“Claude, what do you think?”
Katsys, Ludmila, and Chrys each walked out of the changing rooms, showing off the attire they had chosen. Currently, I found myself clothes shopping with them, as they had expressed an interest in getting outfits that aligned more with their fighting styles.
After the chaos that had happened from the Mapo Tofu dish, I felt a need to walk away from experimentation for a little bit. Going to town with the girls was an excuse for a change of pace, though I did promise to hang out with them.
As a result, I was now bearing witness to this mini-fashion show that they had come up with. After sorting through random articles for the past hour, they had finally decided upon some combination that suited their tastes.
Katsys had chosen a knee-length battle skirt, a shade of blue darker than her hair. A tannish leather jacket wrapped around her upper body, hiding the curves that she normally had. Overall, she gave off the allure of a girl that rode with the wind, quite the difference from the robes that I had gotten used to her wearing. However, it strangely suited her now, as she brandished her magic gun like that of a well-seasoned adventurer.
Ludmila had chosen something similar to her maid outfit from before. Having been stuck in the boyish ranger outfit, she must have wanted the clothes from before. I mentally apologized to her for not realizing this, as I likely had a lack of awareness in day-to-day fashion due to laziness. On the other hand, her chosen outfit still retained the maneuverability of the ranger outfit. It just had the frills and decorations that reminded me of a… oh, right… a magical girl costume. I kicked myself as that would’ve likely been my first thought a year and a half ago when I first arrived here.
‘Was I losing touch with my otaku ways?’
Lastly, Chrys came out in a yukata-like robe that fell to her knees, decorated with accents of a forest. Since she had low movement speed to begin with, she had chosen something cute to wear over anything battle ready. Thinking about it, did the equipment stats even matter to someone that couldn’t really be hit?
“That one there’s a pricey one. Made with fibers of the Yggdra Tree. Your body will feel enriched with mana whenever you have it on,” the shopkeeper came by to let me know.
“Let me guess? That robe gave off the feel of the earth?” I turned to Chrys with a snarky tone. Ignoring the teasing in my voice, Chrys simply nodded and hugged herself against the material.
Letting out a sigh, it was fortunate that Lady Kaguya was footing the bill. She offered to pay for the new outfits in exchange for the knowledge that we had shared and helped gather. We had been helped just as much in the process, but it was hard to refuse the kind gestures of a person sitting at the top of the country.
Waiting for a reply from me, the girls eyed my face skeptically as I had tried to buy time for an appropriate response.
“Um… I’d invite you girls to my party any day!”
Katsys let out a snort at my words. “What kind of compliment is that? Couldn’t you have just told us that we looked nice?”
Ludmila stared at me with a stony gaze. “Master is a bit…”
“Silly, isn’t he?” Chrys blurted out, finishing her sentence.
“Oh, come on! I couldn’t say the first thing I had on my mind. I came from a world where this kind of clothing was straight out of a fantasy game!”
Katsys let out a sigh. “I guess I’m not much better. My maids took care of my daily outfits for most of my life.” She walked over and scanned me up and down. “Come to think of it, shouldn’t you pick out something, too?”
I examined the edges of my chef uniform, which had some raggedness and fraying here and there. Though the quality was clearly degraded with use, the stats that it gave didn’t seem to diminish. Since it made no difference, I hadn’t bothered to replace it anytime soon. I had a few spares in my Item Box, but likely, they were of a similar state of being used in.
“I don’t disagree, but where am I going to find another chef uniform here? I have to keep up my image of a simple chef that you probably wouldn’t find any value picking a fight with,” I half-joked, recognizing that my plain state of dress as a servant probably kept others from targeting me randomly. On the other hand, I stuck out like a sore thumb once someone took notice.
“Oh, look! I found one!” Chrys held up an article of clothing.
I took one look at it and spit out in disgust, “What? No way! That’s a battle apron for females!”
Katsys and Ludmila cracked a smile, no doubt picturing the frilly apron placed on top of my current clothing.
“At least, find me something without the cutesiness!”
“What about this? It comes in several styles..” Katsys held up outfits that were obviously chef uniforms but were each dyed in shining colors. The material shimmered in the light, giving off a metallic glow.
Red, green, blue, yellow, purple – as she cycled through the different styles, the sight of these outfits made me think of a ‘Super Sentai’ mock-up team that appeared on a Japanese episode of Iron Chef. They even came with extravagantly gaudy hats of different designs.
“Are you kidding me? And for the love of god, why the hats??” I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those. Especially not in front of live TV shown to millions.
I felt a tug at the helm of my shirt. Looking to the side, Ludmila held another outfit in her hand. Taking it and spreading it out, it was a plain black drawstring gi with a red collar that continued as a stripe down the front along the hem of the fabric – simple, clean, and lacking anything conspicuous. Yet, the price tag for it was much higher than expected, which meant that there was something special about it.
Since it was the best one out of the options, I went and got changed into it. With my status window open, I saw the flickering of numbers as I exchanged outfits.
“Dwah! What the heck! It’s even better than the special uniform that Eryn had tailored for me?!”
My stats took a considerable jump upwards, especially my Def and MgDef. More than that, there was this feeling of coolness on my skin, coupled with a spring in my step as I bounced around the small changing area. Looking at myself in the mirror though, it reminded me of something.
“Ah… a sushi chef. This is totally what they wear in restaurants, wasn’t it?”
How this managed to be some kind of high-classed outfit, only the shopkeeper would know.
“That outfit? It has Yggdra fibers as well, and scales of a Bifrost Dragon harvested from far away.”
‘Wahh!’ That seemed wasted on for a chef outfit, but then, the shopkeeper told me that wasn’t the case. It had actually been an adventurer’s tunic that only happened to look like one. Well, in my mind, it was still a chef uniform, so I gave up trying to convince myself otherwise.
“Here’s the hat that goes-“
The shopkeeper tried to hand me the matching hat, but I held out my hand firmly. Whether it was a cap, a helmet, a fedora, a beret, or whatever else existed in this world, I would willingly sacrifice a hit in stats to keep my head bare.
“It comes as a set. Please take it.”
“Okay, fine.” I grabbed the simple hat and chucked it into the void of my Item Box. Wearing my new threads like the girls, we paid for the outfits and made our way out of the store.
As we walked down the street, we scanned the stalls for lunch ideas. After cooking for so long, it felt nice just to go around and sample the local tastes. The scent of meat skewers and pan-fried potato cakes drifted in the air.
Quite some time had passed since we arrived in Sanshiro, as the seasons already shifted through fall and winter. Signs of early buds poked their heads from hibernation. The slight chill in the air went away as the heat from the food stalls radiated against our bodies.
I recalled some memories of the Ice Festival that happened over a year ago, seeing those scenes overlap with the view in front of me. How time really seemed to fly by despite having only lived in this world for a bit more than a year.
“Seriously, where will I be next year?” I mumbled lightly to myself.
“Something wrong, Claude? You’ve been just staring.” Katsys grabbed my hand between hers. They were icy cold like normal, but I didn’t mind.
“Nah, just remembering a few things. Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”
Our noses led us to the various stalls, each of us picking out a little of each item. Pretty soon, we had several handfuls of different foods, sharing them between us. Much of it seemed like the standard-fare that one would find strolling through a Dai Pai Dong on the streets of Hong Kong.
However, one particularly overwhelming smell in a secluded corner sent most of us retreating, except for Ludmila. She was the only one who approached and took an item from it. As she came back towards us, she held up a crispy block that gave off the scent of an open sewer. Shivers went down our spines as she casually took a bite out of it, revealing a white, porous inside.
“Wait… is that… fried, stinky tofu?” I suddenly realized after seeing it closely. I had never gotten close enough to try it for myself, but the appearance rang some bells.
“Mhmm… yummy.” Ludmila casually snacked, without so much as a flinch on her face.
“It’s bad!” Chrys held her nose and hid behind Katsys.
“How are you able to stand being close to it?” Katsys also had a hand over her nose, trying to block it out.
“Fermented food normal for cold climates. Hunters bury extra in ground for later. Smell is not important, just taste.”
‘Just what era were you from, Ludmila!’ On the other hand, I had heard of similar foods that had persisted to the present day as a preservation of culture. However, even I had to draw a firm line when it came to such a nauseating aura of disgust hovering around it.
Thankfully, we moved on to try some sweets right after, the sugary taste washing away the residual odor that clung to the back of our throats. By the time we finished wandering the street, we had full bellies resulting in the urge to sit down at the city square that was ahead of us.
Yet, as we stepped into the square, something immediately felt off. Looking around, it appeared strangely empty, despite it being the middle of the day.
Suddenly, I felt Ludmila ram me from behind. I turned around, holding her against me as I stumbled several steps forward. An incomplete portal had opened where I stood, where something had bounced off it just then. A metallic clang sounded as daggers hit the ground, apparently having targeted the spot where I was previously.
I was surprised about the ambush, but even more so that Katsys had been quick enough to use her portal gun to create a barrier to shield me from it. I recalled it pushing me back when it wasn’t connected to another end, but to think of using it this way…
‘Ack, there was no time for that.’
“Where are they?!” I yelled out as I scanned around me.
Ludmila pointed toward the rooftops, where some men had started running away after seeing that their surprise attempt had been foiled.
“Ludmila, can you catch up to them? But how to get them all…,” I started asking, seeing that they had split up.
“No, I have a better idea,” Katsys interrupted, firing three portals high into the air above them. She then fired the same number in front of us. With the portals connected, we had a top view of the men running away that seemed to follow their attempted escape.
“Oh? New upgrade?”
“Of course. Who do you think I am? It wasn’t hard to adjust the setting to enable more rapid deployment and homing capabilities, along with multi-portal control. Though I still have to make the proper vector calculations.”
“If you say so… uh, do we just hop in and get the jump on them?”
Katsys held up her hand. “But first, let’s drop these on them.” She pulled out three small cubes and handed them to Chrys. “Here you go. Just click and throw it at the bad men.”
With a nod, Chrys did just that. With her maxed out Luck skill, the cubes landed squarely on their heads before a flash of light whited out the view. Loud booms echoed in the distance. As the smoke cleared, all three men had fallen unconscious and comically twitched like a cartoon character.
“Not bad, huh?” Katsys smiled smugly.