Vermillion - Chapter 25.2
Walk, steadily, one step after the other, on and on.
It wasn’t as if he had a destination. He simply kept going through the confusing maze of back alleys, surrendering himself to his impulses. His expression was a halfhearted combination of regret, irritation ― and some kind of anger.
…What a disappointing, bad joke I am when compared to Alexei
That feeling seeped through his chest like hot iron.
Why am I always belittling myself? …In the first place, was I always such a pointlessly stoic guy?
――No. At least until now I’ve never been trapped one one thing. Of course the circumstances back in the game and now are different. There’s a lot I must take into account. But, me moping around while being stuck like this feels kinda different from usual..
Look at Alexei’s manliness
Even though I’ve got such a rare chance after having gained a new body by coming to this world, what’s the point if I don’t enjoy life?
“…Haah.” Kei sighed lightly, despite having reached that conclusion.
He had remembered that even if he wanted to go on the offensive, his current relationship with Aileen was a mess.
First, above all, I have to somehow fix Aileen’s mood… What would be the best method to achieve that? Assuming she hates me, it seems like it’ll be difficult to recover
As he considered it like this, he immediately felt at his wit’s end.
…But, why did Aileen get so angry?
Only now Kei’s thinking probed into that fundamental question. So far he had merely let his imaginations run wild over the fact of Aileen appearing to be angry, but at long last he genuinely asked himself what had caused Aileen to get so pissed off in the first place.
Speaking of possible explanations, only that group of street performers comes to mind. Or to be precise, me having ogled that danseuse while being completely spellbound by her seductive, naked body. But, her getting upset over that means――
――Isn’t that what you’d usually call jealousy?
Even Kei understood what it meant for Aileen to be jealous in such a situation. It was unthinkable for her to get jealous because of some random run-of-the-mill guy, and jealousy was no emotion that would occur unless she was interested in him to some extent.
In other words―― …I‘m not completely off her radar?
The very first word that came to his mind was wishful thinking, but once he considered it further, he felt like he still had a chance.
And at the same time, his field of view opened up. Apparently he had escaped the back alleys while walking. What spread out in front of his eyes was the lake shore.
The blue, transparent Lake Synapeia. It wasn’t that big of a lake. Many freighters with set sails were traversing it, and down in the lake’s center was a small islet that appeared to float.
The islet was small enough that it’d take several minutes to walk from one end to the other, but a building made out of white stone peeked out from in-between the abundantly growing trees.
Which reminds me…they mentioned a temple or something like that, didn’t they?
Sporadically larger boats crammed to the limit with people could be seen among the freighters. Boatmen rowing their oars, and wayfarer-styled crewmen clad in robes. Additionally, some people holding staffs, some joining their hands in prayer, and some sprinkling themselves with the lake’s water ― basically, people who could be associated with the term pilgrim.
“That’s the temple enshrining the Water Spirit. Legends say that your wish will come true if you ring its belfry’s bell thrice. Folks worshiping the Water Spirit arrive here on pilgrimage from all over the world.” Someone suddenly explained from behind Kei.
As soon as he looked back in surprise, he found Dagmar standing there, lifting a hand with a red face, greeting with a “Yo!”
“What’s with that greeting? Don’t you know any other ways to address others?” Dagmar cackled, seemingly amused by something.
Kei grimaced at the faint stench of alcohol drifting his way.
“You bet. Sleeping as much as you want, eating great food, drinking booze, and lastly playing around with women! This is how a mercenary’s holiday gotta be! Yulia rocks!”
He forced an arm around Kei’s shoulder while cheering gleefully. It was the very definition of how a drunk old man acted. The looks of the passerby were painful.
“Bah, stop getting all chummy with me!”
“Man, what’s with you? You’re being a party pooper.” Dagmar pouted with a sulky look when Kei brushed his hand off.
Being treated like that by an adult man was nothing but repulsive, but fortunately Dagmar immediately put a teasing grin back on.
“So, what’re you up to? All alone out here.”
Kei felt like he hadn’t just imagined Dagmar stressing the part about him being all alone. He groaned, turning his eyes towards the lake with his arms folded.
“Hmm? …Did something happen?”
As Kei didn’t get angry or ill-humored, but merely remained quiet, Dagmar stopped messing around. Apparently he sensed some change behind that withdrawn facial expression of Kei.
“It’s not like something actually happened, but more like something might happen, I suppose.”
Kei’s roundabout way of expressing himself piqued Dagmar’s curiosity, but even so, he silently waited for Kei to go on.
“It looks like Alexei is planning to invite Aileen out on a date.”
“However, luckily he hasn’t been able to get in contact with Aileen yet.”
“…That means you don’t intend to just watch it happen, right?” Dagmar deepened his smile as if to announce his delight over this.
While staring at the lake’s temple, Kei nodded, answering, “Yeah,” with a grim look.
“Up until now I’ve been considering all the various, small complications, but after watching Alexei, I’ve realized how ridiculous it was…I mean, I want to be close to Aileen, and I also want us to be together. That’s why I’ve decided to become an idiot myself as well.”
“I see. Why not go for it then?” Dagmar’s grin was gentler than usual.
“…But you see, there’s one problem to solve before that.” Kei unfolded his arms, and faced Dagmar, “Dagmar, I need your advice, but would that be okay?”
“Sure. You won’t find anyone else as experienced as I am when it comes to love affairs and debts. Ask away.”
“Thanks, that sounds promising. Actually I made Aileen angry yesterday, but…I wonder whether it’d be best to honestly apologize. Or would it be better to patch things up with something else without bringing it up again?”
“…I’d say that depends on why she got angry.”
“I unintentionally got captivated by the naked skin of another woman…”
“Ahh… Well, then you gotta apologize obediently. Straightforward, without any nitpicking.”
“Gotcha.” After nodding in gratitude, Kei slapped his own cheeks, and encouraged himself with a spirited, “Alright!”
“Okay, I’m off then.”
“Sure, sure, go for it, man. …But, tell me, do you have a plan, Kei?”
“…I think I’ll try to invite her to go to that temple with me for starters.” Kei answered with a shrug, and then added, “I’m also kinda curious about it.”
“I see. In that case, head to the wharf over there afterwards. In the hut with the red roof you’ll find an old man who lends out rowboats for cheap. Just tell him that Dagmar sent you.”
“…Thanks. I owe you for that welcome piece of information.”
“It’s no big deal.” Dagmar waved it off, slapped Kei’s back, and immediately turned around. “Best of luck to you. I’ll wait for the good news.”
“Sure, look forward to it.” Kei responded with a smile, and started to walk as well.
――First I’ve got to meet her. The rest follows afterwards. In the first place, I don’t even know whether Aileen is still at the inn. When necessary, I won’t even hesitate on using Emerald, but ― most recently I haven’t used it for any decent magic, have I? Kei smiled wryly.
Once he thought that Aileen might have already been invited out by Alexei by some chance, his pace naturally sped up. Heading back the way he came, he sneaked in through the inn’s back door, heading inside while killing his footsteps.
The apprentices seemed to still be kicking up a jolly fuss in the bar-room. Alexei’s voice could also be heard mixed in among theirs. Kei perceived that Aileen apparently hadn’t left her room yet.
After slowly climbing the stairs, he came to a halt in front of Aileen’s room with nervousness coloring his face. Putting a bit of strength into it, he knocked on her door.
“Aileen, are you in?”
He waited for a short while.
“Aileen, we need to talk.” He knocked once more. “Ai――”
In the middle of him calling out to her, the door opened with a clack.
Aileen’s expressionless face was suddenly visible through the door’s gap. For just an instant Kei faltered due to her blue eyes glaring at him, but after clearing his throat, he straightened himself.
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“…I’m sorry about yesterday. It was my fault. Sorry.”
In response to Kei’s apology, Aileen’s face shifted from expressionless to pouting.
“…Is that all you wanted to say?”
“No,” scratching his cheek, he resisted the urge to avert his eyes, meeting Aileen’s straight on. “Did you know? There appears to exist a temple worshipping the Water Spirit in the middle of the lake.”
“…I’ve heard about it.”
“I’m told that the temple has a bell, heralded to grant your wish if you ring it thrice. The weather is nice today, too. So―” Suddenly he experienced the optical illusion of the air freezing over, “―would you be interested in visiting the place with me?”
The corners of Aileen’s lips went down as she kept her silence, “…Just the two of us?”
“Yeah, just us two.”
“Hmm…” Folding her arms and leaning against the door, Aileen turned her face away. Eventually she pulled off the stunt of breaking into a smile while still frowning, and declared, accompanied by a little nod, “…I’ll go.”
Under the pretext of needing to get ready, Aileen had Kei wait outside her room for a while. Having said that, she came out of her room a few minutes later, ready to go out, but then grumbled quietly, “It’d been great if they had at least provided a mirror.”
Since Alexei and his gang were still making a racket downstairs, the two of them sneaked past, heading out through the back door.
“Kei, let’s grab something to eat on the way, okay?”
“Sure thing. Actually I haven’t eaten anything today yet.”
“I ate some dried raisin, but it was somewhat lacking, so I’m a bit hungry.”
Aimlessly wandering across the main street, they toured food carts and street stalls. Buckwheat crepes with cheese filling, stuff like chunks of dry-cured ham sold by the piece, sweet-tasting apple cider with an invigorating taste, and heaps of seasonal fruits such as cherries and loquats – they kept buying whatever caught their fancy as seemingly delicious.
“Oh, by the way, Kei…”
“…Thanks for the sandwich.”
While chatting about such things, Kei was in charge of carrying everything, but around the time when they left the main street, they had bought so much foodstuff that it was impossible for one person to carry it all.
“Somehow it looks like we’ve been starving.”
“This isn’t at the level of eating on the go anymore… It should actually last us two for a whole day.”
“Where are we going to eat?”
In response to Kei’s question, Aileen placed her hand on her chin, and groaned. “…Since we’ve come all the way out here, I’d like to eat while looking at the lake.”
“Figures. Come to think of it, I saw some rowing boats.”
Just as Dagmar had told him, Kei headed over to the wharf at the edge of the town. And there he borrowed a rowboat from the old man in the hut with the red roof. The rental fee amounted to a mere five copper coins. It was at the level of slightly splurging expenses covering the food of a day. According to what he heard, the old man apparently made a living by earning his daily income by renting out the boats to just the people he could trust while also fishing in the lake.
“Still, I must admit it’s my first time in a rowboat…”
“Same for me. I wonder how this works.”
Next to the hut was a boat storehouse. Looking nervous, the two got on a large rowboat. Even though the boat swayed only faintly as Aileen boarded it, Kei placing a foot onto it from the wharf was already enough to make it rock violently.
“…This is not going to sink or anything, right?”
“So far as it goes, up to three big men can get on this boat. You guys seem to have fairly good physiques, but in the end it’s still no more than the weight of two people, correct?” Holding his walking stick, the old man laughed off Kei who looked uneasy while donning a cramped smile.
“Now, now, with these things it’s essential to go at it without any hesitation. It’s going to be just fine if you place your foot in the center of the boat, and board it in one swoop.”
With his back being repeatedly poked by the old man’s stick, Kei resolved himself and got on the boat. Being tossed about by the irregular rocking, he almost lost his shaky balance and tumbled down, but he somehow remained standing by lowering his stance.
“Pheew, that was close…”
Aileen and the old man broke out in loud laughter after seeing Kei’s pale face.
No, you see, I don’t really know how to swim, okay?
Although he thought that, Kei kept silent about it since he’d hate to spoil the chance for them to spend some time all alone.
“Take care to not get in the way of freighters when you row the boat, okay? They won’t stop their boat for you since their maneuverability is too stiff for sudden course changes. As the freighters will obviously come out unscathed even if they run into you, make sure to stay clear of them. Also, whatever you do, don’t throw any trash into the lake. It’d anger the Water Spirit.”
“We’ll pay attention to it.”
They listened to the old man’s lecture while loading the foodstuff on the boat. Kei understood the part about them having to pay attention to the freighters, but since it was such a pretty lake to begin with, he didn’t even feel any urge to pollute it by deliberately throwing thrash into it.
“Food set, crew set.”
Kei smiled while clumsily grabbing the oars, making it obvious that he had no experience with those.
“Alright, let’s head out then!” Aileen replied to him with a smile.
“Be careful and see you later!” The old man saw them off while looking fondly at them.
Kei and Aileen began to row across Lake Synapeia.