Life in Melromarc had become simpler after clearing his name. Day in day out, became less hectic and Naofumi was able to live in this fantasy world without coming across death threats or mockery everyday anymore. The queen was even kind enough to offer him expenses for living there. When meetings had dragged till the dead of night, he and his party were generously offered rooms and food to eat. They could practically consider that they might as well live in the palace along with the others. Now, Naofumi wasn't one to always take up on people's kindness, even if it was the queen herself but he knew why she acted the way she did.
Though there have been some things that Naofumi had noticed but chose not to speak of it. Mirellia Q Melromarc, despite being the overall ruler of Melromarc, had a motherly spot when it came to the four heroes who were abruptly summoned here without her knowledge. Sometimes, he'd notice to the point where she somehow spoils them -the other three- until they had become so high of themselves. Naofumi however had trouble accepting that fact. She knew how to treat the four young adults and teenagers. At some points somewhat really strict and lectured them when needed. Especially, whenever they argue or couldn't see eye to eye.
But to Naofumi, this was alarming to the point he would sometimes decline the kind offers. It wasn't that she was a bad person, it was obvious she did everything for the good of her country. But to the point of completely trusting her, that's difficult to do. She was the mother and wife of the two horrid people who traumatised him. If he had to exaggerate, probably felt a mental scar in his mind. 'stop trusting people, don't be so naive! Or else Everything goes back to square one'. He'll lose.
But he couldn't help it. She was just too kind and generous to him. Sometimes, he'd go out of his way to the point of asking for advice from her.
Was it possible for him to lose again? Raphtalia. Filo. What would happen to them if he did?
It was unbearable to imagine how this country and some of its nobles still treat demi-humans and monsters. Moreover, the cruelty they'll face after becoming masterless. The underground dungeon he previously went had shown him how far these nobles could go. 'What if the queen was using me too?' The thought shook his entire being as self consciousness billed up within him. Who could he trust?
It's become a routine now that the queen had planned to keep their schedule tight and secured. All the four heroes had dates they were forbidden from skipping. This not only clashed with their intentions to seek out this world but also made them lose their chances of level grinding to one up one another.
'Train' she said. The queen wasn't wrong in any way. From how the four of them failed to work together and had to rely on certain backups were not any way appealing to the queen. 'Fitoria seems to have the same ideals' to have the four work together to save the world.
'You are still young, there is still plenty of time before the next wave and I expect be better performance from all of you'
They did rely on a lot of support from her country. There was no path to decline her orders. So it had become daily that Esclair would wait for the reluctant -three- heroes to train them. Build up their skills instead of letting them just rely on their levels.
Unfortunately, Naofumi had to join them as well. Yes, it was true that he was most capable among the four given his personal experience that they all knew of. But the queen literally put it into to her own graceful words that-
They had to 'get along'.
Persistent as the Shield Hero was, he out right questioned 'what the hell do you mean 'get along'?'.
Now Merillia was not oblivious of the events and pressure the other three heroes had put on Naofumi. Thanks to 'Trash' and 'Bitch', it had become difficult to have them in the same room without the consequences of a rucked. So what better way of having them bond other than in the fields. At least they could fight it out like the children they acted as. A way of anger and dissatisfaction management is how she'd put it. Of course, excluding the part of trying to tear each other apart.
And you know what? It actually did worked! Sure the first few days they did intend to slice each other's throats off but they eventually bonded. It almost disgustingly felt a bit like their highschool days and they just fought it out and grew closer. Nostalgic... very nostalgic.
Boys will be boys, she said as she accounted Raphtalia and Filo to their own personal training along with Rishia and Keel. Then the daily sparing meets with Nafoumi casually trying to punch Motoyasu's lights out and said Spear Hero dodging it after learning -in a very painful manner- the taste of the Naofumi's fist.
"Why are you like this?!" Said blonde, securing the other's wrists before his knuckle touched his face
"I thought it was obvious." Most times it was hard to get a sincere smile out of the Shield Hero but this one counted as devious. "It's because I hate you."
Ren decided to get in between this daily quarrel... like always. "Could you two please stop acting like children?" On some levels this was sort of ironic since Ren was the youngest of the four. "He's right you know. How will the queen take us seriously at this point?" Itsuki decided the back the younger up, shrugging his shoulders as he justified his statement.
Naofumi had every chance to act smug. No he wasn't going to give them an easy time... as always. "The queen already takes me seriously. It's you three who always goes against her orders." He had pointed to each of them. "You're here too, you know?!". Shrugging off the short argument, they began training.
Merillia had given them proper attire for training to enhance their skills. No capes. No armour. Just loose clothes that were comfortable enough to move around. This reminded them of when they first arrived at Melromarc and had better impression of one another. Motoyasu approach the threatening raven, a hand scratching the back of his head. "Say, you don't really hate me, do you?". Naofumi merely gave him a one eye glance as he listened to Esclair's instruction of the day, a small sighed and he answered. "Who knows? I've gotten used to it by now." Coldly...
Their instructor gave them an assignment, "I want you four to pair up, and each pair has to work together to disarm the other pair. Understood?!" Esclair was kinda scary when she's strict. Which sort of reminded them of each of their own previous gym couches, who would made their spine line up straight just as now. "Yes!"
They looked at one another for a moment before deciding who their partner should be. Esclair often does this and it is still a bit awkward every time. Maybe not as awkward as the first but still...
It had been blatantly silent for a moment until Motoyasu opened his mouth. "Alright Noafumi, lets pair up!" He declared in a load and playful manner. All the while the raven gave him a deadpan stare. "Nope! That is not happening! I do not want to almost lose an eye again!" . The other raven got in between. Last time Naofumi and Motoyasu paired up, they got into a heated argument halfway through the assignment and when Ren had tried to break them up Motoyasu's spear nearly poked out his eye.
These two are incapable of working together...yet.
"I volunteer to pair up with Naofumi." At the back, Itsuki raised his hand and spoke out as he approach the other three heroes. Naofumi became irritated at this point. 'Volunteer?! What the hell was that about?' He couldn't completely blame them though, not even a week ago he had always come off as menacing in certain ways. Even after everything had cleared up. "Am I that bad, that you guys had to-". It rose a bit of dejection in the shield hero.
Ren immediately tried to clear things up. "What? No, no, no, no" he did gesturing his hands left and right to empathise his words. "It's fine Iwatani, you did nothing wrong!" . He was a bit taken aback by the Sword Hero's words. 'What's this?'
"Let's just train. You know? So we don't get our asses handed by people like Glass." Said shorter raven changed the topic in the nick of time when Esclair told them to hurry up.
As they tried to best one another, Naofumi was on defence -as always- while Itsuki sought the chance for an opening and was able to unarm Ren by quickly sprinting towards him when he hadn't expected it. Who would? Itsuki used a long ranged weapon. He wasn't supposed to come close to his opponent. Though, he did and was able to throw the raven off and pushed him down so he couldn't fight.
"Good Kawasumi, you've learned how to not rely everything on your weapon." Esclair praised.
While Itsuki was twisting Ren's arm off his joints, "Have I ever told you that I used to learn aikido back in my old world." All the while Ren was trying to get the dirty-blonde off. "Nope! Not once!"
Naofumi was capable of disarming Motoyasu while he was awing Itsuki's hidden talent. Easily without even trying, shoving his damned shield into the tall blonde and knocking the spear forcefully out of his hands. "Well, you got me" he set his hands in defeat. Naofumi wasn't that satisfied with Motoyasu's easy going defeat. 'Is he mocking me?' The last thing he needed was Motoyasu doing this on purpose and holding them back for something as silly as this.
It was irritating but he wasn't quick to make conclusions. "You know, you could learn a few things from Itsuki."
"Oh Naofumi, did you take martial arts in your old world?" Itsuki released his hold on Ren's arm and got off the poor guy. 'Finally free! God damnit Itsuki! I'll get you back for this.'
Naofumi shrugged at the question, giving a relaxed and carefree gesture. "No, I was just a regular nerd."
"If so~" The Bow Hero had plans in mind and the smile he gave gave a clear signal to get out. "I don't mind giving a few lessons." For a pretty face, he could sure pull a scary one when he thought of something devious.
"It sounds like a good idea." Esclair came in between. "Even though it's less likely that you four lose your legendary weapons, it wouldn't hurt to improvise in battle."
And by the end of training, they took a break (a quite long break in Naofumi's opinion). Too tired to even talk to any of their party members and headed straight to a room that consisted of just the four of them.
Having no energy to create an argument, they talked. Like normal people engaging in conversations without any foreshadowing or throwing shades at one another.
This had also become a daily since the beginning of their training, Naofumi didn't mind and neither did the other three.
Conversations were sometimes empty and talks had no whatsoever important content but they were too tired to care. Least they get to know each other better.
"Your still all over Me-Bitch, Motoyasu?"
They had been talking about bad dating experience. Since Naofumi didn't had any (*ehem* exclude Mein's exploitation), Motoyasu did most of them talking. Ren was fairly curious since she was still in his party.
The older blonde sighed at the mention of Bitch.
"More like she's all over me, and I can't just kick her out of my party."
"Why not? After everything she's done." By 'everything' he meant Naofumi and the subject was on him at this point. Ren looked sympathetic towards the other. Maybe even hesitant to give him a pat on the back for support. Since he couldn't fine his rights after everything he's judged and done.
"I'm not you, Itsuki. I'm not justifying her actions but I'm also not about to add more salt to the case. Hero's don't do that-"
The sound of a chair falling from its standing position caught all their attention. Naofumi had stood up with a sour expression clear on his features as he tried to excuse himself from the room. "Nao-"
"Do what you want hero." He said darkly. "It's none of my business." Walk away before. "Excuse me, I'll be in my room." Cool down Naofumi. Stay calm, Raphtalia isn't the here to do that for you.
The door shut before the other three could stop him.
When Naofumi was out of sight, the Spear Hero smacked the back of Itsuki's head.
"Why the hell did you bring up Mein-Bitch?! You know Naofumi hates her!"
"You still keep her around!"
"I avoid him when she is!"
"Can you two please stop arguing?!"
They stopped. Ashamed of having being told off by the youngest of the bunch, and sat down. Wondering what their Shield Hero was probably feeling at the moment. How he coped whenever this happens. They've seen him shown his emotions in battle, encouraged or not, it was still dangerous.
'For his sake at least'
They all had the same thought.
"At least he's talking to us more." Ren started.
"Yeah but he still seems hesitant with any personal stuff." Motoyasu continued.
"I don't think that's a good idea Ren. We should give him his space" Itsuki objected.
Without another word to anybody he passed, he went straight to his chambers. He was not in the mood.
'How long are you going to let this anger be wasted!'
Ignoring that damned dragon's voice, he slumped instantly onto the comforts of his bed. Crawling under the covers, the moment he closed his eyes, sleep took over him completely.
'And everything starts all over again'
Sharp spears had surrounded him so he couldn't escape. But he hadn't done anything wrong! Adrenaline rose through his veins as the pressure and everyone staring down at him shook his core.
Fingers pointed accusingly at him
And the lowest of the low;
He didn't do it!
No one was listening, too blind by the crying girl they were protecting. Who was tricking them!
Who had deceived him!
Anxiety rose up and he couldn't breathe. The channels of his throat had tightened and his almost eyes bulging out of their sockets.
'This isn't happening!'
Oh he thought at the time
'I didn't do anything! Why don't they believe me?!'
He wanted to disappear on the spot. Anything the get out of his current 'trail'. Mein was a princess and she was lying! She was telling everyone false accusations about him and he was going down with them.
His head hung
The room was spinning
Everyone had a devious smile paste on their faces. They hated him. There was nobody here to support him and he was alone.
"Please, I didn't do it." He's lost his voice, cracking, the thoughts in his mind had dried them up. Tried of trying to reason, he thought if he forced his voice into their ears might get them to listen.
Listen that Malty was lying. They were being fooled!
When he went in to a raging phase, he was held down as the guards saw him as a threat. The king had ordered him to be taken away.
"A week in the dungeon, reveal his crime to the public and strip him of everything I had generously given. A scum like you don't deserve my kindness."
Sliver coins had rolled across the red carpet
"I owe you nothing, trash!"
After that, he had been taken away. No food. No light for a week. It had changed him in ways the old him would wished had not.
Nobody could be trusted
Flashes of Raphtalia blinded his screen of vision
Nobody would come near him
Flashes of Filo trying to get into his space appeared. Melty put her trust in him too
Nobody would know the real him
"You're not that type of guy, kiddo."
Both his eyes and the roots of his hair were red.
The colour of blood. The colour of death.
Was this a sign? That this was all he would achieve? All he could do?
Apparently it was time. To let go of the past and be the person everyone would rather have instead of this broken shell he's become.
Once upon a time, he wasn't like this and maybe he could go back. Only a second he thought of that and-
It happened again
Red eyes glaring down at him. Eating him up again. The adrenaline, the anxiety, the nervousness! It was all coming back and he wanted to know why!
Will one day leave him.
That will be all he ever have that'll never leave him.
And then, that will be all he ever feel until-
Eyes had suddenly jolted open as his heavy breathing filled the air above him. Waking up in the dead of night in cold sweat he raised in a sitting position. Glancing towards the window, the cool breeze came through and the candles were out.
'Somebody must of put them out'
Shaking, he was shaking. Bringing his trembling hands into view and instantly held himself tightly. Safe, he was safe. His name was cleared. His reputation was well and-
A stream of wetness was felt over his cheeks. Hot tears came before he even knew why. This was bad. He couldn't cry, he shouldn't but... they didn't stop so he held himself tighter. As if the flowing would've stopped if he did but they never do and this was his own fault.
He brought this onto himself, he failed to defend himself and this was what he created.
A weak and broken 'Hero'.
An absolute nothing without his companions. Nobody was willing to be with him anyways and the ones who did ended up being enemies. He couldn't take it! His mind wasn't in the right state to be thinking things like this. It was only painful to do so.
So he rested his head onto the soft pillows and tried to go back to sleep. There were other things he needed to do the next morning. So he should get the most sleep as he can. Every night. There was no escaping this. This trauma that's haunting him. Giving him insomnia
And again, just like every night, he prayed for better dreams.
It took him a few hours of trying not to think of anything and eventually beings tired by his own thoughts then falling into deep slumber.
Falling into another nightmare