I banged on the door of a discreet looking building. Though it looked like a shady area that people rarely visited, that was precisely the reason that the occupant had chosen this place as a hiding spot.
As I was about to give up, thinking that no one was there, a soft click came from the door. Behind it, a figure in a crumpled robe poked out.
“Oh, it’s you, Claude. Come in.”
I wondered how she could tell it was me, as a hood had mostly covered her face. After stepping inside, she removed the hood. Hair disheveled, glasses tilted, and a trail of drool still on the corner of her lips, it had appeared that she had fallen asleep in the middle of something. Quite surprising that someone as important as a princess would be seen in such a state.
“It’s early afternoon…you look like you just woke up or something.”
“I guess I did…early afternoon you say? That’s what I get for pulling an all-nighter,” Katsys said with a yawn.
“Eh? All night? Won’t someone cause a ruckus if the princess is missing from the castle?” The image of a certain Italian plumber came to mind.
“Oh, it’s fine. Even here, there’s someone watching over me.”
Katsys looked around for a moment before yelling. “Gerard, you can come out now.”
“Yes, your highness.” A soft voice called next to me, causing me to jump.
A man wearing dark clothing had literally popped up out of nowhere. He had the aura of a reserved servant that spoke only when commanded. While the muscle tone on his bare arms suggested that he was a fighter, the sullen look on his face and grayish hair made him older than his body suggested.
“Ahh….Hi?” I was still on guard due to his sudden entrance, but since Katsys had called him out, I resisted the urge to defend myself from his cold, almost hostile stare.
“Don’t mind Gerard. He’s just doing his job guarding me. Did you think that I would be able to truly roam free on the streets?”
For a moment, I felt like an idiot for not having thought more about the strange feeling I caught before.
“You may go now.” Katsys dismissed her guard with a wave of the hand.
The man bowed with a hand over his chest before his figure blurred into the background.
“What?” I froze, shocked that he had disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared.
“Illusion magic. Designed to hide his presence. Come now, what are you here for?”
I didn’t know why I was so surprised. Eryn could cast ‘Mirage’ after all. However, you could tell she was there if you got close. This man had been literally right next to me, and I didn’t even notice. Ninja…it must have been a ninja. Clearing my head of these thoughts, for now, I turned to Katsys.
“I need a bit of advice.”
Explaining my situation to her, Katsys nodded in response.
“A gift for your master, I see. Very well. I can take you to a few places.” Katsys moved over to put away something she was working on.
“Oh? What’s that you’re making?” I pointed to it, since it looked very out of place.
Katsys looked back at me before lifting the object in the air. It had the distinct appearance of a small firearm. As if aligning with my guess, Katsys pointed at the back wall and pulled the trigger. A small light whizzed out of the ‘gun’ and impacted the wall. The light then dispersed, revealing a small bead that dropped to the ground.
Though the effect was rather neat, there was hardly any blemish on the wall. I tilted my head in question.
“It’s a failure…I was looking into a device that could launch pellets of magical power at targets. By imbuing the pellets with elemental power, I had hoped to create a new method of magic-based attacks. Yet, this was the result.”
She turned to me and aimed the gun at my chest. Before I could move, I felt a small impact there. A slight shock was felt as if my chest had touched a 9V battery, but I was surprised by how little power it had.
“The problem is that the pellets cannot hold much mana, and other mediums that are more effective are too expensive. Physically, the pellets can’t do much damage either, as only those with high Atk can wield it with any effectiveness. But enough about that, let’s take care of your problem.” Katsys tossed the gun into a pile of random junk.
“It would be a neat toy for children, though,” I said trying to cheer her up as we both left the workshop.
I decided to ignore the weird pressure on my back that I now noticed. Things would be okay if I behaved, right?
Katsys led me to a number of shops located in a more upscale part of the capital. I had never considered coming here as I didn’t have a reason to before, but I questioned if it was just me being lazy when it came to traveling an unbeaten path.
A trip to a clothing shop ended up fruitless, as Katsys couldn’t serve as a good model, refusing to take her robe off. I was rather lacking in fashion sense, so I kept turning to Katsys at every moment.
“Sorry, my maids choose my clothes.”
My head dropped in disappointment. We weren’t getting anywhere here.
Next, we visited a fancy sweet shop. However, being a chef that often created confections for Eryn, I kept comparing the goods present with my own. Since I knew Eryn’s tastes, it seemed like everything inherently had a flaw, which I could solve by making it myself.
This drew the ire of the baker working the counter, as I unintentionally dissected his recipes while inquiring about his products. Sensing that things would just get sour, Katsys grabbed me by the scarf and led me out of the shop.
Weapons and armor were no good either, as ones good enough to replace Eryn’s current equipment appeared to be out of my budget. Grimm looked at me skeptically, as if hinting ‘You’re going to give a girl THAT as a gift?’
Needless to say, I ended up leaving rather quickly after that.
“You’re quite picky, aren’t you?” Katsys sighed as she played with her hair under the hood. “I’m sure she’ll be fine with whatever you get her.”
“I guess…I just had it in mind that I should get something that she would actually use.”
“Then…what about a magic-imbued accessory?”
Of course! If there were magic tools, there were likely accessories that gave off some kind of effect in battle!
I grabbed Katsys by the shoulders and nodded in affirmation.
Minutes later, we found ourselves in a chic shop with shelves lined with accessories. One by one, I picked them up, activating a small window that showed the effect it gave.
There were ones that gave status boosts, ones that aided in mana or health recovery, and even ones that contained spells that one would normally not be able to use.
However, none of them had much visual impact. I continued looking throughout the whole store, as if waiting for a particular accessory to call out to me. As I looked, a sudden question came to mind.
“Hey Katsys, how come I don’t see any accessories with skills that increase base stats?”
I was used to seeing things like Atk +10 or Mag +10 on equips in games, so I had hoped there would be something to compensate for my personal issue.
She took a moment to process what I meant before answering. “Base stats? You mean how a weapon gives you more attack and armor more defense? Those are inherent to the properties of the material, so you should be able to see them if you equip it. But the skills you are referring to are simply magical effects that are temporary. Both, however, require a conscious effort to be made to take effect.”
As she continued explaining, I learned a bit more about the system of this world. Just because someone had equipped a weapon, the attack boost didn’t take effect unless they consciously wielded said weapon to attack. But once that was established, it didn’t matter that you were attacking with your free hand or the weapon, the attack bonus still applied. Conversely, armor gave defense to the entire body, but one would have to actively guard for it to take effect. This meant that surprise attacks were effective even on heavily-armed people. I had wondered about that during the fighting tournament but was too occupied in the moment to dive further.
“Here, it would be easier to show you.” Katsys pulled up her stat window.
Picking up a bracelet nearby, she slipped it on. I instantly saw her defense value increase by a few points. Opening up my own window, I picked up various accessories, seeing my numbers jump up and down a small amount. However, nothing I picked up seemed to show any impact on my Atk and Mag.
That’s strange. Did nothing here give a boost in those stats?
Taking my chef knife and setting it aside, I expected the number to drop. Yet, the single digit value remained unchanged after I had unequipped it.
“What? It didn’t change?”
Katsys came over and picked up my knife. She focused for a bit, creating a glow around the weapon.
“Atk increase +5. That’s what I’m seeing,” She said handing it back to me.
This time, we both saw that my Atk value remained unchanged despite holding the knife once again in my hand. I had no idea what was going on. Was I cursed?
Also confused, Katsys checked my stats for a bit until what she saw made her freeze with an “Ah!”
A page called ‘Proficiency’ was displayed, a section that I had never seen before. Granted, I never felt like looking at my menu because I had stopped caring about the reality of my stats soon after I first discovered them. No doubt there were features I probably missed.
Atk – 0%
Mag – 0%
Def – 100%
MgDef – 100%
Agl – 100%
Lck – 100%
Crit – 100%
Huh? What did that mean? 0%? Was that my growth rate or something? But I did gain a few points from leveling, so it shouldn’t be zero…
Katsys, on the other hand, had no idea what to say. Proficiency was a measure of how much stats transferred from equipment to the user. 100% was the standard value for the typical person. If one was particularly gifted, then his or her proficiency would be higher, drawing out more from the equipment. In contrast, someone with a natural disability or conflicting personality may lead to a significantly reduced proficiency in some areas. Due to her sheltered upbringing, her physical parameters (namely Atk, Def, Spd) were a bit lower. However, her mental keenness and constant tinkering led to above-average proficiency in the other stats.
Still, this usually only differed by 10-30%. How was it possible for anyone seemingly normal to have a 0% proficiency?
Hesitantly explaining all this to me, my jaw dropped.
“That’s it! It’s confirmed that the gods hate me! Why else would they drop me here under such circumstances?”
Based on this, there would be no point in getting stronger weapons as none of the advantages would transfer to me. This world had taken not only the easy way out by power leveling, but now also the joy of finding new, more powerful weapons.
Wait, I was like this from the start, so it’s not like I lost anything now…But that wasn’t the point!
Katsys waited patiently with a stiff expression as my internal monologue ended.
“Well…you’ve gotten this far without it. I’m rather impressed that you’ve done so much while lacking the basics…”
Hearing that, I could only blame my tendency to skip out on reading the manual before starting something. ‘I’ll just learn as I go’, I would often think. Though, it’s not like I was provided with something that convenient upon arriving here. All I had to rely on was Eryn’s coaching, so I often just followed what suggestions she had to offer.
Looking to steer the topic away from my depressing state, Katsys spied something on the shelf next to me.
“Hey Claude, what about that?” She pointed.
Tracing her finger, I saw a beautiful hair-clip that contained a single gem. Picking it up, the hairclip brushed against a sunbeam shining through the adjacent window. Immediately, the light scattered as it hit the gem’s surface, creating a visual fire of sparkling around the ornament.
“Sunfire Hairpiece – Imbued with the ability to resist negative status effects.” I read the description. “100 silvers?”
The price tag initially made me look upon it with reluctance. But thinking back on my travels, it seemed like Eryn’s worst moments had been due to being affected by some kind of ailment. I questioned whether being drugged counted within that range of status prevention.
“The effect is known to guard against irregularities in your body, such as illness or poisoning. Highly prized amongst the wealthy. Don’t worry, it has been confirmed through analysis magic.” Katsys reassured me.
Somehow, my eyes couldn’t stop staring as I gently rotated the piece, causing the fire to dance in my vision. That settled it. This would be my gift to Eryn.
Taking the item to the counter, I made my purchase and thanked Katsys, hurriedly running out of the shop to deliver it.
My eyes didn’t catch the hand reaching for my back. The words leaving her mouth fell on deaf ears as I departed.
The next morning, I presented the gift to Eryn when I found her training in the courtyard.
Momentarily stunned, Eryn gently took the box.
“You…remembered my birthday? I don’t remember ever telling you…”
“Birthday? Ah…no…but it can be for your birthday, I guess?” Caught off guard, I started rambling.
As Eryn looked at me with confusion, I decided that it was best to just tell her the truth. Explaining the holiday in my world, she nodded with understanding.
“I see…gifts thanking those close to you…,” Eryn said with a far-off look.
“But that aside, happy birthday! You turned 17, right?”
Eryn smiled and started opening the box. As she pulled out the hairpiece, the gem glistened in the sunlight creating the visual fire that I saw before.
A single tear fell from Eryn’s eyes.
“…Mother.” She softly whispered as she clutched the piece.
Unknown to me, the shimmering light reminded her of her mother’s glistening form as she trained with her Radiant Light.
Seeing her outward reaction, I started panicking as I had no idea what just transpired. My mind feared the worst until I heard her next words, spoken barely above a whisper.
Eryn carefully pulled her hair taut before inserting the clip in. Turning to me, she offered a suggestion.
“How about we celebrate? You can tell me more about this ‘Christmas’ of yours, and we can invite our friends. Make sure to serve up your best dishes for the occasion,” she said with a smile.
“Of course,” I replied with a cordial bow.
The two of us went to find Pietro and Carina, and together, we created a small party to celebrate that evening. While it was still a bit early for Christmas, Eryn didn’t mind the themed dishes for her birthday celebration.
I looked around at the people gathered around our small family – Cornelius, Roland and his staff, and a few others I didn’t recognize. We raised our glasses in salute, wishing Eryn a great upcoming year and good tidings for all.
The warm glow of the atmosphere didn’t die down until late into the night.