“Agnes, I absolutely will not walk into that hall with a dress on.”
“Miss Ren, you must. There is no other option for your attire.”
I was currently arguing with Agnes on my appearance for the dinner tonight. If there was one thing I was certain of, it was that I was not going to wear it. No way. I’ve already lost a part of myself today.
“Agnes, I will not wear it.”
I probably sounded like a little kid, but I simply didn’t want to. Couldn’t I wear a blouse with fancy pants or something like that? I realize that an appearance like that could be frowned upon, especially in a location such as this. If I recall correctly, every lass of the First Heroes had a dress at the dinner, and I remember wearing a simple suit. I wonder if anyone then had grievances with their appearance? I glanced at Agnes and I swear, for a split second, her demeanor changed. Before I could place what emotion it was, she was right back to being formal again. I was annoying her, wasn’t I?
“Miss Ren, I assure you I picked this dress out with the best intentions.”
“You picked this out yourself?”
“Each servant did so for their master.”
I took a closer look at the dress. It was simple and silver, with long sleeves. The ends of said sleeves were a bit frilly, as was the collar area. Compared to some dresses I’ve seen the nobles wear around here, it was quite reserved. I wondered why Agnes chose this dress.
“Hey Agnes, what caused you to pick such a dress?”
“Miss Ren, I did my best to find a dress that would suit you. For example, the color matches your hair, and sensing your discontent towards donning such an attire, I’ve made sure that it’s not overly frilly or puffy.”
Oh? I had no idea that such careful planning went into the choice. I feel like a jerk now. The dress was admittedly pretty, and if I did have to wear one, I would rather take one like this. There really were no other options, were there? Sighing, I decided to honor Agnes’ choice.
“…Okay, fine. I’ll wear it.”
“Do you need assistance in putting it on?”
An embarrassing preparation session later, after learning about the process from undergarments to final look, I stood in front of the mirror, with Agnes behind me. My messy hair had been brushed and fell straight down to my back. Agnes had applied a bit silver under eyeshadow and had also painted my fingernails silver. The dress looked nice on this body, and it wasn’t long enough to worry about tripping over it, which was nice. I had simple silver shoes that seemed to sparkle a bit. Geez, just give me second place already, I was silver all over.
“See Miss Ren? You look beautiful right now.”
Was that the beginnings of a smile on her face?
I wasn’t used to being called such a thing as beautiful. I can’t remember the last time I was complemented on my appearance. This didn’t feel right. Especially since this wasn’t me. I silently addressed the owner of this body. Miss, wherever the heck you are, you were just called beautiful, congrats.
“Miss Ren, shall I guide you to the Dining Hall?”
“That would be nice, thank you.”
Agnes left me at the entrance, and I willed myself to walk in. The Dining Hall was nearly the same as it was the last time I ate here. There were four long tables near the entrance. Stretching across the red floor until about halfway. Then, an open space reserved for dancing. I would stay far away from that place. Past that there was a raised floor, a bit higher than a normal stage, with a table on it. The chairs were all on one side, facing the floor and tables, with an obvious throne for the leader.
I wondered if, like last time, the nobles of the kingdom would come to gather. The size of this room certainly allowed for such a thing to happen. I bet even their heirs and other kids could dine at the same time. Though, I was doubtful of such an event. I’ve thought this before, but last time I was summoned, there was much more spectacle. Do the nobles of Entrendei even know about the existence of the Second Batch?
When I walked in, I was surprised to see I was the first one there. Agnes must have gotten me ready quickly, though it admittedly felt like hours of preparation. If I recall correctly, those who were summoned sat at the table to the far left. We didn’t manage to fill up all the seats last time, but if both the First Heroes and the Second Batch sat at that table, then most of the seats would be taken.
The head of the table was over by the dance floor, and if Fujimoto sat in any seat, it would be there. I decided to place myself all the way down at the opposite end. The closer I was to him, the higher the chances of doing something that could expose myself. Curse him for remembering my name. With nothing to do, I closed my eyes and started practicing how to manage my mana.
I was so caught up in the trance I didn’t notice when I was tapped on the shoulder, multiple times.
“Aw, did you fall asleep, Ren?”
I looked towards the voice. Who was this again? I struggled to remember the blur of today’s events. Looking for any distinguishing features my eyes gravitated to their pronounced belly. Ah, it was Usagi, the pregnant woman. She was in a nice red top with a long black skirt. Taking a glance behind them I saw Naoki, the man with a damaged foot. He was clad in dark green and leaning on a wooden cane. It seems that they were early too.
“Ah! Sorry, sorry, I z-zoned out there.”
Usagi and Naoki took seats by me. These poor people. I’ve been through this ordeal once, but they haven’t, and they have limitations on themselves. We ended up discussing about the type of food we like. Doing so made my stomach grumble. Just as I was wondering how long I’ve been here, the doors to the hall suddenly burst open, and in came the rest of the Second Batch. Huh? Was there a sort of meeting I missed? Were we all supposed to stroll in like we were about to take down a big bad? I addressed the two sitting with me.
“Hey, do you know what this is all about?”
“I dunno, honestly.”
“Oh, they actually went through with that? How cute.”
It seems Naoki was in the same boat as me, but Usagi knew. According to her, Daigo had asked the Second Batch after role assignment to meet before dinner. I rushed out of that hall at the first chance I got… Did I just miss an important event? Missing key details with my supposed comrades is probably not good. I had no ideas what their classes were, or what strategy they may have just come up with, or any other important facts.
They all found seats at the table we were at, but I didn’t pay much attention to them. I couldn’t after realizing that I practically ghosted them. Instead I focused my attention to the two I was talking with before. I noticed that they were calm and humble when compared to the others, and I found it a nice wavelength to cruise on. I learned that Usagi was expecting a girl, and was 7 months in. I learned that Naoki damaged his foot while working on a building, as he used to be a construction worker. I wonder what they learned from me.
Soon, the Dining Hall started to fill up with more people. Keeping an eye out for anyone I should hide from, I noticed nobles. I guess the Church was revealing us to the public after all. My classmates eventually started to filter in as well, and Fujimoto placed himself exactly where I thought he would be. There was no real assigned seating, and I found that weird. Some families of nobles split up, with the children going to different tables, perhaps for some courting, and the ladies going to talk with friends. The lords seemed to want to place themselves as close to the raised table as possible. How was one supposed to represent their house, when they were all over the place? It was too casual. Was it like this last time as well?
I noticed some butlers building something wooden in front of the middle of the dancing floor. It had steps at the back and raised into what looked like… a balcony?! Before I could retort in my mind, Xenomyr had already placed himself atop the structure. Like clockwork, he held his hands up and started yammering away.
“Esteemed guests! I thank you all for taking the time to come here tonight. I have some important news to discuss with you all. The Elves have started to make advances towards our country!”
The hall instantly filled with chatter.
“BUT! Do not fear! We have summoned a new round of Heroes to… assist us with this impending threat. O Heroes, if you would please stand!”
…What was with that pause? Xenomyr what are you scheming? As I stood, I saw bewildered gazes shoot our way. Through the forced applause, I hear questionings between the nobles on the validity of the Second Batch. Seems like I wasn’t the only one who thought we weren’t fit for the job.
“The Church thanks you all for your continued support of our efforts! We will continue to aim for true peace, and so tonight we dine on the meat of an elder dragon, slain by Lord Fujimoto himself!”
As much as I hated the current situation I was in, I started drooling at the thought of dragon steak. I’ve had it only once, but it is so undeniably delicious that the chance to try it again enticed me to cooperate. Wait, I had to stop myself. Things were wrong here. One, Fujimoto had slain this dragon, I didn’t trust him, and I didn’t want to indulge in his successes. Two, Xenomyr seemed a bit off in that speech. What were we “assisting” with exactly? If the Second Batch weren’t the main focus, then what even was our point here?
As I was stirring in my thoughts, I was served. Three slices of dragon steak, with purple perriseed and chiita grain as sides. There was a small pitcher for honeydinkle sauce. All wonderfully tasty foods that made my stomach growl louder on sight, but I restrained myself. I couldn’t trust food blindly anymore. I had once done so until a certain time on my previous journey. I had gotten my food spiked with a paralyzing drug and had to have myself healed by a classmate. It was a terrible experience.
I watched the Second Batch eat. Usagi was eating if as she was eating for two… which I guess she is. Kaneki was masterfully using the fork and knife, slicing the steak with deliberate movements. Daigo… wasn’t even using utensils. The sheer diversity of the cast struck me once more. I waited for about 5 minutes until I gingerly cut a corner of the steak.
Holding the fork up to my face, I started to stare at the piece with my full concentration. I was attempting to see if I could perform a skill I once knew, called [Stink Eye]. I found it to be a stupid name, but its use was important. After that incident with my spiked food, I had made it a goal to learn the skill. It allowed the user to sense any sort of abnormality within a substance. For example, poison in wine. The color of the substance would shine blue if it was safe, and a murky yellow if something was up.
As opposed to mana, which flows through the body, skills tend to affect the body physically. If I wanted to speed up, my legs would be sore after battle. So, for [Stink Eye], I would have to concentrate on enhancing my eyes to see any changes. I couldn’t use it for an extended period, lest I want some glasses upon my face.
After willing my eyes to activate the skill for a bit, I found the dragon steak shining blue. Wow, that was easier than expected. Just a few tries and the skill activated. It took me a week to hone that skill in my last body. Perhaps the desired result was achieved faster because I already knew the process in order to activate the skill.
Confirming the food was safe, I immediately started to dig in. Aaaah, it was so tasty. I cleaned the plate before I realized it, though with some regret. Not accounting for the smaller body I was housing, I overate. This body really has its inconveniences.
I glanced toward the dance floor, where something was going on. It seemed like actors were reenacting the battle with the Demon King. A Fake Fujimoto with some other key classmates, such as a Fake Hisoka, were brandishing weapons at a Fake Demon King. As much as I didn’t care for my classmates, I had to feel pity for those who were deemed unworthy to be in the show. I know they did just as much work as any other and risked their lives just as much. Fake Fujimoto spouted some motivational, generic, protagonist-like, nonsense and struck the final blow. The audience clapped. I did not. That was not how it went at all.
The circumstances behind that battle was so much more than “Oh no, the demons are invading!”. When assisting with cleanup, I naturally looked through the castles and settlements found in the Demon Territory. I found documents, notes, diaries. Most in demonic writing, but the default skill granted to us who were summoned allowed us to understand any language of Gresia. The Nine Generals and the Demon King, despite leading mindless abominations, cared for their subjects. There was a lack of resources, and so when one General was sent to negotiate with humans about such a thing, the Church seemed to take it as a threat and attacked.
It sickened me. Knowing that I helped caused destruction to a race that didn’t deserve it. I did my best to honor those that were fallen. No one knows, but I set up a small shrine in the ruins of that place as a way to atone for my mistakes. It was why I was hesitant to blindly follow that twig’s ramblings on the Elves. Did they really do anything wrong? Are they actually coming for the humans? I could easily off a mindless beast, but Elves looked and acted so human. Could I even handle fighting, let alone killing them?
I pushed my thoughts away as I started to see some people make their way to the dance floor, and heard a waltz start to play. I stood up with the crowd… and went the opposite direction. I stood by the hall doors. I was terrible at dancing, and there was no way I would perform remotely acceptable in a dress. My newly soured mood wouldn’t be doing me any favors either. I muttered to myself…
“Man, I wish Agnes was here…”
“You called, Miss Ren?”
What the heck, she appeared out of nowhere! Don’t make me yelp Agnes, I’m trying to stop doing that!
“Apologies, Miss Ren, it seems I’ve startled you.”
“Yeah! How the heck did you get here?”
“Did you not wish for my presence?”
“Then I am here.”
…I’m just going to stop questioning what just happened. I asked Agnes on what she knew about the Elves. According to her, they live in the farthest reaches of the forest, with a society that is strict and rudimentary. They usually excel at archery and have some of the highest magic output of any race. They were led by an Elven Queen, and they usually live for hundreds of years, with High Elves reaching the thousands.
Basically, it was the typical elven society. When I asked for any particular movements or actions the Elves had taken in the past few years, Agnes stated there was none. They tended to keep to themselves, apparently.
“Well, thank you Agnes, I think I’ll wander around the hall a bit.”
“…If you wish.”
By wandering, I meant routinely placing myself in certain spots to observe the people in the room. I had activated [Stink Eye] earlier and wanted to try out some similar eye-based skills. Specifically, [Assassin’s Eye] and [Rouge’s Eye]. The names were redundant, sure, but they each had their use. [Assassin’s Eye] allowed me to perceive vital spots for attacking on any living creature, while [Rogue’s Eye] allowed me to sense if any treasure was in the area. This consisted of jewels, gold, and the like. I managed to activate both after a series of trials, though my senses were overloaded after using [Rogue’s Eye]. There was too much treasure that the nobles carried on them, and my head started to spin. Stumbling towards the wall, I regained myself. Note to self: don’t use that skill in a wealthy place.
The speed at which I acquired these skills again surprised me. I wanted to try more, but my eyes started to burn, and I now had a headache, so I stopped. I could only attribute my fast learning to my past experiences, but I wasn’t complaining. Such a boon would allow me to get to Xenomyr all the faster.
Feeling off from my practice, I decided to stay reserved for the majority of the time. I stood by the doors once again, though Agnes was gone this time. I was minding my business when a young man strolled my way. I didn’t recognize him. He had shaggy, shoulder-length brown hair, and a weird glint in his hazel eyes. He had white noble attire on. Is he walking towards me?
“Miss, your beauty outshines even the jewels ‘round my father’s neck. It has brought me here like a thief to a forbidden treasure. I am Augustus Justice Promethus III, and if you allow it, may I take you to a dance?”
“H-huh? W-well, I-I, don’treallywanttoI’msorry…”
Oh no. I wasn’t prepared for this. I tried staying as inconspicuous as possible, but I obviously failed. I haven’t danced in a while. I still don’t know this body. Would the true owner of this body go ahead and dance? Did she get invited to dance a lot? My face was probably red. I could feel my eyes downcast. I’m not prepared, I don’t know what to do, somebody help me. What was with that over flattery? It was cheesy! I’m not the one who’s pretty it’s her! You’re talking to me at the wrong time! Go away, noble son, please. I’m against the wall, if I bolt now, I attract the attention of the nobles, I can’t have that. I don’t know what to do. If I go dance with him, I embarrass myself in front of the whole room. That’s still attention to me. Please leave, I don’t exist, who are you talking to? I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel well. Someone help me. I don’t know anyone here, but please someone help me.
“What was that Miss? …Hey, are you okay?”
Suddenly there was the sound of glass breaking, and a screech form some woman. I heard some arguing between nobles. Augustus’ face twisted into one of disgust.
“Ugh. My father is at it again. You’ll have to excuse me miss.”
He left. I slowly sat myself on the ground. What the hell was that? I spiraled out of control! I thought I’d curbed my instances of overreacting, but I guess not. All it took was a polite, “No thank you.”, but I couldn’t even manage that. It had to be because I was unfamiliar with everything. I needed to fix myself. I needed to accept the situation I was in and deal with it. I needed to refocus.
I was in a female body, and so had to live accordingly. Just put the “Ren” into the vessel, and act as I would normally. Learn skills. Learn magic. Tone the body. Improve the flow of mana. Get to Xenomyr. Make him undo his mistake. Get home. I had a timeline, and now I needed to follow it. I had let my body distract me, but I need to minimize the occurrence of those instances.
After recovering, I stood by the hall doors until we were released, and the dinner was over. Being the first one out, I waited outside until I could spot the person I was looking for. I needed to clear something off my chest. There he was.
“Sir Promethus, may I take a moment of your time?”
“Oh, the Miss I asked to dance. Sorry I couldn’t honor my request.”
“Don’t apologize, I should be the one doing so.”
“I didn’t provide a proper answer to your request. If we meet again, then I will dance with you.”
“My, what lovely news! Then I will look forward to it, Miss.”
“Then I shall take my leave. Have a good night.”
“You as well.”
I left. As much as I hated the idea of dancing with someone, especially a man, I needed to do it. I would ask Agnes to teach me the necessary techniques. This did throw a wrench into the timeline I had set for myself, but I felt bad for the noble. It seemed his father was… not the best, and he had probably been looking for a distraction. As stupidly corny as his dialogue was, it was with good intentions. I felt that I had betrayed Augustus’ chance at escape, and so to resolve both the answer to his request, and that terrible sequence of thoughts that ran through my head, I had chosen the dance to conclude the matter.
I didn’t bother talking to anyone else and headed for my room. Seeing Agnes at the door, I asked for assistance in undressing and bathing. I needed to accept the body I was in, and so in the bath I examined it. It was super embarrassing, but at least not as much as earlier today. My nighttime attire was a simple white top with simple white shorts. They had slight blue accents and were really comfortable. I wonder if Agnes picked these out too. Refreshed, yet tired, I said goodnight to Agnes and nudged myself into bed. The day was finally over.