My mind instantly raced through today’s events. What happened earlier? The only conversations I’ve had are with Mr. Attendant, who I now know was named Amp, and Miss Admete. Who is this dude? Looking at him, I scanned for any obvious features that would clue me in to his relationship with me. My eyes wandered to his hair, and I immediately realized I was in trouble. This dude was the same person I bumped into at the market. The one who muttered something about a deal when I hid from him. How did he know who I was? Was he a spy of the Church? I was sure I covered myself up and hid properly. I stuttered out of panic.
“O-Oh no… Nononononononono….”
“Hmm? Ferry Maiden, are you alright?”
“Stay away! I don’t care about your deal!”
I frantically patted my head. Gah! My hair was out in the open for him to see! He even looked at my face! I realized I couldn’t cover myself with my hood due to my new outfit, so I bolted out of the room. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t know where I was going. This building was like the Church’s labyrinth. My head still ached from that suicidal mask, and I had trouble coordinating my thoughts.
I heard yells through the corridors.
“Amp! Go find her before I whoop your ass! You too Dian boy! I’ll search this way!”
They were after me. But this was Miss Admete hollering. She seemed nice enough. Was it a façade for money? Why’d they get a healer over here? Wasn’t I just overreacting?!
A door. A room. I needed a place for myself. There! It was unlocked.
I thrust myself into the room and closed the door behind me. It was a small locker room. Probably for changing. I sat on one of the benches and tried to calm myself down. What was I doing? How did I get into this situation? Why do I always freak out over such stupid things? I can’t even bump into someone without the chance of things going haywire.
Was I too paranoid? It was definitely at least a little suspicious for that dude to recognize me. Was it magic? Was he just keen? Or was he actively searching me out? I had arrived at what seemed to be the nearest town to Castle Grawden. The Church’s influence here was notable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if news about the attack had reached here. Again, I was left wondering, what was my position?
I hated feeling so aimless and lost. I’m stuck hiding away in some random room in a random building in a random town. Why was life here so different? I was always used to a schedule, and a routine. At home, I would attend school and live life at home. I almost never went out to hang with people, instead opting to read or practice calligraphy. Life with my family was enjoyable, even if we had beef with each other sometimes. It was a simple life.
When I was summoned for the first time, the schedule changed. Life became drastically different, yet there was a structure to it. There was a goal, even if it was corrupt, and there was guidance. I didn’t need to particularly stand out, even though I did sometimes.
So, what went wrong? I had tried mimicking that schedule my first month in this body. I had some bumps, but I managed to train this body and read on magic.
Though, I already know the answer. I was the one who interrupted that life. I strayed from the given path. By challenging the Church, I’ve thrown the wishes of that ideal life out of the window. I’m surrounded by unpredictability. My demise could be right around the corner and I wouldn’t even know.
Yet, there was a difference between my life at home and my lives here. At home, it felt like I was laying down the tracks. My future could, to an extent, be molded by my very hands. My lives in Gresia have been oppressively railroaded. It wasn’t what I was looking for, was it? I was being directed to things I originally never would have.
If it were to be assumed that there was no war against Demons or Elves, and that I happened to just end up in this world, how would have things gone? My passions would be practically useless. Reading would become stale. The books are either magic or Church propaganda. The magic theory could be interesting, but I wouldn’t have delved in it. I aim to be an unconfrontational person, and I fear that magic would change that. I suppose that doesn’t matter now though. I won’t fool myself into thinking that I’m not a violent soul when I’ve slayed innocent creatures and bludgeoned bandits.
I’m sure that there are some history books or daily news outlets that could entertain me, but the sheer difference between the output of a modern world and Gresia was vast. Essentially, I would become bored, though it seems like a petty problem at this point.
In comes my other passion: calligraphy. My skill wasn’t outstanding, and it was more a side hobby than anything else. I found it to be an enjoyable pastime despite that. Exercising my dexterity by replicating fonts and expressing yourself through one word alone was the appeal. I miss the sounds and feel of the inks and the pens, and how they would flick and scratch upon the paper. Naturally, Gresia didn’t have the pens or passion for a hobby such as that.
I looked at my hands. Hands that would never perform such calligraphy again. Hands that weren’t mine to begin with. Hands that were burned by their creator. But what will these hands do? Swing a sword? Cast some magic? Kill some more?
I’ve been complaining about my lack of choice and routine, but I have essentially placed myself in a deadlock. I could end all my problems right here. I could comply with the Church, or maybe dispose of this body. I could submit myself to whatever fate the damned moon goddess has planned for me.
I really wished I had the weak mind to do that. This little lost child didn’t know where they were. Did I have a sense of time? No. A location on the map? Barely. Familiarity with my body? I wish. A weak mind would submit and give up.
I did not have the luxury of meekness.
When one spends time alone as much as I have, they tend to notice things some others might not. Individuals like myself prefer to keep the world around us in a particular state. Usually, this means maintaining a fair distance from others, both physically and socially. More variables inside our world lead to possible destruction of it.
So, how does one learn to protect their bubble? It’s quite simple. They observe and analyze. The more knowledge that people like me have of their surroundings, the more they can protect their vision. In my case, I needed to observe my classmates at school. Then, I needed to observe the people affiliated with the Church.
I have noticed things that I’m sure not many would. For example, when Fujimoto is hiding his anger, his left hand tends to twitch. When I was cleaning up the battle-torn Demon Territory, I found some stashed away records that I’m sure no one else knew about. It’s how I found out about my crime.
It is through this observation in a desire to keep a consistent environment that I have become unable to function with change. If I am not mentally prepared for a new variable, such as that strange dude whispering in my ear earlier, I malfunction. I can’t gather my thoughts, and therefore, I cannot battle the panic. The only option to do then is to escape.
And so, I am here. Because of Xenomyr revealing things about me, I have forced myself to do something near impossible. Because I have actively noticed this problem, I will not be satisfied until I change it to suit me and my desired state.
It sucks and I can’t really do anything about it because I’ve placed myself on this path. I may convince myself by saying that I’m “carving my own future” or “sticking to my vows”, but I really have little control of what happens next. I’m near powerless against a massive force like the Church. A vain struggle it may be, but I shall struggle, nonetheless. I will reach my ideal outcome.
Sighing to myself, I start to get up to leave the room and find Miss Admete. I need to apologize to her and the others before I do anything else. I will be wary of the Dian boy though.
My hand is on the doorknob when I hear frantic voices that I don’t recognize heading my way.
“Ugh! I can’t believe we’re late because of you Lethe! How did you forget today was the day?!”
“…You… can call… me by… my real name…”
“Stupid! We’re at the auction house, we can’t do that here!”
It seems some unexpected variables have entered the situation. I will now activate panic mode.
Gah! What do I do? I’ll have to hide so these people don’t know I’m here, but where? The lockers!
I enter an open and empty one and close the door while activating [Illusionary Presence]. I must stay hidden. I hear the door open and peek through the cracks to see four girls of around this body’s age and considerable beauty run in.
“*Huff* Ahhhh, Melinoe, you run too fast! You were practically dragging Lethe around with you. *Huff* I could barely keep up!”
“Aw just can it, Minthe! You complain too much! If I hadn’t found Lethe we wouldn’t even be here right now! You could use the exercise with those mountains you got hanging off you.”
“Huh?! Was does that have to do with anything?!”
My goodness what a vulgar conversation. I feel I may have been blushing from it.
“…Why… am I here?...”
Both the girls turned towards the other.
“You idiot, it’s the auction day! How’re you going to fulfill your contract if you forget everything all the time? I even had to fetch you because you forgot to meet up with us!”
“Poor, poor Lethe. I might cry.”
“Geez, Minthe, don’t give her that much sympathy. …Actually, where in the blazes is Kalypso?”
“I’ve been here the whole time, you know.”
“Kyah! You have got to stop doing that!”
“Poor, poor Melinoe.”
“Can it, you goon!”
What was up with this dynamic? Were they going for a comedy quartet or something? They seemed pretty close, though, who were they? I didn’t have time to think the girls quickly started to undress.
…I politely turned my vision away. People deserve their privacy. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to handle it if I did look, anyway.
“Mask… where is it?...”
“Lethe, your mask is perched on your head.”
“Oh… Thank you… Kalypso…”
“Yeah, no problem. I left mine in a locker, I think.”
I heard footsteps approach my direction. There was no way that I was in this girl’s locker, right? Out of all the lockers, I couldn’t have chosen hers, right? It was then that I noticed a mask covered in pink and blue. Of course. Bad luck had me on a leash, doesn’t it?
I hoped that [Illusionary Presence] would do the job of hiding me. It did not. As soon as the girl opened the door, she looked me dead in the eye and said,
“You’ve been here the whole time, haven’t you?”
The girl then grabbed her mask, which was on the hook right above my head and proceeded to close the locker.
Wait, was she talking to the mask? Or was she purposely messing with me?
Wait wait wait wait, did she just lock the door?!
Calm down, Ren, you’re a Rogue, you’re prepared for this type of situation. I’ll just wait for them to leave and then free myself. I didn’t have a lockpicking set on me, but I do have an idea on what to do. When I create [Mana Bombs] I direct my mana to my fingertips and let it gush out into a spherical shape. I believe I should be able to create a lockpick if I focus on the shape I wish it to take. The [Mana Bombs] crystallized once I thought it was complete, so I’ll need to be careful about that with the pick. If I manage to maintain its fluid form, I should be able to bend and stretch it how I want to. I heard the girls talking again. At this point, I assumed that they were Ferry Maidens from their conversation.
“Hey, Melinoe, who do you want to form a contract with?”
“It’s gotta be the Mayor! Imagine that! I don’t doubt it for a second! He’ll see they way I stick out from the others! I’m not gonna lose to you, Kalypso!”
“Poor, poor, Kalypso.”
“…You’re still doing that Minthe?”
“Huh? Aw crap! Girls we gotta go! The auction’s starting any minute now! Let’s bolt! Come here Lethe!”
“Ahhh! Don’t run again! I won’t be able to keep up!”
“They’re going the wrong way too…”
Are those girls finally gone? Thank goodness. That environment is way too hectic for my liking. I proceeded to extend mana from my index finger to try to create a lockpick. Since I was inside the locker, I extended the mana in a thin golden line. It felt weird because anything the mana touched I could feel on my finger. I struggled to direct it through the slits of the locker and felt around for the lock. Eventually I managed to wedge the string of mana inside and fiddle with the lock to free myself. I ungraciously accepted the cold contents of the floor as my face fell onto it as I stumbled out of the confined space. With my track record of face planting, I must be attracted to the floor. But we’re not like that, it’s platonic, I swear!
My relationship with the floor aside, I picked myself up only to meet face to face with one of the girls from earlier. Ah. She hadn’t left. I’ve been discovered. This is not good.
“You were there the whole time, weren’t you?”
“Ah – well, you see, I – what I’m trying to say is that-“
An unexpected person came to my rescue.
“Kalypso, don’t worry your little face about her, honey. She just got a bit lost.”
Miss Admete, you’ve saved me! Right on time, too! I feel like I could hug you right now! I took this moment to apologize.
“Sorry for hiding Miss Admete, and sorry to you too, Miss Kalypso. I wasn’t in the right state of mind.”
“Honey, you’re too cute. Though, what did the boy say to you that made you so ruffled?”
“Ah! My hair! Miss Kalypso! Forget you ever saw it! Pl-Please!”
“Honey, you’re too paranoid. Kalypso, forget it, yeah?”
“Good, now go meet up with the other girls.”
“Ok. I’ll see you later then.”
“Alright Perry, look into my eyes real quick.”
I complied. Her eyes were beautiful. A sparkling blue that had history behind them. Those eyes gave off a sort of aura. I feel like she could be as observant as me, if not better.
“Yeah, you’re definitely Leuce.”
“All the Ferry Maidens get a stage name, and my eyes are telling me that you’re Leuce. It took a bit to figure out though. The time you work as a Ferry Maiden, you’ll be called that, so don’t forget it. The auction’s starting real soon, you still up for it? I realized my mask went kaboom all over your pretty face, but I promise it wasn’t intentional.”
There wasn’t really a point for this, was there? The mask clearly wasn’t compatible with me, and the longer I stayed in this place, the more I was at risk to getting found out. I suppose my hypothetical contract would be beneficial on a financial standpoint. After all, I would need money in the future. It’s a small benefit, but I feel as if I’ll be betraying Miss Admete and Amp if I back down now.
Fine, I’ll guess I’ll do it.
“Miss Admete, I’ll still be a part of the auction.”
“Really? Wow, honey! You’re way too nice. But it’s greatly appreciated.”
Opening my locker to see a girl chilling with my mask was certainly an experience. She looked scared out of her mind, curling up in an attempt to not be seen. It was obvious to me that she was using some sort of skill to hide her presence, but I had sensed her long ago. I had used my skill [Dispel] to rid her skill and see her entire being.
She was leaning towards the shorter side, and she was dressed in a Ferry Maiden uniform. I suppose Ms. Boss found another contender for the auction. She was weird though.
Her eyes had different colors, and she had marks on her face and hands. The thing most notable about her was her hair. It was silver! Was she related to the Goddess? I could only wonder.
Miss Admete had told me to forget about her, but how was that possible? She was a fifth rookie, and a weird looking one at that. Truth be told, it angered me. I’ve always had trouble standing out, and the other three rookies, though I am close with them, sometimes don’t even notice my presence. With another person standing in my way for a good contract, I felt a bit demotivated.
I’ve attributed my lack of presence to some kind of curse. All four of us have changed since we’ve dipped into the river. Melinoe has had frequent nightmares, and Minthe has to endure random periods of mood changes. She’ll be her normal calm self until she starts wailing. I’ve talked to Lethe’s parents, and they’ve said that she has had trouble recalling many events throughout her life.
The thing that makes Charronne stand out is us Ferry Maidens, but I hate the system. People are subjected to pain and even death due to the entire auctioning system. People have dipped their children in the river only for those children to pass away in a few days. Tourists have come to seek the Maidens, and there have been cases of some Maidens going missing. Some have been mistreated, others overworked. My sister was crippled because of her employer.
There’s nobody doing anything to stop it all.
I’ve expressed my grievances to Miss Admete, and she’s shown her support for me. Apparently, she was looking for ways to change the system from the inside. She has her grievances too. I allowed myself to be recruited because of her.
As I’ve said, I generally don’t stand out that much, and although I hate that aspect of my curse, I’ll use it to my advantage. I would probably be able to do things without people noticing. I’ll need to cause change, which is why I need to get contracted with a notable bidder. If some no name family comes to use me, my ambitions will crumble in seconds.
This means the Mayor is the best target.
Sorry, Melinoe. Sorry Minthe. Sorry Lethe. You may want the Mayor’s contract, but it’s for the better of the town. I’m not going down without a fight. I’ll use the rules of the auction and I’ll make sure people notice me. Though, I’ll need to be wary of the silver-haired girl. She’s a new factor into all this, and I’m not sure what her talents are.
I eventually made it to the backstage. Of course, I’m here before the other three. The auction starts in less than 5 minutes, but they still aren’t here. Somehow, they always go the wrong way.
“Hah! We made it! Just on time too!”
“*Huff* Lethe we’ve been here before. Though not with Melinoe making us run so fast.”
“Geez, and where the heck is Kalypso? Wasn’t she right behind us?”
Actually, I went a completely opposite direction from you, and I met a competitor.
“I took a shortcut.”
“Ahh! Again?! I swear you’re doing that on purpose!”
“If that’s what you think…”
“So, this suspicious drink is supposed to make me feel better?”
“Hmm, hmm? Yes, Ferry Maiden, I brewed it myself. I gathered only the finest of herbs and used the greatest mortar and pestle. It clears headaches and your burns will feel better too.”
“You’re sure this is safe?”
The potion was in a glass bottle. It oozed an unhealthy mix of lime green and neon purple. It smelled stale.
“Of course! People always say my creations are funky, but they rejoice when they feel better afterwards. How could they not? They were created by Miach Adonis Dian, after all. I’m the best healer in town!”
“Did you really have to say your entire name and slogan again?”
“It was entirely necessary. The folks need to know, do they not?”
…What folks? Ignoring him, I studied the potion once more. Welp. If this kills me, send my regards. I chugged it. It tasted like an extremely powerful orange juice, with the thickness of syrup and the aftertaste of chicken gizzard soup.
It was disgusting.
“Blech! I n-never want to drink that again.”
“But you feel better, no?”
“…You’re right. I do. My arms and legs feel lighter, and my head feels clear. I guess you’re good at this stuff. But I have a question. How’d you know about my burns?”
“Your mana. In fact, that’s how I recognized you. You scurried away before I could explain anything.”
“My mana? I’m not understanding.”
“Surely, you know about how everyone has a flow of mana in their bodies, right? Mana tends to gather at the wounds with blood in order to heal the body. You had that all over you, and since your hands were burnt, I naturally assumed it was the same in those other places as well. Though, you’re a peculiar case. You seem to have two entirely different currents. Your mana is battling itself on which current gets to heal the wounds. It looks as if they’re trying to find a way to merge into one. Much like a bickering couple.”
My magic was just compared to a bickering couple. Though, that was interesting to find out. The only thing I could think of is that one current of mana belonged to me, while the other one was an artificial one created for this body.
“Ok… S-so, what deal did you want to talk about?”
“Hmm? Yes, the deal! I noticed that you were a Ferry Maiden by your mana, so I was going to ask for your service in exchange for healing you up and some food, but it seems that reality is out the window. I’ll have to auction for you instead. That hag got to you before I could.”
“Didn’t you just heal me though? Even if you bid, will you have something for the contract?”
“Well, I healed you because that hag made me. If I step out of line, I’m dead meat. She’s got my father on a leash too. I don’t know how she does it. He’s the most stubborn man I know. Anyway, my side of the contract is simple. You’ll get to experience my undying charisma and charming personality! *wink*”
“…Ferry Maiden? Did you get that?”
“Hold on hold on hold on! Surely, you must have swooned over my performance?”
“…No. Not even a little. I’m leaving now.”
“Please, just a minute! What do you want? Money? Free heals? A 2g coupon for Pigbelly Inn’s Hearty Oink Oink Meals? I’ll get it for you! I need a Ferry Maiden so I can accomplish something soon!”
Aw man, now he’s begging. When people don’t know when to stop, I don’t know what to say.
“I-I told y-you already. I’m l-leaving!”
“Aw honey, you get cute when you’re flustered. Though the Dian boy gets ugly when he’s groveling.”
“Miss Admete? When did you get here?”
“Aw, the hag has returned.”
“Hag?! I’ll have to teach you some manners Dian boy. Anyway, here you go Leuce. It’s a ring injected with a special magic that provides you the same abilities a mask would. It’ll last for about a week, but then it’s toast. It’s the best I could do. I suggest not changing your appearance. You might lose your hand.”
This ring was certainly a Plan B, but I’ll guess it’ll work. I’ll believe Miss Admete about its power.
“Thank you, Miss Admete. Has the auction started yet?”
“Yep. You’ll be fashionably late, but maybe that’ll help you. Follow me honey, it’s time for you to shine. Oh, and Dian boy. You’re gonna want to make your way over to the audience. If you want a lady, you have to work for it, don’t you know that?”
“Ugh, I know, but nobody ever gives me a chance…”