It’s weird to say that I snatched my own sleep away, but that’s exactly what happened last night. I barely slept at all. It was early morning and I could hear various people leaving their houses to go to whatever job they might have. The sun had just only risen, so I figured I should explore the town a bit before leaving for the next one.
I strolled through some of the main streets and browsed some of the stalls that were open in the market. It was still early, so not many people were out. I wasn’t complaining. It meant I could easily keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. Someone could be tailing me right now.
My stomach was grumbling, so I spent some of the money I received from Berib to buy two loaves of bread. I would snack on these as I travelled. For breakfast, I just had a manaberry. It tasted similar to an apple, but it packed a lot of juice. So much so that eating one gave you food and a drink. It was quite refreshing. I’ve heard certain breeds have healing properties, while others help with mana generation. I could use any of those perks right now, so eating it was entirely beneficial.
I made the mistake of rubbing my eyes out of fatigue, which caused me to not pay attention to my surroundings. I ended up bumping into someone I didn’t see.
I looked to see a young man with orange-brown hair staring at me. He was maybe a bit older than this body, and he was fairly tall. He looked at me with mild curiosity.
“Ah sorry, my bad, I wasn’t paying attention to the stuff around me. I’llbegoingnowbye…”
I started walking away quickly. No need to make myself known.
“Hey, miss! Wait, miss!”
I started walking faster. Please, I’m already going, it was a simple bump. I didn’t shove you to the ground, right? I turned the corner and hid behind some barrel, making sure my hood was in place. Thank goodness, it still covered me. The dude I bumped into turned the corner.
“Huh? Where’d she go? Man, and I was going to offer her a deal too…”
I see, he’s probably a merchant. Perhaps the son of one. I’ve already had enough merchants for a while in Berib, so I’ll have to decline your offer, sir. When he walked away, I strolled the other direction.
I proceeded to the town square to look for some sort of informational building. There was one taller than others with a giant sign promoting an auction:
THE AUCTION FOR THE FERRY MAIDENS OCCURS TODAY AT THE TWELTH HOUR.
I had no idea what a Ferry Maiden was, so I decided to step inside to take a look. Any information is good information.
The floor inside was a wide, open space with a dip on the side opposite to me. There were multiple seats and a stage, so I could only assume that it was theater that was hosting the auction. There were counters to left and right walls. I noticed two sets of stairs to my left and right. Most of it was made with various woods, but the floor itself was a polished stone. I made my way to one of the counters and addressed the attendant.
“Hey, uh, can you tell me more about this auction?”
He pushed up their glasses. I swore I saw a shine. There’s… no way that actually happens, right?
“Of course. This auction is held for those who wish to purchase the Ferry Maidens. If for some reason you don’t know, these young girls possess the talent to withstand the waters of the Ackeronne.”
He gave me a blank stare and proceeded to push up his glasses yet again. …I’m not hallucinating right? There was definitely a shine!
“…The Ackeronne is the river that flows through this town, as well as the neighboring towns, such as Obol. Those who bathe in its waters have their life drained out of them. There is reports of those drinking its waters, only to become thirstier, never to quench it. It hosts species of colorful, aggressive fish found nowhere else. It’s even said that those who wade through its waters in attempts to get to the other side are swept away into the underworld. Its why most people carry a blessed coin if they must cross alone.”
Uh, what? What’s up with this river? Who would willingly build a town by a river that dangerous? Mayor Charronne of the past, are you a fool?! And other towns are by it too? I wonder how that ended up happening.
…Hold on. Isn’t this river the same river that runs through the forest? The one that I bathed in and drank from? Will my throat be as dry as a desert? Is my life withering away? I really don’t want to die like that. To make sure, I asked the attendant.
“So, does this Ackeronne run through the forest near here?”
“The Forest of Lokk? Yes, it does.”
…Oh dear. I felt my chest tighten up with dread.
“So, h-how long until the effects start appearing?”
“A few days. Usually there’s a spot on the poor soul’s forehead that signifies their eventual demise. Why do you ask?”
“I was just curious that’s all…”
He looked at me with suspicion.
“Miss, I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to answer it truthfully.”
“Did you, at all, interact with the Ackeronne? Your questioning concerns me. There may still be a way to save you if that is the case.”
He gave me a stare that rivaled Fujimoto’s. What’s with this sudden change in aura?
“U-uh, yes, I did. I drank the water and bathed in it too…”
The attendant heaved a large sigh.
“How long ago did you do this?”
“Around 3 days ago…”
“Then the mark should be on your forehead. Please allow me to check for it. I’ll need you to remove your hood and show me your face.”
…That’s going to be a problem. If people catch a glimpse of my hair, then I’ll be in serious trouble. Maybe I can convince him to do it in another place. If it’s just him, I can make him stay quiet, though I hope I won’t have to use force to make that happen.
“Sir, can we perhaps, uh, do it somewhere private? There’s a reason I have this hood on, you see…”
“Oh? …I’m not supposed to do this, but follow me. I’ll lead you to a hidden place.”
The attendant led me through some employee areas and into a small dressing room with various outfits.
“Now, please remove your hood. The auction will be starting later, and I’ll need to return to the lobby.”
“Ah, yes, just, could you please stay quiet about what you see? I can’t have people seeing or knowing about it.”
“…What are you talking about?”
With shaking hands, I slowly removed my hood. This was a stupid decision. How could I trust anybody, let alone someone who I just met, and will probably never talk to again? But did I have a choice? If that river had the potential to kill me, then I needed to make sure that I found a way to survive. If this was my only option, then I had to risk it.
I kept my head down. I know the attendant needed to see my forehead, but I was waiting for the reaction. The gasp, the shriek, the questioning, whatever it may be. I don’t know if the public knows my identity as a traitor to the Church yet, but surely, the hair will promote some reaction. And so, I waited…
…for a reaction that I couldn’t hear.
I raised my head to see shock. Silent awe. The attendant had been frozen while looking at me. I saw his expression, and quickly turned my eyes away. I see. Right now, I’m not a person. I’m some figure of divine will that the attendant sees as a part of the goddess.
“Miss, your hair…”
I looked up.
“Is silver. I know. Don’t you say a word more, please.”
“And you’re odd-eyed too… Ahem. Apologies, I went out of line there, especially for someone of your status. Pardon me while I take a look…”
He pushed back my hair and his eyes went wide.
“Miss, you… y-you’re a Ferry Maiden! Your mark is the shape of a swirl! You’re blessed by the Church’s goddess and the river!”
“Hey keep it down! What if someone hears you?”
“Ahem. Apologies. I was a bit surprised.”
…A bit? His calm demeanor completely fell apart. And what was a Ferry Maiden anyway? I supposed they had something to do with the Ackeronne.
“So, Mr. Attendant, what exactly is a Ferry Maiden? You never explained it to me fully.”
He pushed up his glasses again. Somehow, there was still a shine when he did that, even in a closed off room like this one.
“Well, the Ferry Maidens are young women who possess the abilities to traverse the Ackeronne. They can freely manipulate the water of the river, and they are protected against its life draining capabilities when they travel through it. They can even purify the water to make it drinkable for the townsfolk. Every year, this auction is held to distribute the Maidens’ services among the town. They’re quite rare, and usually fetch a high price.”
“The Maidens’ services?”
“Yes, yes. If we offered up the Maidens themselves, then it would be akin to slavery, and that’s just not right at all. The Maidens sign contracts with their buyers and provide their services to get something in return. It may be money, fame, medicine, or any number of things. It depends on the girl herself. The standard contract lasts for a year, and many Maidens agree to contracts that promise to renew their deal the next year. It is because of this yearly cycle of contract renewal that the auction is held annually.”
“If the same people are going to just purchase the Maidens’ service the next year, what’s the point in having an auction with them?”
“Well, sometimes the clients may have something happen to them. Bankruptcy, a move, an injury. There was a case in which a client purchased a Maiden for a year only to die the next day. Of course, the profit we received from that bid was sent to the Maiden for the year.”
Interesting. Weren’t there bridges to cross rivers though? I failed to see why selling off these Maidens could be optimal at all. I figured I’d ask the question.
“…So, are there not any bridges?”
“Well, the people who tried building some got their life drained out of them. They withered away into the river. There was the idea of just having the Maidens build the bridges, but the Mayor ultimately decided that the Maidens are better for the economy.”
“I mean, it makes sense. No bridges mean no repairs. That saves materials for other things. The Maidens generally attract tourists, and those tourists pay the people who employ the Maidens to access their powers. The tourism brings people to the markets and inns, and when they spend money there, we grow as a town. Plus, having different Maidens per year keeps bringing people back. After all, each one has their own quirks.”
“You’re quite knowledgeable about this, more than I expected.”
“Yeah, well, I hope to one day run the auctioning business. I’ve been fascinated by the Maidens since I was a child. Speaking of auctions…”
He checked his wrist and looked at what seemed to be… a watch? That’s weird. I’ve never seen anything like that before in Gresia. Was it a magical item?
“Hey, Mr. Attendant, what are you looking at?”
“This? It’s a new product that recently made its way around this area. Some genius from the Church is creating magical items that help with everyday life. Their brand is called “[K]”. This here is a [K] Timekeeper. We won’t need to eye the sun to tell time anymore, isn’t that great?”
It was unsettling to see something that resembled a watch in a world where technology was still very much in its early stages. I wonder who made that?
“Seems like we have a good while before the auction… Miss, could I ask you to participate in it? Another Ferry Maiden would do wonders for the reception!”
“W-wait hold on, I can’t do that. I can’t show this hair around! I thought you said that you would keep quiet, what happened to that? I planned to leave this town today, anyway, I’m not from here.”
Once again, he pushed up his glasses, I was prepared for the shine that time.
“Huhuhu, don’t worry Miss Maiden, we have precautions against such things. All the Maidens wear a magical mask that shields their true identity from the audience. These masks are crafted with the magic from the river, and no person in history has ever seen past it. It allows slight alterations to the appearance of the user’s body as well. This means, if you so desire, you can change the color of your hair. How’s that sound?”
There’s an item like that? That would be wonderful to keep for myself. I could leave an even smaller path for people to trace. I decided to bargain with him.
“Mr. Attendant, I’ll auction myself for three days of service if I get to keep the mask for myself afterwards. Just keep in mind that I’ve never manipulated water before, and that I won’t be coming back next year.”
“Oh, Miss Maiden, how wonderful! Stay put, I’ll go fetch my boss.”
“Will they be quiet about my hair as well?”
“Don’t worry Miss Maiden, we’ve kept many secrets, yours will be no different.
Around ten minutes later, Mr. Attendant, sporting a fresh red slap mark on his cheek, walks into the room with his boss, who is a stunningly developed and curvaceous women dressed in a red suit. Her black hair is tied up into a bun and she’s applied red lipstick to match her suit.
“Ooh, she’s a cutie. Nice catch Amp. Didn’t think a brat like you could snatch someone like her. I’ll reward you later, but first comes the miss. I’m Admete, What’s your name?”
“Uuh, I’m called Perry Momo, but most people call me Perry.”
It was probably best to stick with that alias for now.
“Alright, Perry, I’m gonna take a peeksie at your swirl real quick… Heeey, that’s a nice one. You just keep on giving, don’t you honey?”
“Isn’t she a great contender, boss?”
“Sure is. Alright honey, listen up. To protect the identities of our sweet girls we give ‘em masks and stage names. This idiot behind me told me that you’ll be up there if you keep the mask, and that’s fine, but there’s some things you gotta do if this is gonna work. Real quick, I need you to show me what you can do, and then you’ll need to strip so I can measure you for a costume. You’ll need to fully embrace the life of a Maiden. Walking up there with those torn clothes is gonna do no one any favors. I’ll have to get rid of the marks on your face too. How did you even get like that sweetie?”
“Uuh, well, stuff happened…”
“Whatever, I don’t need your life story. Amp! What’re you still doing here?! Get your ass back to the lobby!”
“Ah, yes ma’am! Of course, ma’am!”
“Alright honey, are we doing this or what?”
One stressful fitting session later, I was fully clad in a Ferry Maiden uniform. It was quite… stimulating having Miss Admete all over me. Her womanly charms were not to be underestimated. She was casual with her body touching me, probably because I was in a female body. That was way too embarrassing. I’d rather not remember it.
I was clad in a simple, dull grey dress that reached my knees. It waved at the white hem, which I assumed was meant to represent the river. There was similar white fabric at the color and cuffs. To cover up my burns, Miss Admete made sure it was long sleeved. I wore black leggings and had grey clogs. I was given a grey masquerade mask.
“Here sweetie. You seem to have a grey appearance about you, so I figured this would match.”
“A grey appearance?”
“You look like you have multiple things pulling at you. So, you’re a mix of all these things attempting to flesh out your real color. That’s what my eyes tell me at least. It’s why I dressed you in that color.”
“Real color? Miss Admete, I’m not sure I understand.”
She leaned in close to my face. Uh, what was she doing?
“Even your eyes match the grey, what an anomaly you are.”
“Ah, sorry honey, I just tend to spurt out things like that. The point is that the grey makes you look pretty. Make sure you own it up there on the stage alright?”
“I’m not really suited for stuff like that, but I’ll try…”
I’m not going to lie. I was really nervous about this whole ordeal. I wasn’t good with crowds, and although I agreed to three days of service, I wasn’t really sure how I was supposed to manage. Miss Admete had me manipulate water from a cup into the air. I had never manipulated anything that hadn’t originally come from my own mana, so it took a few tries. And even then, I struggled to do it. Somehow, she was impressed. Apparently, it was water collected directly from the Ackeronne, which was filled with confrontational mana. She explained that most Maidens spend month, or even years, trying to hone their manipulation, yet I did so in a few tries. She commended me, but that wasn’t a compliment I was looking for.
If they mention in the auction my affinity for controlling the water, I’m sure that I’ll have more eyes on me than necessary. I pleaded Miss Admete to make me seem normal, and she reluctantly agreed. The story we created for me was that I was sheltered in my family’s poor household. Desperate for food, a younger me went to the Ackeronne for some fish, despite the warnings. Being the foolish child that I was, I slipped in and discovered I was a Ferry Maiden. Because of my sheltered background not many knew of me, and that’s how I suddenly appeared at this auction.
I suppose the story suited me well. I’ll use it as an excuse to interact as little as possible with anybody.
“How’s the mask?”
“You sound like you don’t like it. I can tell, sweetie.”
“Well, it’s kind of sparkly, isn’t it?”
“Ahaha! You don’t wanna shine? Alright I’ll remove the glitter.”
She snapped her fingers. The sparkles vanished.
“That’s pretty convenient. Thank you, and sorry.”
“What’re you apologizing for? You’re the one doing me a favor you little cutie pie.”
…Cutie pie? I look like a weird royal at a secret party, but if that’s what she thinks, fine then. I’m not really seeing any appeal to this body right now, but can you blame me?
“So, how do I change my hair color?”
“You just gotta think it honey. If you want it, it’ll happen.”
“Black. I want black.”
Nothing happened. I tried willing it again, only for the mask to blow up in my face.
“Woah! What the hell?! You good sweetie?”
I clutched my face. Damn that hurt! What the heck caused that?
“Here, let me take a look. Geez, you’ve got even more marks on your face now. My eyes are telling me that your mana may be too powerful for a mask. You some sorta special mage or something? Or… are you an actual patron of the Church’s goddess?”
“Ow ow ow...”
I blinked furiously and refocused my vision. Miss Admete was looking at me with concern. I could feel ringing in my ears, and I had a headache.
“Sorry, let me just recover for a bit…”
My eyes started to close…
Geez, I could really go for a glass of Butterberry Wine right now. Today was promising. I had a nice new lineup of cuties for this batch of Maidens. They were all sweet, every one of them. The veterans always provided some good show, but this year’s newbies had potential. I had even planned this right before tourist season.
The day became even more exciting when Amp of all people reeled in one of the best contenders for a Maiden I’ve seen in years. She was a bit off in her mannerisms, but boy was she a looker. Her odd-eyes were appealing and although her silver hair was controversial, it added to her charm. Her swirl was magnificent too. Many Maidens have wiggles or waves, but hers swirled real nice.
The cutie stated her name was Perry, and so I tried to figure out an alias for her based off that and her features, but I was having trouble. Naturally, Ferry Maidens have aliases, and I come up with them. This year’s newbies are Kalypso, Minthe, Melinoe, and Lethe. Beautiful names that fit them all, but again, Perry was a different case. Something about her presence threw me off.
What threw me off course was the explosion the poor girl received to the face. She tried using a mask and suffered for it. What the hell was up with that? There was a golden light and everything. Her sudden appearance was already stressing me out, and this explosion didn’t help at all. I tried to fix her up, but she was out cold. Hmm…
“Boss! You called?”
“Amp, did this girl say anything about herself to you?”
“…What happened to her?”
“She’s just taking a rest. So? Any info?”
“She kept insisting that no one see her hair. She was unusually focused on it. I tried talking to her about it, but she shot me down.”
This cutie does have something going on after all, huh?
“Amp! What time is it?”
“About 45 minutes before the auction boss.”
“Alright, here’s the deal. I’ll need you to fetch Apothecary Dian and bring him here. After that, send Tyche to the veteran Maiden hall. He’ll be running that area. Your reward for finding this girl is that you get to oversee the fresh Maidens. Tell Tyche the word OKEANIDES and he’ll understand immediately. Don’t mess this up, you hear me? Put your practice to use.”
“R-Really? Thanks so much, boss! I won’t fail you!”
The fool dashed out of the room laughing happily. Now what was I going to do with this girl? I wanted to bring her to the local infirmary, but she clearly expressed that she wanted to remain hidden. It would be easy to bribe Dian to keep quiet, but would the girl heal in time? A late entrance would be tacky, but she would still gather attention.
I wonder, did the girl even want to go on with the deal? Her whole reason for doing this was for the mask. Maybe I can find another way…
Ah! That’s it! It’ll only be temporary, but I’m sure it will work out. Though, the way the rest of this day goes will entirely depend on her. I could only think of how extravagant things would be if Perry got on stage with the rest of my girls.
I woke up to a few voices arguing.
“Amp! You got Dian’s runt?! You really are incompetent! Maybe I should take away your reward!”
“Wait, boss, no! He was the only one available! Dian was seeing the mayor’s daughter!”
“Miss Admete, who are you calling a runt?! I’m almost as tall as you! You should be grateful I even came over here!”
What was going on? What were they arguing about? Why did this “twerp” look familiar? I accidentally spoke out loud.
“What the heck?”
The three turned towards me.
“Oh! Miss Maiden, you’re awake!”
“So, you’re a Ferry Maiden? Nice to meet you. I’m Miach Adonis Dian. As the best healer in town, I’ll fix you right up. *wink*”
He leaned in closer and whispered into my ear.
“I’d like to continue our conversation from earlier as well, if you don’t mind.”
A conversation? What was he talking about?
Admete Votes: 54 42.5%
Amp Votes: 9 7.1%
Miach Votes: 12 9.4%
Berib (Really? Berib? This man has a place here? Why?) Votes: 15 11.8%
Give me the other Ferry Maidens! Votes: 37 29.1%