The next day Koshiro went out to scout the giant slime. Akemi, seemingly not remembering the night before, tried arguing against him going alone, however he assured her that it would only take a few hours and he wouldn’t be putting himself in any danger. This left the two of us alone in town til he was back. As long as we stayed in town, he expected us to be able to stay out of trouble.
We started out by exploring the town, seeing what it had to offer, which, frankly, wasn’t much, with the only two buildings of note being the town hall and a church to Liis.
“I’m bored,” announced Akemi. It was around midday and we’d ended up at the town square. We were currently sitting on a bench, Akemi hunched over with her elbows on her knees and resting her head on her hands. “I wish we’d brought our training swords.”
Of course, we’d tried sparring with our new swords, but Koshiro had forbidden us from doing so again after a… Smaller... Incident. Additionally, as part of his precautions, we’d been forced to leave our weapons back at the inn.
I could always just practice some magic, but right now that would feel like leaving Akemi out. She’d learned the basics, but wasn’t really interested in progressing further down the path of magic. To me, having lived a life without magic, it was something new and exciting, but to her, it was just another part of this world, and wasn’t any more interesting than mastering a weapon.
As we sat in silence for a while, I noticed someone was staring at us. A kid, probably around eight to ten, it was hard to tell, with dark grey hair, was peeking around the corner of a building. I couldn’t help adding a sound effect in my head.
Ignoring any further comments from my… Whatever the fuck is going on in my head, I decided to wave the kid over.
The kid looked around confused, before pointing to itself. I responded with a nod.
Stepping out from the corner they were hiding behind, the kid slowly approached us.
“You… You two are new in town right?” He asked while trying, and failing, to hide behind his hair. Failing because it was too short to allow it, it just barely covered his right eye if being generous. Now that I got a closer look I also noticed that some horns were budding from the sides of his head and a cow tail nervously swaying behind him.
Akemi must’ve not noticed him coming over, because she flinched at the sound of his voice.
“Yeah, we’re adventurers on slime hunt and we’re staying in town for a few days,” I replied.
“Adventurers? But you don’t look much older than I am,” he said with surprise as he pointed at himself.
“We’re with my dad,” Akemi piped in. “He’s really strong so we’re safe with him,” she said boisterously, before slightly deflating “We saw a really strong monster so we went back to town, and now he’s out scouting it for information.”
“Oh, I see…” He said quietly.
I hate awkward silences. There has to be something else we can talk with him about, right?
Like how he was kind of just staring at us?
Yes, exactly like that!
“So,” I began, breaking the silence. “Did you want to talk to us about anything specific?”
“What do you mean?” He asked with a head tilt.
“Oh, you know, the way you were staring at us…”
His face lit up with understanding “Oh right! Well I was wondering if...”
“If?” Akemi and I both asked in unison.
He scratched the back of his head and gave a nervous smile. “If… If you’d like to, I don’t know, um, maybe, kinda...”
“No need to be so nervous,” I reassured him. “We don’t bite”
“If you would maybe play with me?” He finally asked.
“Is this the first time you ask girls to play with you?” I asked with my best deadpan expression.
“Wha? NO!” He shouted. “It’s because the other children are scared of my dad, and I’m a girl too!”
“You’re a girl?”
“You thought she was a boy?” Asked Akemi with a lifted eyebrow.
“I- Well- She- She has short hair!” Okay that’s a dumb argument and you know it.
“Girls can have short hair!” The girl yelled.
“You’re wearing pants!”
“You’re wearing pants!” She retorted.
“We’re adventurers! Skirts and dresses are inconvenient for us!”
“Exactly! Skirts and dresses are inconvenient!”
“But I still prefer them while at home!” Wait, I do?
“Well I don’t!”
Okay, all her points are valid. Guess I forgot that old saying… How did it go, again? Making an ass of you and me is assuming?
Not another awkward silence… Or actually, is this more a tense silence? How many kinds of silences do there exist? Is there such a thing as a sad silence? Thick silence is a thing, right?
Stop distracting yourself and just apologize.
Distracting silence? No? Is that a stretch?
For the love of…
Okay! I’ll apologize, MOM!
Ah ah ah, not the sass, young lady.
I’m gonna do my best to ignore you forever.
You will try.
“Look, I’m sorry I-” I started, but was interrupted.
“No, I’m sorry,” the girl talked over me. “I usually don’t mind when people mistake me for a boy, but the tone you used, and then you began yelling, and then I began yelling.”
“No, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have just assumed-”
“No, like I said, it’s no big deal,” she insisted. “I’m sorry about getting so defensive.”
“No, but-” this time I was interrupted by Akemi.
“Okay! We get it! You’re both sorry! Now move on!” She said in an outburst.
The girl and I awkwardly stared at each other.
“Let’s just start over.” I cleared my throat. “Hi! My name is Tiye, what’s yours?” I stretched out my open palm in a peace offering.
“Oh, um, Mika,” she answered with a sheepish grin as she shook my hand.
“And I’m Akemi,” said Akemi, pointing to herself. “You wanted to play with us because the other children are scared of your dad?” She questioned.
“Yeah, he’s big and strong and a bit overprotective, so I don’t have many friends…”
“Well, we don’t know your dad, so he can’t scare us!” Proclaimed Akemi. “Isn’t that right, Tiye?”
“Right...” I hope he isn’t some kind of gang leader. “Did you have something in mind we could play, then?”
“I don't know, I hadn’t thought that far. Tag?” Suggested Mika.
“Nah, three aren’t enough for Tag.” I weighed in. “While technically possible, it’s not as fun.”
“I guess I can see that,” said Mika, as she scratched her chin. “Do you two know any fun ball games for three?” She asked.
“Not in particular, but I’m sure we can make something up.” I answered.
“Great! If you two just wait here I’ll be right back!” She said excitedly as she ran off before Akemi or I could answer.
“So…” Akemi started. “When did you get so knowledgeable about Tag?” She inquired.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Why would I not know about Tag?
“Oh, it’s just, I’ve never actually seen you play with any of the other kids back home. If you’re not sparring with me you’re practicing magic,” she pointed out.
“I-” Have no idea what to say. She’s right. “Um, well, I have played with the others, just not much.” Which was technically true. I had spent some time with the other kids when Mom introduced me to them way back when.
My answer seemed sufficient as Akemi dropped the subject. We proceeded to make idle chatter while waiting for Mika to return, but my mind was elsewhere.
Am I wasting my second chance at childhood?
Whoa, that’s a heavy question. Where’d that come from?
I mean, Akemi had a point there, I don’t spend time playing around with kids my age.
Well, they’re not your mental age. Mentally we’re around thirty years old, combining our first and second life.
Is that how it works, though? Have I really matured any more mentally?
Still way older than those your physical age.
True. But still, most adults wish they could return to the carfree days of childhood.
It’s hard being carefree when you have the mental baggage of one failed life with you already.
Ouch. Failed life?
Are you gonna argue that?
Besides, the things you’re doing in this childhood aren’t really that different from your old.
What did you do? Swing around with a stick while making lightsaber noises, practicing Kamehameha-ing. Sparring with Akemi, practicing magic. Same shit.
You make a fair point.
I always do.
Eventually Mika returned, and we spent the next couple of hours throwing and kicking the ball around.