Prelude of Pearls: The 12th Prelude – Prejudice and Pretences
「W-WHAT THE HELL IS THIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIS!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?」
「Geez. Calm down, will you? It’s still really early in the mornin- *Yaaa~~~~~wn*」
「W-What do you mean, “calm down”!? How the hell can I “calm down” in this!?」
Shana exploded as her cheeks burned with shame.
Then again, her embarrassment really couldn’t be helped.
After all, her trademark hoodie was nowhere to be seen.
In its place was a peculiarly designed dress with plenty of frills and lace adorned all over it.
One didn’t need to be a genius to understand the appeal of these clothes.
Rather, many individuals throughout history were enamoured by its undeniable charm.
The name of this outfit?
At the current time, Shana Bonnet was currently dressed in a bona fide (and rather skimpy) maid uniform.
Although I had no idea as to why this particular dress was designed in such a fashion, I had to admit that it was quite a pleasant
and arousing sight.
「Well, put it this way. At least all the important parts are covered.」
「THAT DOESN’T REASSURE ME AT ALL!!!!!!!!」
Shana returned an explosive retort, reminding me of a certain impulsive imouto.
And while the memory of the red-haired cat caused me to grin involuntarily, it was obvious that the victim of this situation would take my smug look out of context.
「Hey! What’s with that smirk on your face?」
The detective glared daggers at me, her body drenched with a thirst to kill. Strangely, however, I was completely unfazed by her intimidation, shrugging it off without a second thought.
「Hm? Oh, I was just admiring your outfit. Don’t worry about it.」
Clenching her fist as her skin flushed even further, an embarrassed Shana zoomed forward as she swung her arm towards my head.
Yet, just before her fist made contact with my exposed cheek-
「Now, now. Let’s stop this here.」
Hiroko summoned her magical snake, commanding the entity to coil around Shana’s arm in an effort to prevent it from budging any closer to my face.
「-!? Hiroko! Don’t get in my way!」
「Oh dear, I believe you’re mistaken. You’re the one who’s getting in my way.」
As the noble’s face darkened, Shana trembled before lowering her arm and backing away. Though I wasn’t sure what sort of leverage Hiroko had over the detective, it was clear that Shana couldn’t rebel against the maiden of light blue.
Well, not sincerely anyway.
「-tch! You’re no better than he is! Where the hell did you get these clothes!」
Throwing an accusatory glance at the blue-haired girl, Shana exploded as she asked how Hiroko how she came into possession of these garments.
And of course-
「Why, that’s a secret~」
-Hiroko answered with a coy smile as she elegantly(?) evaded the maid’s question.
Yet, just before Shana was about to blow up in our faces again-
「U-Um! J-san! I-I’m done changing.」
A certain, innocent girl awkwardly walked out of the changing room, exposing her figure dressed in a maid uniform to the rest of the world. Judging from the streak of pink that dyed her visage with undisguised shame, Pearl was currently overwhelmed by unspeakable embarrassment.
Then again, my gaze probably wasn’t helping the timid young girl thrust into the sudden spotlight.
But honestly, I couldn’t help it.
As a man, my eyes were drawn to Pearl’s erotic elegant figure, as well as the clothes that served to decorate the exquisite jewel.
The separate pieces of the uniform that distinctly exposed the belly was quite similar to Shana’s outfit. And yet, Pearl’s attire appeared to be less geared towards the adorableness and, instead, gave an impression of elegance and purity.
In fact, the impact of her outfit was so jarring with her usual appearance that the inner sceptic within me couldn’t help but surface.
「……oi, those clothes don’t have any charm magic imbued into them or anything, right?」
「Of course not. They don’t make those kinds of clothes in 【Lucid】.」
Upon hearing Hiroko’s answer to my rather forceful question, I continued to gaze at the meek maiden before me. Receiving the brunt of my relentless gaze, a restless Pearl squirmed as her face blushed even harder.
Yet, while I continued to silently admire the coffee-brown gem before me-
「J-san, would you mind telling me why you asked such a peculiar question?」
Hiroko turned her head as curiosity managed to consume her conscious.
「Well, it’s not that big of a deal really. Pearl just looks really beautiful so I was wondering if this was caused by some sort of magic.」
I spoke casually, not placing too much thought as my mind was overcome by Pearl’s attractiveness.
That said, I would soon come to regret my lack of foresight as Hiroko began to pout.
「Geez, how rude. Don’t you think it’s impolite to immediately suspect a girl’s beauty?」
Hiroko chided, playfully attacking my words as she placed her hands on her hips in mockery. While the blue-haired noble’s light-hearted demeanour suggested that her critique wasn’t earnest, I had to admit that her argument was absolutely sound.
And so, while rubbing my head in embarrassment-
「Hm? Ah……yeah……you’re right. Sorry about that, Pearl.」
-I apologised to the girl that I had (unintentionally) insulted.
「Eh-!? J-san? W-Why are you apologising all of a sudden?」
Pearl turned, her face a bright crimson as she expressed a great deal of shock. While I could not deny her adorableness, upon ≪reading≫ her face, I understood that she truly had no idea as to why I was offering her remorse.
「…well, if you’re not offended, then don’t worry about it.」
「U-Um……H-Hiroko-sama………J-san……w-why do we have to dress up like this?」
Upon hearing a meek voice coming from behind Pearl, the petite figure of a girl with yellow hair shimmied out into the open. Needless to say, this child was also wearing a maid uniform of a different design.
Unlike Pearl and Shana’s uniform, the girl with blonde hair wore wholesome garments that covered a large amount of her skin. Appearing to be more traditional and less sexy than the more mature designs, this dress ended up emphasising its wearer’s natural cuteness to a disturbing degree.
With that said, the girl inside the costume was a figure that I had not seen in a week.
She was none other than Celest Ambrosia.
AKA a he.
It needn’t be said that I was utterly stunned to see how a guy fit so well in those clothes.
However, that didn’t seem to bother those ignorant of the boy’s true gender.
「Y-yeah! What the hell’s the point of this getup?!」
Shana grew agitated as she echoed Celest’s concerns, covering her body as she gave both Hiroko and myself an accusatory glance.
「What’s the point? Obviously, because it’s attractive, duh.」
「Indeed. Although I don’t really care that much about the two of you, Celest-chan and the others are so cute~~~~~~」
Hiroko nonchalantly declared as she drooled over the loli-maids collectively gathering in the restaurant.
Naturally, the actions of the noble with light blue hair reminded me of a certain acquaintance of mine renowned for her obsession with cuteness. That said, considering Celest was a bonafide trap, dark suspicions swirled in my mind as the lolis began to look a lot less……genuine.
「W-What do you want?!」
「………are these children actually girls? Or……」
「……ok. Thanks for the answer.」
As the detective averted her gaze in silence, I ended the conversation, confident that Hiroko was a parallel existence to LoliQ.
That said, upon looking at my watch, I understood that I couldn’t afford to inquire further into the noble’s peculiar tastes as I prepared to depart the premises.
「Anyway, if you have any questions, ask Hiroko. As for me, I need to get going.」
「Eh? W-where are you-」
Pearl abruptly asked, grabbing my arm as she stared with upturned eyes.
Unfortunately, however, I didn’t have the time to give a proper response.
「Ask Hiroko for the details. Don’t worry, though. I’ll be back in time for dinner.」
I gently clasped Pearl’s hand, loosening her grip on my wrist as I glanced at my blue-haired partner.
「You’ll be taking care of things here, right?」
「Leave it to me. There’s no way that we’d fail with all of these cuties❤」
Hiroko puffed her chest out, smiling confidently as she declared her intent to achieve perfection.
Yet, little did the enthusiastic noble know that her smile would soon be turned upside down.
「Ah, right. Before I forget……」
At my words, two maids suddenly stepped forward, their arms coiled around their mistress’ arms in an attempt to restrain her movement.
「Eh-!? H-Hey! W-What are you guys-!?」
「Ah, don’t worry Hiroko. They’re just following my orders.」
I calmly explained to a completely disoriented Hiroko in a matter-of-fact manner.
「Huh-!? W-What do you-!?」
「Well, I’m not going to bother explaining it all, but……」
I grinned, subconsciously activating my ≪Intimidation≫ skill as I spoke the following line with a sinister snicker.
「Don’t you think it’s a bit unfair if Shana and Pearl are the only girls to dress up?」
—-I took a pleasant stroll outside as I heard the shrill scream of the blue-haired noble. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that both myself and Hiroko’s loyal servants looked forward to seeing the outcome that resulted from our little escapade.
「S-Shana-chan! We’re running out of ingredients! Can you get me some more please!?」
「Yeah, no problem. Do you have a list?」
「I got it, Nee-chan. C’mon! We better hurry or else we won’t make it back in time!」
「Argh, I know already! Geez, why the hell are we doing something like this?」
As my best friend departed in order to deal with our supply shortage, I returned my focus towards the meal that was currently sizzling in my frying pan.
Or at least, I would have had I not began to question my attire.
(W-Why did I have to wear this ridiculously embarrassing costume anyway?)
I muttered to myself, unable to hide my displeasure of being subjected to such extreme shame.
Never in my life had I been forced to wear such a provocative and humiliating outfit.
『Pearl just looks really beautiful so I was wondering if this was caused by some sort of magic.』
As J’s compliment echoed within my head, my heart raced uncontrollably as my pulse mercilessly pounded against my chest.
My face was burned by shame, growing so hot that steam poured out of my delicate ears.
Throughout the entirety of my life, this was the first time I experienced a phenomenon of such an intense and relentless nature.
(C-Come to think of it, there were so many “firsts” that I had experienced since I met J……)
As I reflected upon the ordeals I had gone through with the blue-haired youth, I felt myself flashing through a myriad of emotions.
And as a consequence of the memories that flickered through my mind-
My eyes widened as I noticed a pink strand of hair falling onto the kitchen bench.
(-!? N-No! I have to focus! Focus!)
I closed my eyes desperately.
Blocking out my surroundings, I concentrated all of my attention towards my hair.
After all, if I didn’t, my secret would be revealed.
And that was something I couldn’t allow.
(Focus! Focus! Please make sure no one finds out!)
I placed my hands together in prayer, pleading with great desperation for no one to notice me while I worked to conceal that which should not be seen.
And so, after spending a short time in strained silence, I opened my eyes.
Thankfully, upon grabbing a strand of my hair and bringing it before my eyes, I was able to tell that I had succeeded in protecting my secret.
……or at least, I thought I was.
I froze as the sight of a blue-haired noble caught my attention.
Her beautiful turquoise pupils were filled with intrigue as she surveyed me with narrowed eyes.
As the noble’s mouth curved upwards, I shivered as a bone-chilling sensation assailed my skin.
My limbs encased in a merciless ice.
My heart plagued by a frosty fear.
Although I wasn’t sure why I was shuddering uncontrollably, that did not prevent the wintry terror from corroding my mind.
(W-Why did I have to lose control now of all times? Now that a noble knows about me, there’s no way that I’ll be able to keep living here!)
I thought as dread possessed every fibre of my being.
Now that my secret had been exposed, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I was going to lose everything.
And of course, that meant that I would no longer be able to see J.
(-!? W-What did I just-!?)
Being suddenly called out to by Hiroko-san, I jumped as a high pitched shriek reflexively escaped my mouth.
In doing so, however, I unintentionally drew the attention of all the other cooks in the kitchen, their stares like daggers which mercilessly drove deep into my vulnerable skin.
Yet, seemingly unaware of my distress-
「……I’ll be expecting to see you in your room during your break.」
Hiroko-san passed me a knowing glance before wordlessly making her exit.
Yet, as she made her rounds towards each of the hard working individuals at their respective workstations, I could do nought but stand there, utterly stunned.
Not because of Hiroko-san’s overwhelming pressure.
But because of the revelation I had struck thanks to my reflection of dread.
The first thing on my mind when I thought I was going to lose everything was not my mother, nor was it the restaurant that she had left behind.
It wasn’t the customers that had come by to see me so often, nor was it my best friend who I had spent so much time with.
Out of all the things that I had cherished in my life……it was always that boy.
(……as I thought. I’m really-)
I’m really in love with J.
After meekly knocking on the door of my own bedroom, I jumped slightly as the stern voice of the grand noblewoman echoed through the thin wood.
While I wanted to run away with all my being, I was painfully aware that I had no other choice but to follow Hiroko-san’s orders.
And so, I gulped nervously before hesitantly opening my door.
Like my trembling legs, my voice faltered.
To my surprise, a gorgeous woman whose exquisite physique was covered by an equally elegant maid outfit sat on the stool in front of my dresser.
「Ara? It’s nice to see that you made it, Pearl-san.」
「? Come now, dear. You don’t need to be so uptight. Sit down.」
Urged by the maid of light blue, I rigidly moved my body towards my mattress, sitting down gently as I gripped my skirt with heavy hands.
「……unlike J-san, you’re really stiff, aren’t you?」
「………*sigh*…look. I won’t tell anyone your secret.」
I jumped as I questioned Hiroko-san’s declaration with eyes of disbelief.
I mean, how could I not be shocked?
Expecting to be exposed for who I was by this noble, I was absolutely wracked with fear.
And yet, if this noble was true to her word, then I would have nothing to worry about at all.
「I swear that I won’t tell a soul. So would you mind relaxing a little bit? You’re starting to make me tense.」
I bowed my head as I apologised for making Hiroko-san feel uncomfortable.
Yet, to my surprise-
「………in a sense, you’re harder to handle than J-san is.」
-a complicated expression suddenly flashed across the noblewoman’s visage.
「Ah, no. Never mind. Just mumbling to myself.」
As Hiroko-san scratched the side of her head, I felt somewhat uncomfortable, most probably because she had mentioned the boy who had turned my world on its head.
「Anyway, I won’t tell anyone, but………do you think it would be alright if you told me about the details behind that?」
Seemingly trying to change the subject, Hiroko-san leaned forward in her stool as she pointed towards her hair.
It wasn’t difficult for me to infer what her gesture was trying to suggest.
In other words-
(She……wants to know my secret……)
I drooped my head, unable to meet the noblewoman’s gaze.
Unlike most Commons, the deep, dark hatred for nobles and their kind was not present within my heart.
With that said, I did not find it easy for me to warm up to such characters either.
And so, I hesitated.
「I see……so I guess your boyfriend’s the only one who gets to know, huh?」
Caught completely off guard by Hiroko-san’s comment, I involuntarily shrieked as my face burned brightly.
「Eh? You guys aren’t an item?」
「N-No! W-we’re not like……」
As my voice trailed off, I felt a slight pang in my heart, causing my expression to grow cloudy.
This sensation would have been indecipherable to the old me of a mere 3 days prior.
However, right now, I was fully aware of exactly why my heart ached so badly.
「…………I see………so does that mean he smooth talks just about anyone?」
「Oh, pardon me. I was simply lost in my thoughts.」
Apologising for her mutterings, Hiroko-san cleared her throat as she removed her hand from her chin before turning her gaze back towards me.
「In any case, even J doesn’t know about your little secret, is that right?」
I answered Hiroko with a disheartened tone as I felt my shoulders drop, mimicking my sharply declining spirit.
Though I was aware that I felt guilty about deceiving my saviour, I was still reluctant to confide in him about the truth about exactly what I was.
(After all, if he hates me because of it, then I-)
「…come to think of it, what’s the relationship between you and J-san anyway?」
I fumbled as my thoughts were interrupted, my eyes widening uncontrollably as I also began to ask myself this question.
We had only met each other a mere three days ago. Having declared himself as my mother’s murderer, I lashed out at J-san despite the fact that he possessed the deed to my cafe.
Yet, shortly after this rough start, I saw many sides of J-san that I had never even dreamed I would see.
In complete honesty, I had no idea when I had become so preoccupied with the youth, much less when my feelings began to first appear.
With that said, it was clear that my relationship with the man called J was one that could not be summed up in a single sentence.
「I’m……not sure, but……he’s someone very important to me.」
Unable to think of a reasonable explanation, I offered this sentiment as I clasped my hands close to my chest.
Hiroko-san simply returned a nod of comprehension towards my statement as she folded her arms and leaned back in her chair.
As she did so, however, my mind gravitated towards my utterances that my mouth had just released.
(I……I can’t believe I said something so embarrassing……)
My face burned brightly, causing steam to pour out of my ears once more. In an attempt to disguise my unruly unease, I twiddled my thumbs and lowered my head.
「Oh, by the way…」
I tilted my head to the side, expressing confusion towards the girl with the light blue hair.
As the noble’s face entered my nervous gaze, her features arranged themselves into a pleasant, yet strangely intimidating smile.
「I think J would prefer a pink-haired maid over a brown-haired one, don’t you think?」
At her words, my eyes bulged as I looked at the dresser mirror. Although Hiroko-san’s figure obscured the reflection, I could see several pink streamers flowing down from the top of my head.
(-!? N-Not again!)
Realising that I had slipped up again, I immediately shut my eyes, furrowing my brow as I focused intensely on regaining control. In doing so, the streamers lost their bright pink pigment, dulling back into the mundane and inconspicuous brown that I was familiar with throughout the majority of my life.
Even though Hiroko-san expressed amazement towards the phenomenon that occurred before her, I simply heaved a deep sigh, allowing relief to wash over my body as my back fell towards the mattress underneath me.
As I allowed my frame to be buried within the softness of my bed, my thoughts wandered towards something I had come to notice after all of these weird occurrences.
(…again……I lost control because of J…)
Every time I lost control over my secret throughout the day, my mind had, instead, been focused on the boy with deep blue hair.
What this actually meant, I had absolutely no idea.
Yet, what I did know is that I needed to do something about this soon.
(…J…………really……who are you?)
「*phew* Finally done……」
「G-Good work, J-san.」
Celest congratulated me as we hauled our fatigued bodies out of the guild.
Throughout the day, I was completing quests so that I could earn enough funds to invest in some weapons for our forces. Along the way, I ran into Celest who was sent by Hiroko to act as a supervisor of sorts.
Yet, by the time we had finished our business for the day, the sun had already set, causing the darkness to set over the town of 【Lucid】.
「U-Um, J-san? H-How much have we made?」
Celest asked, unsure of the details behind my harvest.
「Hmm……as an approximation, we’ve got 10 million Gen.」
Celest’s eyes bulged in surprise as he echoed the figure I nonchalantly declared.
Having spent the whole day farming for respawnable creatures, I had managed to earn the equivalent of $130,000 in the span of a single day.
And of course, this meant that we could finally obtain the weapons required to boost our manpower.
「Yeah. I just hope this will be enough.」
I murmured into the night sky filled with a breath-taking aurora.
Yet, at that moment very moment-
「-!! Urgh…my head……」
I clutched my cranium, assailed by a sharp pain as I collapsed onto one of my knees.
My vision grew blurry, unfocused as if the prescription in my glasses had been significantly changed.
My brain rattled as if it were shaking around in my skull like liquid in a can of shoe polish.
My teeth grew taut, clenched as if they belonged to a dog, gnawing through a bone.
I shook my head before habitually massaging my eyes in an attempt to relieve the pain. And, while my attempts were somewhat successful, my audible curse did not fail to attract attention.
「J-san?! A-Are you ok?」
「Y-Yeah……I should be.」
「W-Well, if you say so.」
Celest frowned as he bent down and offered me his shoulder as support. Though he didn’t possess the strength required to lift my body, I was thankful for his kindness as I placed strength into my legs.
「Anyway, we should get moving.」
Celest nodded as we began to make our way back to the cafe.
Yet, little did I know that this moment of weakness was a sign of something much worse to come.
A sign that perhaps……these bodies and powers weren’t the only things that Silvia had given us in this unfamiliar world.
「Welcome back, Master~」
The moment I stepped into the cafe, an extremely over-the-top greeting came from a variety of maidens in overly frilly clothing.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether I should be happy or just plain confused.
That said, it didn’t take long for a girl with light blue hair to call out to me.
「Ara? Did you enjoy the gift, J-san?」
Hiroko spoke, a wicked smile painting her visage.
It would seem that the girl was teasing me for being stunned by the sudden, fantastical display.
Perhaps this was her trying to get back at me for my little antics earlier that day.
Then again, maybe it wasn’t.
Yet, like the countless times before, her ≪intimidation≫ had no effect on me.
Rather, if I was honest, her attempts were starting to get tiresome.
And so, unsure of what to say, I simply stared at the girl with narrowed eyes.
「I-I’m only joking! Y-You don’t have to make such a scary face. I mean, we’re allies, right?」
「? What’s wrong with you all of a sudden?」
Flustered by my silence, Hiroko began to sweat as she desperately tried to appease my anger.
That said, since I wasn’t really upset, I tilted my head to the side in confusion.
「…eh? Ah, no…it must be my mistake. Somehow, you have a sort of dangerous aura around you.」
「…is that so?」
「A-Anyway, how did your end go, J-san!」
「Hm? Ah, well…I managed to get about 10,000,000 Gen. Do you think that’ll be enough?」
I spoke, neglecting to mention the 3,000,000 Gen I saved for private use. In doing so, I handed Hiroko the guild card that held the remainder of my revenue, causing her eyes to bulge in astonishment.
「…eh-!? D-Did you say 1-10,000,000!?!?!?」
From her vivid reaction, it was quite obvious that such a figure was overwhelming.
Yet, unfortunately, I could not express the same joy as the maiden of light blue.
After all, my head felt like it was going to split in two.
(Damn it, not again. I feel like shit.)
Feeling somewhat pressured by an unusual migraine that had decided to make its spectacular return, I grit my teeth once more, scowling as I brushed off Hiroko’s bewilderment.
「Well? How is it?」
「A-ah, s-sorry about that. I believe that we should be able to manage if we take advantage of the guild’s 20% off sale.」
「I see……well, I’ll leave it to you……」
Realising that my condition was causing Hiroko discomfort, I began to make my way towards the stairs, isolating myself so that I could take care of this fucking headache.
However, before I could even get past the crowd of wary maids-
I found myself unable to move forward as a familiar voice entered my ears.
In my state of agony, my gaze reflexively fell upon a certain brown-haired girl. Interestingly enough, it appeared that she had continued to wear the sexy maid outfit from earlier, causing much of her unblemished skin to become exposed to the chilly evening air.
Due to wearing such a form fitting costume, all of the right curves of the girl’s body had been accentuated, resulting in her figure becoming highly seductive in my eyes.
And, almost as if to further heighten the sense of immorality, a sweet fragrance drifted from the girl’s hair, swiftly subduing my mind of any rational thoughts.
(-!? W-What the-?)
A throbbing pain abruptly punctured my skull during the midst of my sweet delusion.
Excruciating anguish infiltrated my nerves, threatening to split my head apart as my brain was violated by an entirely different sensation.
「Um, I-I know this might be a little forward but……are you ok? You don’t look very good.」
Pearl expressed concern for my condition in her usual subdued manner.
And yet, unable to respond to her angst was me and my body, trembling under the pressure currently assailing my brain.
(Argh! W-What the hell is going on!?)
No longer able to bear the stress, I brought my hand to my head as I staggered towards the girl of coffee brown.
Needless to say, in the face of my obviously deteriorating health, Pearl grew even more worried.
The girl stammered as she supported my body with her own.
However, it was because of Pearl’s actions that a particularly pleasant scent tickled my nose.
「It smells so good~」
—It was at about this point where I felt my consciousness black out.
Whatever happened past this point, I wasn’t exactly sure myself.
However, the only thing I could remember about this incident ……was the following notion that imprinted itself into the core of my very being.
|The 11th Prelude – An Undesirable Development||XCrossJ’s List of Movements||The 3rd Segue – Convictions and Contradictions|