had sensed it too. Something didn't feel right.
The hooded figures walked up to his table. All of the patrons were looking at his party now.
Itsuki checked himself. He still had the sheathed sword on his side and a normal weapon form bow on his back. He shouldn't have been recognizable.
The cloaked figures stopped in front of Itsuki's table and turned to face him. "Um, who are you?" Itsuki asked.
"Are you Sir Itsuki?" The lead figure asked, holding up a rosary in front of him.
Itsuki recognized these men. They'd appeared with helpful information at times before the First Wave. He hadn't seen them since then though… "... I am," Itsuki answered.
What were they doing there now?
The rest of his party had gone silent like the rest of the patrons. Aksel looked to have sobered up pretty quickly and moved part of his body to shield Maya from view.
Did they know something he didn't know-
His eyes slightly widened when he realized what the man was holding. 'A Three Heroes Church Rosary!'
He remembered some of the nobles he'd killed in the last few weeks. How they'd justified their actions with their religion. How, when they realized he was the Bow Hero, they'd acted as if one of their Gods had fallen from grace. Believing the only way their God could be redeemed was by killing their God's enemy, the demi-humans.
He'd thought that was the NPC's way of being cruel. The way the game system could justify such a horrendous act to be committed.
"You are a hard man to track. We almost thought we'd never catch up to you with your teleportation skill." The Church Shadow turned his head to look at where Maya was sitting. She looked curiously at the man, who then turned to face Itsuki again. "Have you anything to say in your defense, fake Bow Hero?"
These men were part of the same religion as those nobles. They were from the same group that had ambushed Naofumi in the forest.
"Pretty strong words from a lowly grunt," Itsuki said calmly. "Don't you realize that I'm the one that wields the Legendary Bow-"
"The real bow Hero wouldn't parade around as a lowly vigilante." The Church Shadow cut him off. "The real bow Hero would be out in the world, helping the people, hunting down strong monsters threatening our villages, solving famines, making his powers known to all; all you've done is kill our leaders, burned down their property, left the people defenseless, and led these miserable abominations to their freedom." The Shadow said calmly, condemningly, condescendingly.
"But it was your leaders who were corrupt!" Itsuki responded, the Church Shadow's words riling him up. "These people you call abominations were being tortured, raped, murdered, and worse by them! How could I not help them-" Itsuki tried to say.
"You are an imposter." The Church Shadow continued. "You are scum, an abomination, a criminal worse than the demis. And as a criminal, you shall be dealt with accordingly. Your words mean nothing." The Shadow said solemnly. He pulled out a long steel sword from his sheath.
Itsuki froze up at hearing those words. What the literal hell was going on here? What kind of bull was this?!"How am I the criminal here! Those nobles were committing terrible acts in my name! I was only trying to stop them-" Itsuki again tried to say.
"Silence!" The Shadow quickly chanted. "Fast Ice!" One of the Church Shadows behind the main guy launched ice magic at Itsuki. He raised his bow over his face to protect himself, and the ice covered his bow.
"Sir Itsuki!" Itsuki's party members moved between himself and the Church Shadows. "Why, why are you attacking the Legendary Bow Hero!?" Rachel demanded.
"Have you no shame?!" Marx demanded.
"The imposter Hero has been going around, performing criminal acts against our beloved nation and religion. He has killed our leaders and burned their lands. He has hurt countless people who have suffered from bandit attacks and other low lives that the nobles protected them from. Worst of all, he has committed the greatest sin and deserted over to the demi-humans just as the Shield Demon did long ago." The Church Shadow calmly replied. Yet that calmness seemed to hide a fanatic inside. "This is no real Hero. He is only a criminal. And he shall be punished as one."
No! He couldn't be the criminal here! His reasons for killing those nobles were justified!
He was the harbinger of Justice! He was supposed to be everyone's hero!
"Now, stand still, and face God's judgment-" The Shadow ordered.
"No, it is you who shall be judged."
A war ax was leveled at the throat of the Church Shadow. Aksel stood between him and Itsuki. His helmet was down, hiding his face. "I will not stand Sir Itsuki being treated so harshly by scum like you."
"Knight Aksel, stand down-" The Church Shadow tried to say calmly.
"No." Crystal appeared beside Aksel. Leveling her spear at the lead Church Shadow. A couple of the other Church Shadows stepped back in surprise at Crystal's glare. "My friend may be a pervert, but he has his reasons to defend Sir Itsuki just as I."
Marx and Rachel flanked Itsuki's sides. "I have a demi-human fiance at home to protect." Rachel said calmly.
"There are demi-human friends and family Crystal and I still need to find," Marx said passionately.
"Fehhhhhh!" Rishia whimpered, but stood in front of Itsuki, unsurely holding a sword. "I… I have a debt to repay for Sir Itsuki's kindness in saving me."
"And I have a knight in shining armor waiting for me." Maya teased, taking up a position with daggers in front of Rishia and behind Aksel.
"Seriously? Could you tease me some other time?" Aksel impatiently asked.
"Isn't it always time to tease you?" Maya asked curiously.
Itsuki broke the ice covering his bow and pulled back the string, pointing it at the Shadow who remained silent. "Who do you think you are, threatening me and calling me the criminal here," Itsuki calmly asked. These Shadows were only NPC's, just like his friends. But unlike those Shadows, these NPC's cared for him in a way that almost felt real. He wasn't going to let them down. "You're obviously the criminals. If you're going to act just like all those nobles, claiming that such atrocities can be committed because of your beliefs, then I am not afraid to punish you here and now. You won't be escaping here with your lives." His bow started to emit a sinister aura again.
"I guess we have no choice. But to consider your whole party traitors as well." The Shadow calmly said.
All around, the former patrons pulled out their weapons. Bows, axes, shortswords, pikes, and other weapons appeared. The tavern owner slammed down a lever, and gates fell down around all the exits. Itsuki's party looked around in surprise, seeing that they were trapped. With the dozens of armed patrons inside surrounding their group.
The Church Shadow moved quickly, easily deflecting both Aksel's and Crystal's weapons away from him. The two stepped back and took up a defensive stance. "Crap." Aksel muttered.
"You can say that again," Crystal muttered. They'd barely kept up with the Shadow's speed and jumped back in time to avoid being skewered.
"Now, with the pleasantries out of the way, do you have anything to say in your defense before me, my friends and these mercenaries all apply God's Judgement to your worthless defiled souls?" The Shadow asked. The others took a confident step forward.
Itsuki frantically looked around. They were trapped and surrounded. 'But how… why didn't the people warn us this was going to happen?... why do they want to think that I'm the criminal here!...' Couldn't their programming help them logically deduce what was happening!? Didn't the system have any sense of right or wrong that the NPC's had to follow!?
Itsuki came to the realization. 'The people were also in on it. That noble did what he did not as a warning, but as a calling card to draw me and my party here.'
The noble probably hadn't wanted to sacrifice himself. The Shadows had probably assured him that he'd be kept safe. But no, all they'd really cared about was cornering the imposter Hero and dumping the sins of all the nobles he'd killed on him. So he and his party would be cornered.
It'd been the perfect trap. And Itsuki walked straight into it.
'No, they wouldn't! I'm not the criminal here! The system can't be that corrupt!'
"Transport Bow!" Itsuki tried to activate the skill so he and his party would escape. It'd worked earlier in transporting the demi-human slaves to Van's estate. But now, he was receiving a notification on his status screen that something was interfering with the skill. He couldn't activate it.
"Don't bother using that portal skill of yours. We are well trained in the knowledge of the Hero's weapons and what they are capable of and made advance preparations to keep you from being able to activate it here. You will not be escaping God's judgment this time," The Shadow said, feeling a finger along the length of his blade. "You, nor the abominations you've saved."
There was no running away. Not from the Shadows in front of him, or the bitter truth Itsuki was being forced to face.
"Also. Thanks for revealing where you were transporting those abominations all this time. After we're done here, we will lead a force to the Reichnott Estate and destroy it, before burning the place to the ground. After all, that is the only way the Gods would forgive such foolish sinners." The Shadow said mockingly, condescendingly.
Itsuki was the criminal here. He hadn't saved anyone. He'd led them all into a trap. And one of the only nice men he'd met in this world was going to be killed because of his foolishness.
"Now, enough talk. Let's dispense God's justice upon these sinners." The Shadow said.
The mercenaries all cheered. Finally, they were being given the order to attack.
"Sir Itsuki!" Rachel yelled worriedly. What did he want them to do?!
Itsuki stood frozen. Unsure about what he could do. The sinister aura on his bow faded. A look of despair plastered itself on his face. He could see his best friend's face again, looking at him sadly.
It was too late to run. Too late to hide.
Itsuki Kawasumi was going to die.
Worthless Attack Enchantments
Jade Necklace: Attack Up (Medium)
"Yes! Yes yes yes yes YES!" Naofumi cheered to himself. He'd finally done it! The random enchant Gods had worked in his favor to give him the greatest of all blessings. His Shield could make accessories with this enchantment after all!
"Master Naofumi…" Raphtalia yawned loudly. "It isn't morning yet."
"Raphtalia!" Naofumi said excitedly. "I did it! I finally got an enchantment that'll increase my Attack Stat!" Naofumi cheered as he held up the necklace.
Filo yawned cutely next to the sleeping Raphtalia. "Mommy. Why is daddy being so loud?" She asked tiredly.
"It's nothing, sweetie." Raphtalia yawned tiredly. "Daddy thinks he's found a way to increase his attack stat."
"Again?" Filo tiredly complained. "Didn't Daddy claim he found another way a week ago…"
"Just you watch! This one will work! I'm sure of it!" Naofumi said as he put it on.
Surprisingly, no shock came from his shield. He'd braced himself to feel a shock as his jealous shield would no doubt have knocked out another way for him to attack.
But it didn't. It stayed on. Even better, he received a notification on his screen saying applying the enchantment had been successful.
"Yes! It worked!" He cheered.
Filo and Raphtalia looked up at that. "It did?" They both asked in surprise.
"Yes, I can't believe it finally wor-" He opened up his stat menu, and his mouth opened in shock. "What, it only increased my attack by ONE!?"
He'd gone from a measly three to a four! That was literal garbage! "It had &^%$ing Attack Up Medium on it! How the hell did it only increase my attack by one!?"
Raphtalia yawned tiredly again. "Good night Master Naofumi." She rolled over to cuddle with Filo again, who had already gone back to dreamland since daddy was being silly again.
His latest plan to increase his attack stat in any significant manner so he could kill more than level one balloons had failed.
"Alright, Shield! You asked for it! If these accessories will only increase my attack by one! I'll just make a bunch of them to wear! Then all the bonuses will stack up, and I'll finally be able to kill a balloon in one hit!" Naofumi yelled while laughing like a crazy mad scientist.
"Why is Daddy so weird Mommy?" Filo tiredly asked.
"I don't know, he's always been weird." Raphtalia tiredly replied. "But we still love him despite that."
"Hey, I can still hear you you know!?" Naofumi angrily said.
Till Next Time