Vermillion - Chapter 25.1
In the evening, the GoldenGoose was thriving as the bar’s guests sat around the tables, enjoying some light chats while having some drinks together.
One young man, who sat at the counter by himself, emitted a gloomy atmosphere ― Kei.
In front of him lined up a luxurious dinner, even by the standards of his former world, including things such as freshly-caught lake fish à la meunière, a soup full of summer veggies, a soft bread smeared with cowberry jam, a platter with various fruits, and so on. However, he couldn’t really muster an appetite. Since a while ago, Kei was merely stirring the soup with his spoon.
It was pretty obvious, but the underlying cause was the situation with Aileen. He had lost sight of Aileen in the city, and couldn’t find her anywhere even after looking for her all over. Considering it a vague possibility, he had come back to the inn, just to find out that she had already returned a while ago.
That feeling of despair when the hostess informed him with an business smile that his companion had already come back――
Even after he timidly knocked on the door, he got no response. And yet he kept at it, calling out to her from outside the door. The result of all his efforts was Aileen peeking out her face for a moment, merely informing him, “I’m sleepy!”, and slamming the door shut in front of his nose.
No matter how much he knocked or called out to her afterwards, she ignored him.
…She totally hates me now…
Back when she had opened the door for a moment, it allowed him see just how upset she was, putting him so much at his wit’s end that he could scream out in frustration. Hence, so as to avert his eyes from reality, he drained down the ale in his wooden mug ― a liquid that was just bitter, rather than tasting good or bad. But, he felt that it suited his current self quite well.
…What should I do…?
Even as he let his thoughts wander while stirring the soup with a lifeless look in his eyes, no good idea how to salvage the situation struck him. And while beating himself up over being such a weak, gutless guy, his thoughts kept getting muddled by the alcohol in the ale he was downing. He was completely stuck in the vicious cycle of a drunk.
“…It doesn’t suit your taste?” The hostess asked worriedly across the counter.
She appeared concerned after seeing how Kei made no progress with his meal.
“No…that’s not it…I just have something on my mind.”
“I see. Do you want a refill of ale?”
The hostess refilled the empty mug with ale from a jar. While nipping on that every now and then, Kei resumed with his dinner. Being able to eat a warm, delicious meal in such a peaceful environment ― something he could experience with his tongue, and not just some virtual taste simulations ― he fully realized that he had to be thankful in this situation.
Why does food taste so bland if you eat it by yourself? Wouldn’t you rather call that an intake of nutrients than enjoying a meal?
As he silently ate by himself, the process of stuffing the food into his mouth, chewing it, and swallowing the pulp dominated all of his attention.
With a deep sigh at the end, he thickly spread some jam on a piece of bread, and forced it into his mouth, wrapping up his dinner.
But having something weighing on his mind for a while now, Kei spoke up, “Hostess.”
“Yes, how may I help you?”
“Do you have something for takeout, like a sandwich or similar?”
“Certainly. For a midnight snack, I assume?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
After Kei paid for the extra order, the hostess made him a sandwich with bacon and leafy greens. While at it, he also borrowed a quill and a piece of paper, using them to note down a few words. Climbing to the second floor with plate and memo in his hands, he came to a halt in front of Aileen’s room with a nervous expression.
He lightly knocked on the door.
“…Look, I’m sorry about earlier. I’ll leave a sandwich in front of the door, so feel free to eat it if you get hungry.”
Still no answer. Kei sighed as he wondered whether she was really asleep, placed down the sandwich in front of her room, and passed the memo with his message through a gap in the door. Then he staggered back to his own room. A small room with his luggage messily thrown down all over the place.
This inn didn’t provide any lamps for their single rooms, as far as he could tell. There existed no light source besides the bonfires’ glow shining into the room through the window, but with Kei’s enhanced eyesight, this illumination was more than enough.
Flopping down on the bed, he unfastened his belt, scabbard, and bow case, undressed his jacket, and took a breath. He felt how the tension in his body unraveled. In the end Kei couldn’t really relax unless he found himself in a closed space with guaranteed safety. He cast a vacant look at the wall which was no more than an array of wood planks that had been nailed together.
“…Spacious, isn’t it?” He mumbled under his breath.
In spite of now being in his own room which he had desired so much a few hours ago, he didn’t really feel like jacking off. Instead, he asked himself whether it hadn’t actually been meaningless to have booked his own room under circumstances like these.
No…if we had shared a room, it’d have been a lot more awkward, I’m sure
Still, he might have gotten closer to getting a clue how to fix this mess while directly facing Aileen.
…It’s pointless to think about this now
Either way, the current situation was all that mattered. Considering hypothetical possibilities was pointless, and thus he didn’t do it. He followed a very grounded logic.
Kei rolled over on the bed so as to stretch himself out, and sighed for the umpteenth time today.
Just like that, he slowly fell asleep.
The next day Kei slept like a log, probably due to the alcohol.
“Ugh…ouch.” He groaned with a hand on his forehead after sitting up on the bed.
His head pounded in pain, and his vision swayed. Kei realized that he had drunk too much last night. Thinking that he should first drink some water, he fixed his outfit, and left his room. When he looked towards the neighboring door, he saw that the plate with the sandwich was gone. However, he couldn’t judge whether Aileen had actually eaten it, or whether some other guest or an inn employee had nabbed it.
…I hadn’t even considered the possibility of someone else taking it.
It was obvious to Kei that the alcohol had significantly impacted his ability to think yesterday night. In the worst case, if Aileen had found no sandwich after reading his memo, it’d become next to impossible for him to look at her.
All alone in the corridor, Kei pulled a grim face. For a while he wavered whether he should call out to Aileen through the door.
…She could already be up and about.
After changing his mind, believing that he should first wash his face after only having woken up, Kei shrugged his shoulders, and went downstairs.
Down in the courtyard, he used the water in a bucket to rinse his face. And since he had completely forgotten about a towel just like yesterday, he fell back on the option of wiping himself with toilet tissue. Although he called it a tissue, it naturally wasn’t the one manufactured out of paper, but instead a dried leaf with the name 『Popyurius』. Although it was inferior to genuine toilet paper or tissues, its texture wasn’t unpleasant, and it served various uses. Just like now, it had helped Kei on countless occasions since coming to this world. Without it, the sanitary situation in this world might be much worse. Not having anything equivalent to toilet paper would be somewhat tough on a modern person, too.
It’s really a big help that this world uses 【DEMONDAL】 as a reference…
He seriously assessed while looking at the palm-sized, hexagonal leaf.
Even inside the game, the Popyurius leaves were very well-known among the players. They grew en masse everywhere, making them easy to obtain, but in contrast to that, it was easy to sell the leaves to NPCs thanks to their high demand. Of course, considering its nature, it didn’t sell for much, but the Popyurius leaves also played a role in building trust with NPCs for the sake of being introduced to advanced work.
Very likely the mission every beginner of 【DEMONDAL】 had to surmount at the beginning was 『Tissue Gathering』. Atrocious player killers who were loathed like pest and cholera, and top players who led mighty mercenary bands, had all to run around gathering Popyurius leaves while close to naked in the beginning.
As Kei gazed at the leaf in his hand, he smiled gently, recalling his beginner days. His memories of how he unluckily encountered a pack of wolves when he worked hard at collecting the leaves in the forest, and how he got bitten to death, unable to do anything, even while trying to fight back with his harvesting knife.
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However, it’d be anything but funny if that had happened in reality
Realizing as much, his expression quickly turned serious again.
In the game there was also a setting where NPC children were gathering leaves to earn some pocket money, but I wonder whether that’d be really alright here…
While brooding over such things, Kei went back inside the inn. But, just as he passed through the back door, he heard someone yelling, “Hey, Alexei,” causing him to stop.
“Oh, what’s wrong guys? It’s quite unusual for you to come to this place.” Alexei’s usual husky voice reached Kei’s ears from the bar room.
For some reason, Kei hid himself in the shadow of the stairs, which were positioned in a blind spot when looking from the bar, and quietly strained his ears.
“No, you see, we’ve been talking about going to the lake’s temple, and since we thought you might wanna come along, we came over to invite you.”
This voice probably belongs to one of the young men who had joined the caravan. I can also sense the presence of several others. Come to think of it, Alexei seemed to be quite close with the other young apprentices.
“Ah, you mean the one of the Water Spirit, right? No, I’m fine. Go on without me.”
“Oh, you sure?” At this point, the apprentice showed signs of lowering his voice, “…Is it because of Princess?”
Alexei’s voice, filled with a faint laughter, reminded Kei of Alexei’s usual casual smile.
“In fact, I had thought about going to the temple as well. The weather’s nice today. The perfect day for a date, right? I’ll make sure to close the distance between us, this time for sure.”
The apprentices raised their voices in admiration at Alexei’s confident statement.
“But, is that okay? That Kei guy――”
“What, it’s no biggie.”
Another youth asked nervously, but Alexei laughed his concern off with a snort.
“The guy himself said that she’s not his woman. Then I don’t see any reason to hold back.”
“I see. I suppose it should be fine then…”
“In short, you’ve already made a promise with the princess, Alexei?”
“No, not yet.”
The clacking sound of a mug being placed down on a table.
“I’ve been sticking around here since morning, but it looks like the princess is still soundly asleep…she’s kinda not getting up no matter how much time passes.”
“Since morning, you say…? Haven’t you already waited for four hours then?”
“As I’ve been waiting here since before the six hour bell, it’s five hours…I don’t even feel like drinking anymore.”
Pity crept into the apprentice’s voice due to Alexei’s feeble voice.
“I mean, even I’d get tired of waiting so many hours. Oh right, you guys, sit down. If you keep me company to stave off the time, I’ll treat you to some booze.”
“For real!? Count me in!”
The cluttering of chairs being pulled could be heard in response to Alexei’s proposal.
“Alright, go ahead and order away.”
“I’ll go with ale first.”
“Wine for me.”
“I’ll take some whiskey straight.”
“Whoa, just a sec! None of the expensive stuff!”
The bar-room, which had felt deserted before noon, became noisy all of a sudden.
Once he came to his senses, Kei had rushed out through the back door, as if running away.