“Alright alright alright, Minthe will form a contract with young Sir Pluto for an astounding 90,000g! May your contract benefit you both! But don’t walk away just yet folks, here’s an interesting case we’ve got a special fifth Ferry Maiden for you all to check out! She’s extremely temporary. It’s a one-time, never again situation, so take advantage and bid! Going by Leuce, she sports the finest swirl in ages. She’s quite the rookie, in fact, she was only admitted earlier today, but she has shown astounding development! Leuce is able to manipulate the Ackeronne’s water to a certain degree. She’s quite dexterous but prefers to work alone. Leuce will be able to form a contract of up to 3 days! Leuce, come on out!”
Wow. I was really nervous. Too nervous. My legs were shaking. I was never one for the stage. It was certain that I would find a way to blunder that was near impossible. Tripping on nothing? Yep. The cringiest voice cracks? You bet. In a school festival play, I managed to accidentally say someone else’s lines instead of mine. How does that even happen?
Also, what was with that description? Spending an entire 103 words introducing me felt like a bit much. Yes, I was counting. I needed to distract myself, but it seemed that strategy didn’t do much to help me. In fact, it caused the opposite effect. “Astounding development”? I’m not that special! And what was “to a certain degree”? Was I incompetent or not? It made me feel like I was somehow impressive from a bird’s eye view but when you got close it was a total sham.
And a sham I was. On the outside you see what most people would consider a beautiful silver haired girl. But really, I was a confused wreck of a person who couldn’t keep myself straight.
It was become obvious that I couldn’t delay my debut any longer, so I slowly emerged from backstage onto the center of the auction floor.
It was… much more extravagant than I thought it would be. My picture of an auction house would be the desired items in a dirty ditch in the middle of an audience that circled around them. Somewhat like a football stadium. I found myself on a high stone stage with artificial waterfalls behind me. Parts of the stone stage were substituted for a glass floor, and small rivers of water were visible, likely from those waterfalls. The stone wall behind me had the mark of the swirl engraved into it, right between the two waterfalls. The audience was seated in front of the stage. It looked like the inside of a theater.
I felt stiff. I blamed the dress, but I knew it was me. After all, my hair and part of my face were visible to the world. The ring that Miss Admete gave me was glowing a lukewarm rainbow of colors. I had activated it by sending mana to my finger. I had been told not to wish any alterations to my body, and I really didn’t want to lose my hand, so I complied. I had thought of wearing a wig, but apparently Miss Admete didn’t have some. I thought that was quite odd. The magic ring didn’t remove my fear though. I’ve said this a million times that it has become redundant, but I can’t have people knowing about my hair! What if someone sees trough this ring’s magic? They’ll be able to identify me easily, and then I’ll be toast. I was given an unenchanted mask, just to match the other Maidens. It was a simple grey. However, this mask didn’t hide all the marks on my face. Miach’s potion was helpful, but the marks and burns were still present.
Speaking of Miach, there were some… similar individuals in the crowd. I heard guys whistling and some were pleading me to “have fun with them.” I don’t even want to think about that, so I did my best to ignore them. I heard Amp’s voice echo through the venue.
“Here she is folks! First, we’ll have her state what she’s looking for! Leuce if you would?”
I was warned about this, but still dreaded the entire process I was going to have to go through.
“I-I am Leuce! I will offer my services for three days maximum! Some food or gold is all I need. I will not be lodging with my client. It should be said that if anyone is looking to head north or east, I will have to decline their contract. Thank you.”
Ahhh, that was stressful! But I stated my demands. Obviously, if I stay with my client, I may be exposed. I can handle myself anyway. Northeast was also the completely opposite direction of where I needed to be, so that was a negative as well.
“There you go! Now, Leuce, will you manipulate the Ackeronne’s water for us?”
I saw that the glass flooring covering the rivers had been removed, and so I faced the one on my right. Collecting all the mana I could muster, I shot out my hands and willed the water upwards into a sizable bubble. It could probably fit an entire person in there. Struggling, I brought it in front of me, and moved my arms outward while willing it to separate. Now, with two half-sized bubbles, I turned around and shot the water back into the waterfalls.
I let my arms fall to my sides, they felt weak. That was the absolute best I could do. If I tried anything too extravagant, I could splash people with water, and that could lead to all sorts of legal problems for me.
I heard from Miss Admete that the other Maidens could perform much more extravagant maneuvers, such as creating a water serpent, or dancing with water magic. I’ve barely used magic, and I’ve only ever danced with Agnes. Obviously, I was not going to perform those actions.
I picked up on mutters throughout the crowd as I faced them once more.
“Kind of disappointing.”
“She has no class.”
“Was she struggling?”
Geez, if you wanted to chastise me you could at least do it to my face. I would feel less worse than I do now. I feel if you want to say something bad about someone, and you absolutely cannot keep it to yourself, you can at least tell the person. Amp spoke up once more.
“Alright Leuce, if you would kindly sit on the seat provided for you, we’ll have interested parties take a look at your swirl!”
I complied with Amp’s request and anxiously waited for any people to come up. One by one, they crawled up to the stage. I pulled back my bangs and let my swirl be visible to the world. It was not fun. So many different people breathing in your face and staring at you so close. I nearly shattered from the pressure.
There was one young man who had an intimidating aura to him. He was dressed rather elegantly, and I was so nervous about his presence that I could not move. He seemed to notice this and proceeded to lift up my chin and talk very close to my face.
“What a fragile being you are. Beautiful, but damaged. I would have taken you as well, but you’re a blemished product. How unfortunate.”
He left after removing his hand. What a jerk. I never wanted to interact with that man again.
A happening that was notable was the appearance of Berib. Of course, he didn’t recognize me at all, but he actually was a decent person and was mindful of the distance between us.
After being publicly analyzed by more people than I would have liked, Amp started the bidding process.
“Her initial bidding price is 20g! Anyone interested?”
Ouch. I’m worth as much as a simple dinner for two? This is really dragging what self-confidence I had left down through the mud. I suppose it only made sense. Not only did I appear out of nowhere, but I was a rookie and caused a bit of trouble. Perhaps my low price was because of Miach’s services. Was he expensive? Or maybe this was just normal price and I was getting ahead of myself. Despite the mutters I had heard before, people bid higher.
“She’s cute, 50g!”
“I like her burns, 75g!”
“She’ll be great at the tavern, 155g!”
…What were these reasons? Wasn’t I supposed to perform river related activities?
“I’ll show my parents I can get a girl, 200g!”
“I’ll protect you from his parents, 224g!”
“I need someone who can cook for me, 230g!”
…These reasons were getting a bit weird.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this, 500g!”
Wait a second, that was Miach’s voice. I can’t believe he actually participated. I saw him standing with his hand raised up.
“Mere boy, ya don’t know a thing! 750g!”
And was that Berib? I didn’t think I didn’t think he would actually bid on me.
“Woah! 750g! Will anyone go higher?!”
“Arghhh, I’m the best healer in town! I can’t lose! I’ll go higher! 1,750g!”
A whole 1,000g higher Miach? How much do you need a Ferry Maiden?
“Anyone else? Last call for your bids!”
I nearly developed whiplash by how fast I turned my head into the direction of that voice. What? Huh? Come again? 20,000g on someone as incompetent as myself? There was notable surprise from the crowd at such a bid, and I shared that sentiment.
The bidder was dressed in all black. It was very simple clothing with no intricate fabrics or designs. A black shirt with black pants and a black belt. Their skin was dark, and they had a shaved head. They wore what seemed like sunglasses, but I was sure they didn’t exist in this world. Who was this person, and why did they bid so much? I looked back to Miach to see a completely devastated look on his face. Berib had one of utter shock.
“WOW! 20,000g! What a jump! Is anyone brave enough to reach higher! No? Then that’s all folks! Leuce’s service is sold!”
…What just happened?
I was finally free from that stage! I washed my face and hands, and then I did it 4 more times. Are people just accustomed to touching others like that? Some of those people should brush their teeth and take a mint, blehh! I’d rather swallow a mug of dirt than go through that humiliating process again. And I could feel the aura of some of those people. They kept looking at this body like they wanted to touch it. No no no no no. I didn’t event want to think of lecherous eyes on me. Is this how girls feel when drunk guys are sizing them up at a bar? Person after person kept looking at my face and poking at my swirl. There was a girl who hugged me so tight that I felt the air shoot out of my lungs. The reason why? She thought I was cute. Cute? This damn body is anything but cute. Burned and battered, and a magnet for trouble.
I regretted ever stepping foot on that stage. Did the other Maidens prepare for this? Were they even treated like this? I don’t know how people had the will to withstand a constant invasion of privacy like that. How were there not regulations about a Maiden’s space? How?!
Whatever. It’s over now. I fixed myself, while desperately hoping for a bath, and prepared to meet my client.
The man who bid for me had a deep baritone voice.
“I have not bid on you for your service, but instead to both free you, and inform you. If you are to agree to this contract, a few things will happen. One, you will not required to indulge in your service as a Ferry Maiden, but if you wish to perform that role, I will hand you to the boy who claimed he could not lose. Two, you will immediately be given a sum of 5,000g to use for your betterment. Three, I shall hand you a letter from my boss himself, who wishes to collaborate with you on certain matters. Do you accept this contract?”
What was with this man? I’m receiving too much unexpected information at once, and I’m having trouble absorbing it. He had a boss, but I had no idea who that person was, or what they wanted to do with me. They seemed to be pretty wealthy, and 5,000g was a randomly huge amount of money. Should I even be allowed with that? I asked him a single question.
“Who is your boss, sir?”
“…I am unaware if you are familiar with the brand of these glasses which protect the eyes from light. Are you?”
“I am not. Though, they seem like sunglasses.”
“So, you know how they work. Good. My boss said you would. It is quite a revolutionary invention that was crafted by my boss himself. He brands his wares under the name of ‘[K]’.”
Wasn’t that the same brand as Amp’s out-of-place watch? I wasn’t going to lie, if there was some sort of modernization project going on then I would love to learn more about it. Though, as always, I was extremely suspicious because this [K] person knew who I was and where to find me. It’s a risk, but I won’t be able to go anywhere without a risk.
“I’ll accept this contract.”
“You have chosen wisely. You’ll find this relationship to be exclusively beneficial. Do you wish to be under the boy’s contract?”
“…I suppose so. If you hadn’t shown up, I probably would have been anyway.”
“Understood. Here is the letter and money. I shall take my leave now.”
“Wait, sir, what is your name, should I meet you again?”
“My boss is branded [K], and I am branded [M]. That is all you need to know. Farewell.”
The man walked away with no hesitation. I assumed he would go to talk to Miss Admete about my situation. I guess I’ll read the letter.
Greetings, Miss Ren,
If you are reading this letter on the day of the auction, I am happy to inform you that my plans are right on schedule. My colleague, [M], has hopefully bid a significant amount to access your services as a Ferry Maiden. Of course, we don’t actually require such services, so I shall not waste any more of your time.
If it has not been clear by this point, I am aware of your position, as well as who you are. Knowing the type of person you tend to be, this may concern you greatly, but I must say that I am not your enemy. In fact, my intentions are to aid you in your quest.
You seem to be lacking in direction and a concrete plan, and so, even if it is temporary, I wish to guide you. You are already heading towards Hasavanef, and I plan to meet you there. If you are inside the city walls of Savva within the month, then I shall help you. If you meet up with [M] in the town square at dusk on the day you arrive things will proceed smoothly.
I implore you to be prompt. We cannot have the tragedy of being off schedule. I look forward to our future interactions.
Whoever this [K] man was, he already knew way too much about me. That letter weaseled its way into my mind, took its contents and spit it out onto the paper. This man knew that I was heading to Hasavanef, he knew about my quest to stop the Church, he knew my lack of direction, and he knew I was a Ferry Maiden despite the ring. This man knew my name. How? Where and when did all this information leak out? Did he have someone trailing me that I didn’t notice at all? There was no way it was [M], because he made no moves to hide his presence, and he was way too big to hide efficiently. Will I even be safe if I go to Savva? Will it be dangerous if I avoid [K], and will he come after me?
Though, this was potentially great. If [K] was also against the Church, then that means I could ally myself with him. I would have to tread very, very lightly. For all I know, this could be a major trap. If I rush in like I did with Xenomyr, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.
“Ferry Maiden, hello hello! It seems you’ve been paired with me after all, how wonderful!”
And here comes a certain annoyance.
“Sir Miach, greetings. I am called Leuce. Shall we discuss our contract?”
“So stiff! Where’s your personality? Let it shine! I’ll leave some spotlight for you, ok? *wink*”
This dude must think he’s a main character or something. By all means, take whatever attention you can away from me. Please.
“Sir Miach, I will warn you once. Do you truly wish for me to be my true self?”
“Trying to act tough with a warning, eh? I beg you, take of the mask. Though, not literally. Those burns are unsightly…”
… Did he think I was deaf? I didn’t really care about my appearance, but that mutter irked me.
“*sigh* Judging me on appearances, are you?”
“Huh? Wait, how did you kn-“
“My burns aside… Are we going to form a contract, or…?”
“Yes! Leuce, let us do so.”
The contract was fairly simple. There was a specific rare herb that grew in a nearby meadow that only bloomed at this time of year. Of course, the Ackeronne blocked it off entirely, and so Miach needed me to access it. It was an interesting situation, because the river split to completely surround the meadow and merged back into one stream on the other side. Supposedly the meadow was never visited, so I found it interesting that Miach wanted to go. I’m predicting that something troublesome might occur there, simply due to the lack of human activity. I’ll have to be prepared.
Of course, I needed to think about every little thing, so I tried to predict Miach’s urgency in this matter. Did this herb only bloom for an exclusive time? Perhaps he needed to go there for something else but was giving me a false objective to deter my curiosity. Maybe he needed to prove himself to someone. There were honestly so many possibilities. I was probably wasting my time thinking about it all.
The quest was noticeably vague though. I did not know the name of the meadow or the herb, and Miach specified late afternoon as the specific time in which we would depart. Was there a reason? Was something involving this taboo? Maybe there were horror stories about that place that no one would dare talk about, lest they be haunted by some evil spirits or something. In any case, I probably should be able to handle any monster that might reside there. Strong monsters wouldn’t be so close to the Church after all. They would get hunted within days of their spotting. I’ll just hope for an uneventful journey.
“This somehow feels completely wrong.”
“Seriously? The Hearty Oink Oink meals are the best!”
“That’s not what I mean.”
I was sitting with Miach at a small booth at Pigbelly Inn. Remember that 2g coupon he had tried to bribe me with? Yeah, well, Miach used it while treating me for dinner. It didn’t feel right. He was awfully intimate for a client. It’s like he tried to worm his way in to whatever I did. Of course, I didn’t mind a free meal, I hadn’t eaten well in days, but this situation was still weird for me.
“Thenh bwhhat dooh you meenbh?”
“Please, chew your food and don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“Pardon me. I asked what you meant by your statement.”
“It feels w-weird being treated for dinner.”
“Isn’t that a normal thing?”
“…Not for me. B-But, I’ve said enough. I’m going to eat food now.”
I slowly cut a decent sized piece of pork from the tray and placed it on my plate. I took some gnashed motataoes as well. For some reason, they were called that.
“You cut horrendously.”
“Why thank you, I’ve been honing my skills…”
And thank you for stating the obvious. Even though I was a Rogue, my supposed skill with a knife vanished at the dinner table. I had no idea why.
“Ah! That was a slip of the tongue! I was simply too excited because you’re going to indulge in the best and only Oink Oink meal there is! Though, that’s kind of… a smaller portion than I expected.”
“You expect me to stuff myself full of pig? This will do.”
“Well, it’s called the Hearty Oink Oink Meal for a reason. It’s well, hearty, and makes you as big as a pig afterwards. That’s where the fun is supposed to be! Oink Oink!”
I stayed silent and marveled at how stupid an idea that was.
“Hey, why’d you go silent? And what’s with that look? You’re completely different than my sister when it comes to type of thing.”
“It makes sense. I’m a different person. If you plan to substitute me for your sister, just know that it won’t work.”
“…So, what brings you to Charronne? Were you perhaps intrigued by our culture?”
“No. I had planned to just pass through. I knew nothing of the river.”
“Hmm? Where are you heading?”
“You don’t need to know that.”
“Ok… Then how was your day? Did you feel wonderful up there on the stage?”
“No. It was terrible.”
“What a sourpuss. Perhaps I should have graced you with my presence and lightened your mood.”
“…You would have achieved the opposite effect. Why are you talking to me so much?”
“Why not? How about this: Do you have any ambitions?”
“Anybody you want to see?”
“Anybody you need to see?”
“Do you have anything else besides one-word answers?”
“*sigh* You’re playing hard to get, aren’t you?”
“…What are you implying?”
“You probably just can’t handle my wonderful style and are walling off my attempts to get closer because you don’t know what to do.”
“…No, you just suck at conversation.”
“Hmm? You’re no better from the looks of it.”
I ate the rest of my meal in annoyance.
“I will meet with you at the auction house in the morning, Miach. I must thank you for the meal, even if it was a bit… dry. Have a good night.”
“Yes! You too, dearest Leuce! May the elegant moon shine upon you. *wink*”
Hah. The moon. If you knew anything about the being associated with the moon, you would know that it’s not elegant at all.
I went inside the auction house to retrieve my gear, since the craziness of the day didn’t allow me to grab it. I was greeted as soon as I opened the door.
“Ah, Miss Leuce. I’ve been waiting for you. I assume you are here to gather your equipment?”
I was greeted by Amp, and he ended his sentence with that trademark glasses push of his. It has never failed to shine.
“Hello, Mr. Amp, you are correct in your assumption. Though, I’m off duty, so you can just call me Perry if you want.”
“Feel free to drop the formalities as well. You impressed me with your final bid of 20,000g. Boss couldn’t stop smiling. Today was all over the place, but I must thank you for the opportunity you gave me. Presiding over an auction and narrating it all was an event I’ve always wanted to experience. I certainly hope it didn’t feel like I used you. My intentions were not malicious, I assure you.”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll at least be able to get some gold. And, I’ll say, congratulations. I’m unfamiliar with this whole business, but you seemed to do a good job.”
“You flatter me. Oh! Perry, how did your contract go exactly? From my understanding, it was quite… complicated.”
“Ah, well, it is. That client simply needed to contact me. It’s some personal matters, but basically, I’ll be working under Miach for three days.”
“I see. I won’t prod, but if you need assistance with anything, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Uh, thanks. I’m not sure I’ll think of anything, though.”
“Regardless, here is your gear. I’ve put it in bag for you. You can keep the bag. It was a spare.”
“Thank you, Amp. You have a good night.”
“Come back to say bye before you leave for good, alright? The Boss will want to see you again.”
I yawned. I really need to get some sleep. Today was draining. There was too much conversation, too many people, and too much action. I slithered into an alleyway and quickly changed into my normal gear, stuffing the Ferry Maiden uniform inside my newly gained bag. It may sound a bit peculiar, but these tattered and burned clothes just made me feel more comfortable.
I also made sure to deactivate the ring. Whatever magic it held was valuable, and I would only use on duty for now. Ren and Leuce are two different people after all. I yawned again. Damn, I’m tired. My lack of sleep is catching up to me, but I exited the alleyway and pushed forward.
I hadn’t really explored the town, and so I figured I could search for something beneficial. I was considering taking Amp’s offer but putting him in danger of the Church didn’t sit well with me. The life of a criminal is a life of solitude, after all.
The markets were closed, and many individuals were shut away inside their homes. I walked by a couple of taverns, and there were… naughty places as well. This town had quite a variety of places to be. I stopped near one of the few places that was still open:
BIG C’S JUNK SHOP
An intriguing name for sure. I might as well check it out. A map, or maybe cheap clothes, could be useful. I was met with yelling as soon as I walked in.
“Can it old man! I swear you’re going senile!”
“Girl! Ya gonna have beef with me again, eh? C’mere, I’ll give ya a good smackin’!”
“Do I need to punch out another tooth of yours, ya geezer?!”
What is with this situation?! I saw a big, older man with a snowy beard and wispy hair. He donned old, dusty overalls and a faded yellow shirt underneath. He looked to be in some sort of old wheelchair. The girl he was arguing with had hair that was two-colored. A jet black and stark white, battling for dominance on the top of her head. It seemed like the black hair was winning, and she had her hair cut short. Her eyes were a fierce red, and for some reason, she felt familiar…
“Hahaha! Ya think ya can do that ta me girl?! You’ll be seein’ stars ‘n‘ floating ‘cross the river when I’m done witcha!
“H-hello… A-Am I intruding?”
“Hey geezer, we got a customer.”
“I’m not blind girl! I can see that. Ahem. Welcome ta Big C’s Junk Shop, we got all the random crap ya can think of here! Whaddya lookin’ for?”
“I can’t believe we have a customer at this hour.”
“See, girl? I know my business. This girl’s one of them night crawlers. Them sneaky snakes. They don’t want anything ta do with folks. Look, she got a hood and everything. She’ll prolly kill us if we take a peek at her face.”
“I… d-don’t plan to do that… But, uh, do you have some cheap clothes, or a map of the surrounding area?”
“Ey girl, ain’t this customer kinda fun-sized? Do we got small clothes ta fit her?”
“She’s a bit short, but I think you’re just too big, ya lub of tard.”
“Hahaha! Girl, you ain’t wrong. Go fetch ‘er some clothes, I’ll see what else she wants.”
“Yep. Don’t harass her though!”
“Aw just scram! Alright girl, ya wanted a map? Where are ya heading?”
“All the way down there, eh? I can draw ya one that’ll lead you on a trail there, but do ya got the money for that? It’s ‘bout 1000g.”
“Sure. Here you go.”
“Well, damn, ya came prepared. I’ll have it ready for ya tomorrow night, if that’s good witcha.”
“Hey, customer, do you know your size? I can measure you if you want that.”
Thinking back to my session with Miss Admete, I dug up the things she mentioned and addressed the girl.
“Ah, my sizes are --- and --- I think.”
“You wanna come over here to the changing room real quick?”
Somehow, I’ve ended up in the changing room with a girl. That makes twice today. The girl has a stack of clothes in her hands but addresses me before anything.
“So, what brings you here at this time of night? Customers never come here at night.”
“Ah, well, I was busy during the day. … You don’t plan to stay in here with me, do you?”
“Huh? Is that wrong?”
“I would prefer to be alone while I change.”
“Alright alright fine. Night crawlers want their privacy I guess.”
“Sorry for the trouble. Thank you.”
I spent my time trying on various shirts and trousers and the like. In the end, I settled on three outfits and one comfier set for sleeping. Though, I would only use that one if I slept in an inn or something. Alright, now it was time to change back into my previous attire…
“Hey customer I found this cute dress in your size if you want to try it on. I bet you’ll lo-“
I was only in my undergarments with no hood and no mask. Of course. My face and body were entirely visible to her. My burns and hair and eyes all out in the open. Being seen like this, I feel like I’ve lost a part of myself. In my previous body being seen in my underwear wasn’t anything special. In this body I felt like I was going to die if that happened. Stupid, stupid body of mine.
“Wait, that hair, aren’t you the new Maiden?! Kaly told me about you!”
She stepped inside and closed the curtain. No no no no no. Please, don’t do that. I had said I wanted to be alone. This room is pretty small, why do you need to talk now? Why are you looking at me like that? What’s with the Ferry Maiden business? Who are you? And who’s Kaly? Why’d they rat me out? How’d they know about me?
“C-C-Can you pl-please leave? I’m not done yet.”
“Whaaaat? But you have to tell me about yourself now! Since you’re a Ferry Maiden, I’ve got to learn all about you! After all, I’m one too!”
A Ferry Maiden? Someone, please help me.