Kiriko Epawsode 5: A Specious Smile
“Sorry, are you okay?!”
Standing up, I extended a hand towards the fallen, blonde-haired man who I had landed on. The man seemed to give a slightly complicated expression as he took my hand and replied.
“I’m fine…but what about you?”
“Ah, I’m alright. You cushioned my fall after all.”
I gave a small smile as I helped the blonde-haired man up. For some strange reason, he seemed to have a mystified expression as I did so, as if he couldn’t believe that I, of all people, would do something like this. Though seeing that irked me a little, since he had taken the time to help me out, I smiled again as I politely bowed and said,
The man fell into a stunned silence as I did so, shaking his head violently before finally stammering his response.
“N-No, it was nothing. You’re welcome.”
Having completed our simple exchange, the conversation stopped for several moments, with the both of us being unsure of what to say next.
Now that I think of it….even though I’ve hi⎯⎯bothered him so much, I still don’t know his name…
I glanced up at the man, noting that he was a head taller than me as I opened my mouth to ask him.
“Say, what’s your⎯”
“Still, I was surprised. You’re pretty strong.”
However, just as I had begun to formulate my question, I was rudely interrupted by the man’s baffling comment. Tilting my head, I conveyed my confusion with the man’s statement with a questioning gaze.
“Well, I thought it was pretty unusual for a female adventurer to choose a slaughter quest for slimes, but with magic like that, I guess you don’t need to worry about them dissolving your equipment. Although….it seems like you weren’t able to get away completely unscathed.”
The blonde-haired man’s golden eyes scanned my clothing, lingering on the small gaps that had been burned through by the slimes, exposing my bare skin underneath. Seeing this, I hugged my body, covering up some of the holes in my cardigan with my hands as I embarrassedly spoke back.
“J-Just what do you think you’re looking at, b-baka?!”
Hearing my flustered voice, the blonde-haired man averted his eyes as he mumbled a quiet, “S-Sorry.” Then, in a forced attempt to change the topic, he gave an upward glance towards the sky as he continued to speak.
“B-But yeah, veteran adventurers don’t usually like to do slime extermination quests because they damage your equipment. Newbie adventurers only do them because they usually have pretty bad equipment….but even so, it’s not a very popular quest, albeit a necessary one.”
As I directed yet another inquisitive gaze towards the man, he began to elaborate on his explanation.
“Well, not only do the slimes dissolve your equipment, when you killed them, they exploded, right?”
I gave a small nod of acknowledgement, unsure of what his point was.
“The slime’s bodily fluids have a certain…..pheromone in them, so to say. Basically, when you get covered in the stuff, it just attracts other slimes to you.”
“…….wait, I washed that stuff off before I got surrounded by them…”
At my comment, the man rubbed the back of his head and gave a wry smile. Then, he opened his mouth once more.
“Yeah, but you actually need a special soap sold by the guild to properly get it off. Just dipping in the river won’t get the scent off of you. Though it only lasts for about a day or two anyways, so you don’t necessarily need to buy the soap….”
My face went blank as I digested his words. Upon seeing my expression, the blonde-haired man sighed, having realized that I had no idea about what I had been getting into when I had registered for this particular quest. Bending over, he slowly began to pick up the many Slime Essences that littered the ground around us. As he did so, he calmly continued to speak.
“Anyhow, you should hurry up and finish collecting these and get back into town. The town’s surrounded by a monster-repelling barrier, so the slimes won’t be able to follow you in there. You can borrow the Guild’s shower and soap to wash off the scent as well – just ask Darius about it.”
“The guy at the guild reception. He’s the one you talked to when you registered, right?”
The faint memory of the man with the honey-blonde hair and sky blue eyes floated through my mind as he said that. After my encounter with the two unpleasant men in the guild, my memories of the other things that had happened in the building seemed to have faded slightly, having been overwhelmed by the exceedingly irritating experience. However, having managed to barely recall the receptionist that the man was talking about, I nodded as I too began to bend over and collect the surrounding Slime Essences.
A few minutes later, we had successfully managed to pick up all the Slime Essences in the surroundings. As I stretched my back, I muttered to myself,
“Geez, that was way too many things to pick up! I didn’t realize there were so many of them…..”
Hearing my small complaint, the pale blonde-haired man chuckled.
“Yeah, it’s fairly unusual for them to come in such great numbers. You’re lucky you had your fire magic, or else you might’ve had to go back into town stark naked.”
“Stark nak⎯⎯!? Ehhhh?!!!”
I gaped as a chill ran down my back, thinking back upon my earlier situation. Indeed, if I hadn’t unlocked my [Scorching Retaliation] skill, all of my “equipment” may have very well been dissolved by the slimes. And if that had happened…..I would’ve had no choice but to go into town wearing nothing but the slimes that surrounded me, or some leaves from the forest nearby. Either way, neither was an appropriate form of dress in the public eye for a young maiden such as myself….or any person, for that matter.
“Hey, you in there?”
The man nudged my arm, snapping me back to reality.
“You should head back now, before any more slimes arrive. With the number of Slime Essences you’ve collected, you should be able to buy new equipment once you receive the reward for the quest.”
I gave a downwards gaze before remembering the question that I had been meaning to ask since earlier. Then, raising my head, I looked the man in the eyes as I properly introduced myself. After all, it was considered normal etiquette to properly introduce oneself before demanding the name of another.
“I realize that it’s a little late for introductions now, but I’m Kiriko.”
“Ah, I’m Conrad.”
Catching onto my subtle hint to introduce himself, the man, or rather, ‘Conrad’, gave his name in return. Nodding, I smiled as I waved good-bye to him, deciding that it was time to head back into town before I was assaulted by more of the slimy monsters. However, just as I turned around to walk away, Conrad raised his voice once more.
“By the way, shouldn’t you hide your ears and tail before you get back into town? I don’t really mind, but some people here don’t take too kindly to beastkin….”
My hands jumped to my head as I felt the velvety ears perched upon it. Then, realizing that I had been transformed into my catgirl form the entire time I had been interacting with Conrad, my face paled as I whipped around towards him.
“P-Please don’t tell anyone, ‘kay?”
“I wasn’t planning…….on….”
His voice trailed off as I gave upturned eyes, basically begging him to keep his silence regarding my ‘identity’. With my slightly moist eyes and endearing expression, Conrad seemed to be at a loss for words before finally giving me a hardened expression as he opened his mouth to complete his sentence.
“I wasn’t planning on, and I definitely won’t tell anyone! It’s alright, you can trust me!”
He emphasized the last part of his sentence by hitting his left shoulder lightly with his right hand, balled up into a fist. Seeing his determined expression, I deduced that he was unlikely to spill my secret. Sighing slightly with relief, I quietly murmured the cancellatory words for my catgirl form, before looking up into Conrad’s golden eyes once again.
“Thank you, Conrad.”
As I spoke my words of gratitude to the young man, I gave a relieved smile, seemingly delivering the ‘final blow’ to Conrad’s heart as he was once again rendered speechless. It took several minutes for him to escape his muted state, but after somehow regaining his voice, he stuttered his reply.
“N-No problem! L-Leave it to m-me!”
Ehehe, how cute.
I giggled inwardly at his flustered state as I turned around, walking away from the scene while waving farewell to Conrad. However, not long after I had finally escaped, an extremely familiar sound entered my mind.
The small pouch made a large clinking noise as I set it down upon the counter roughly. Opening it up, I looked up at the male receptionist’s sky blue eyes as I said,
“Here’s the proof of slaughter for my quest, could you exchange it for me?”
The guild receptionist’s, or rather, Darius’, eyes widened as he stared blankly at the small pouch, which was filled to the brim with the small, translucent green, marble-shaped Slime Essences. Then, nodding slowly, he took the small pouch and began to count them, one-by-one. After only a single minute, he raised his eyes back towards me as he spoke hesitatingly.
“T-There are 33 Slime Essences here. Would you like me to exchange them all for Kin?”
As I gave my curt reply, I stared at the young receptionist as he took my guild card and began to charge it with my newly gained funds. Though my actions appeared odd, to me, they were not unfounded. After all, when I had been registering for the slaughter quest, I had received no warning whatsoever from the young receptionist regarding the more….risque aspects of the quest. While I had been walking back to town, I had suddenly realized the meaning of Conrad’s rather exasperated sigh as he had explained the potential risks of fighting slimes. Namely, the potential destruction of one’s equipment. Though I was simply a newbie adventurer, no, because I was a newbie adventurer, it should have been only natural for the guild to try to advise me regarding the possible risks I would incur by taking on a certain quest. Yet, not only had Darius not mentioned a single word about the pheromone that would be emitted from the bodily fluids of the slain slimes, he had also failed to mention the potential consequences of having the slimes attach themselves to my body. As such, I had deduced that he probably had purposely not mentioned the fact, likely in order to ‘enjoy the view’ later on when I had returned with my demolished equipment. Needless to say, I was pissed.
“H-Here is your guild card. T-There is a bonus of 5 extra Kin per 10 slimes, so you have received a total of 114 Kin!”
Darius trembled slightly as he passed my Guild card back to me, likely due to both the intimidating aura and cold stare I was currently directing towards him.
Hearing me speak so suddenly, Darius jumped to attention, his spine completely straight as he spoke with a rather high voice. Seeing this, I narrowed my eyes as I spoke with a cold voice.
“I’ll be staying the night in the Guild, but I’d like to use the showers. Is there an extra fee for the special soap to get off the slime’s pheromone?”
After hearing my last question, Darius’ face paled further as all the blood seemed to drain out of it rapidly. Though I would have been a little worried for him, had he been a decent person in my eyes, at the moment, being as annoyed with him as I was, I couldn’t have given two shits whether he fainted or not. With my words, however, he seemed to have realized the precise reason for my anger. That is, the fact that he had withheld more information than just the simple fact that the slimes could melt your clothing off.
The honey blonde receptionist bowed apologetically towards me suddenly. Raising my chin slightly, I looked down at him as I responded with a bone-chilling voice.
As the receptionist’s head remained lowered, I could see the hairs on the back of his neck rise as a cold sweat began to form on his clammy skin.
“It was unprofessional of me to omit part of the explanation for your quest! I’m sorry, I won’t do it again! So please, forgive me!”
At my silence, Darius gave a timid upward glance in attempt to decipher what it was exactly that I was thinking. While I felt uncomfortable maintaining my cold gaze in the face of his sincere apology, when I thought about what danger I could have been in due to his failure to properly explain the details of the quest, I somehow managed to stay in my extremely resentful state.
“Answer just this one thing for me.”
“Y-Yes! Anything! What is it?”
“Why did you do it?”
Darius looked up at me with a completely dumbfounded face. Indeed, while I had initially assumed that he had completely omitted the explanation of the dangers of the quest due to his lecherous motives, in the end, it was still simply an assumption. Without having the person in question directly confirm my suspicions, it was impossible to be completely sure that that had been his only motive in acting in such a manner. Having been told in the past by a certain black-haired individual (whom I had only met in person recently) that I frequently jumped to conclusions too quickly, I decided that, at the very least, I should take the time to properly hear the full story from the accused. After all, during my time here in Au, I would most definitely have to deal with Darius in the future to take on quests. It was in my best interests to be on as good terms as possible with him.
I relaxed my face slightly, indicating to Darius that I was willing to hear his side of the story, no matter what the contents. Seeing this, he seemed to give a small sigh of relief as he stood back up, straightening his spine. Then, giving a quick glance around the room, he waved for me to follow him as he walked out from behind the receptionist counter.
“I’ll show you to your room while we talk.”
Darius guided me to a small hallway that was to the left of the receptionist counter. After walking a short distance, he pointed to a small door situated at the end of the hallway with the word “Shower” written on it.
“That’s the shower room. It can be locked from the inside, and the Guild’s specially-made soap is also in there, so you can use that to wash off the slime’s pheromone from your body. There’s also a washboard to wash off your clothes in there too.”
Nodding, Darius then turned to the left again. It seemed that the previous hallway was connected to two other ones, which extended from both sides of the shower room. As he led me down the left hallway, I noted that there were several small rooms with a bed in each, visible from their partly opened doors. After passing by 3 doorways, Darius opened the door for a room and guided me inside. Upon entering the small room, Darius closed the door and muttered a few words under his breath before turning towards me.
“So? What’s with all the secrecy?”
I raised an eyebrow as I glanced at Darius’ face and sat on the bed placed in the corner of the narrow room.
“Well, it wouldn’t really be good if I were overheard, you see…”
Darius tilted his head downwards, as if he were deep in thought.
“While I won’t deny that I had some….perverted intentions, that wasn’t the whole reason why I didn’t tell you about the slime’s….attack patterns.”
“Oh really now?”
I crossed my arms as I looked into Darius’ sky blue eyes, trying to ensure that he was, truly, speaking the truth.
“Well…it’s honestly a common occurrence in this town, though you’re the first Rosso noble to realize that I didn’t give the full details of the slime quest.”
As he spoke, Darius gave a wry smile at the thought that he had been caught red-handed. Leaning against the wall, he waved his hand in the air as if he were trying to clear the air and continued.
“You know Keith, right? The skinny noble guy that was bothering you just before you left on the quest?”
“He’s actually the son of the noble who rules over this town, so generally, his word is law. But you know, he….”
Darius trailed off, as though uncertain of whether or not he should actually reveal the truth of the matter. Sensing that the information was rather sensitive, I leaned closer, so as to allow Darius to speak as quietly as possible. Realizing this, Darius brought his mouth closer to my ear and whispered to me. At his words, my eyes widened in shock as I stood up, getting off the bed. As I stared at Darius, he nodded, indicating that he was not, in fact, lying about the terrifying truth that he had told me.
“Well then, I have to go. Can’t leave the desk unattended for too long after all. You be careful, alright?”
My face remained in its dumbfounded state as Darius walked over to the door. He paused before touching the doorknob and seemed to whisper something before finally opening the door and exiting. As the door slammed shut behind him, I sat back down on the bed, still trying to process what I had been told.
Minutes later, I finally stood up and left the small room, the grumbles of my stomach beckoning me to the smell of food which came from the main hall. After consuming some much-needed nourishment, I spent a considerable amount of time in the shower, cleansing both my body and my clothes of the hidden pheromone that had made its way into them. It was close to 11pm, according to my phone’s time, at least, before I finally managed to make my way back to the tiny guild room I had been given for the night.
Upon entering the small room, which was furnished with just a single bed and a lamp, I immediately shut the door and locked it. Following that, I collapsed facedown on the bed, exhausted after the day’s events. As I pondered over everything I had learned during the day, I brought my phone to my face, staring blankly at the brand-new application that had been installed that very day.
Rolling onto my back, I continued to stare at my phone’s screen, and my attention was soon attracted to a familiar, green speech bubble-shaped icon. Despite knowing that I had no Internet, nor any telephone reception in this strange, new world, I couldn’t help but follow my usual nighttime routine as I gently pressed on the icon with my thumb. As I stared at the chat room for the Rainbow, my finger hovered over the message box, hesitating, before finally typing and sending off a test message.
I waited anxiously, staring at small text printed under my message, which seemed to indicate that my message was going to be received by someone, anyone. However…
A cruel reminder of my current circumstances soon presented itself on my phone’s screen. My eyes, which had initially been widened with hope upon seeing that my message was being sent, narrowed with despair.
“Yappa….dame datta ka….” (TL: Like I thought…..it was no good, huh….)
Muttering this to myself, I rolled further onto my right side as I gazed listlessly at my phone, and the chat room that currently connected to nowhere. A deep sense of loneliness assaulted me, driving me to curl up upon myself as a tight sensation gripped my chest uncomfortably.
“Cross-nii, Loli-nee, Sha-chan, Anri….”
I murmured the names of my friends, who I had suddenly met in person upon being summoned to this world. Though we had never truly met in person up until then, I had felt deeply connected to them, through the simple (and often silly) messages we had exchanged on numerous occasions. However, having suddenly become unable to send such messages to any of them, I once again was reminded of how truly alone I was at the moment.
“It’s so quiet….I hope everyone’s alright….sabishii-nya…” (TL: I’m lonely-nya….)
As I quietly voiced out my worries and petty complaints, I gripped the blanket that I had been lying upon and brought it to my chest, hugging it. My pair of newly materialized cat ears drooped sadly on my head, as my tail curled up together with me around the blanket. Though I didn’t begin to cry actual tears, my heart felt heavy with a sense of isolation that only seemed to drag me deeper into a dark depression. I hugged the blanket even tighter, attempting to chase away my worries and the deadening feeling within me.
“I should sleep…I’ll need energy for tomorrow too….”
To fill the void within the silent room, I spoke my thoughts out loud while turning to extinguish the lamp lighting the room. As the room sunk into darkness, I stared at the darkening wall, thinking about my friends and ‘family’ within the group. Closing my eyes, one last thought drifted through my mind as sleep enveloped my consciousness.
I want to see everyone again.