Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“I-I think these will look marvelous on you.”
Coaxing, a word that meant “gently and persistently persuasive” when used to refer to one’s manner of speaking. Such was how the huge man spoke. He was scruffy, even more than some gang leader—though I’m not exactly one to talk.
We were in a second-hand clothes shop located on the very outskirts of town. Places like this usually bought stolen goods from bandits, and sometimes you’d find out-of-place luxurious items on display. The clothes the owner was showing to Zero were prime examples.
“Hey, mister,” I said, glancing down at the colorful, elegant dress, my whiskers twitching. “I believe I said traveling clothes.”
“You heard him,” Zero said. “Get me something else.”
The man quickly showed the next one. “How about this dress—”
“I said clothes for traveling! Stop showing us these frilly dresses, you fucking baldie!”
“Shut the fuck up, furball! I’m talking to the pretty lady!”
“What do you think, Miss?” The owner sounded drunk and creepy whenever he addressed Zero.
The witch studied the dress. “It is not to my liking,” she said flatly.
“I understand.” The man’s expression immediately turned soft, as though entranced. “An old dress like this doesn’t suit you at all,” he said before rushing back inside.
Showing Zero’s face was a bad idea. As much as I hated to admit it, she was undoubtedly beautiful. The moment she stepped into the store and removed her hood, the air froze, then melted the next instant, and the owner turned into Zero’s humble servant.
“It’s actually sad to look at,” Albus mumbled as he watched the owner run around, trying his best to please Zero.
“Don’t say anything,” I said, dropping my shoulders. “Unlike kids, men have all sorts of problems. Those with ugly mugs have it worse. Even prostitutes won’t give them the time of day. Unless they have money, of course.”
I’m sure there are plenty of men in the world who’d be grateful just to breathe the same air as someone gorgeous as Zero. The only reason I hadn’t ended up like the owner was because Zero was a witch, and I despised witches. Otherwise, I’d be prostrating myself before her right about now.
I felt a tug at my sleeves, and I glanced down.
“I like that one,” the witch said, pointing at an overcoat hanging by a corner. It had long sleeves, clearly made for men. It would probably reach all the way to her thighs.
“It is durable, yet light. It appears I can stay warm with it as well. I also quite like the cowl. What do you think?”
I took the coat and examined it. Contrary to its appearance, it was light, with firm linings. Indeed it was overall durable, adequate enough for traveling. Since it’s her clothes, she could just choose for herself, but she wanted my opinion, a mercenary used to traveling around.
“It’s not bad,” I replied. “Just a little too big, though.”
Zero’s face lit up. “It is fine. I fancy this one. If you think it is good, then I will take it.”
Huh, she really trusts my opinion. Would she have given up on it if I said no?
Albus, busy looking at items, suddenly ran to the back of the shop.
“Socks!” he exclaimed. “Mercenary! This thing’s pretty handy. You won’t have to wrap your feet in cloth every single time, you can wear them easily, you won’t get blisters, and they’ll keep you warm!”
Albus showed me a very long pair of socks that reached all the way to the thighs, to be fastened with some ribbon. Unlike the coat, this one was fancy and made for women, though still fairly practical. It should protect her from the cold as well.
“Hey, Wi—” I shut my mouth instantly. I couldn’t call her that in public. “Zero,” I called.
The witch, studying the coat pleasantly, raised her head.
“Got some socks over here.” I glanced at Albus, and he rushed to Zero with the pair of socks.
“Next is shoes,” the boy said. “Oh, this one’s great! You have to get this for sure!
Albus was having fun, like he was buying clothes for himself. He must genuinely love shopping. He brought long boots that reached to the knees. Made with tough leather, it looked resistant to mud and water.
I patted the boy’s head. “You have good eyes. Not bad at all.”
Albus puffed out his chest.
Zero regarded the items thoughtfully. “I prefer walking barefoot,” she said. “I love the warmth of the dirt, the soft grass. The dampness of the dew feels pleasant as well.”
“You’ll hurt your feet, though.”
“I just have to walk slowly.”
“You gotta hurry sometimes too, you know. Besides, if you think I’m gonna carry you every time we need to run, you’re dead wrong.”
“Would you leave me behind, then? What a heartless man.”
“Do I look like the caring type?”
“No, but you are the hairy type.”
“Don’t make me hit you. Anyway, you need shoes,” I said curtly.
Zero pouted. “You can carry me any time. You sure whine a lot for a big man.” I tried my best to ignore her grumbling.
“Short pants are your only options now,” Albus said. “Though you can move easier in them.” He picked up a pair of extremely short trousers, the kind a female bandit would wear. It would provide ample mobility for sure, but it failed in terms of protecting one’s skin. Still, with the long boots, long socks, and the oversized coat, a little bit of light clothing should be all right.
“Hey, mister!” I yelled to the back of the store. “We got everything. Ring us up!”
A terribly disappointed owner appeared, carrying a bundle of vibrant clothes.
“Now, go change,” I said. “And make sure you burn what you’re wearing later. It’s just unnecessary luggage.”
“You are asking me to burn my long-time companion?” Zero asked.
“Just ’cause a relationship lasts a long time doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good one. New encounters always come with goodbyes.”
“You are one coldhearted man. I quite like that.” Smiling, Zero removed her battered robe and tossed it aside.
I instantly froze. Albus’s jaw dropped. Blood gushed out of the owner’s nose and he fainted.
Blinding white skin. Slender waists. A body so perfectly-shaped, like the statue of a goddess that a master artist spent his lifetime sculpting. And I was beholding it in all its glory. Zero wasn’t wearing anything underneath her cloak.
“What? Is a naked woman really that rare of a sight?” the witch asked.
I drew a sharp breath. The next moment, I was shouting incomprehensible profanities while covering Zero’s body with the cloak she just removed. I knocked the unconscious owner awake and told him to get a set of underwear, then shoved the witch to the back of the store with the rest of the clothes.
“Don’t fuckin’ come out unless you’re wearing everything!” I roared.
“That hurt! You are being too rough,” Zero protested. “You should treat women more gently!”
“And you should grab a dictionary, look up the word “shame,” and study its meaning for a year!”
Albus and the owner were slumped down behind us.
“Holy mother of God…” Albus muttered.
“Ah, what a beautiful sight,” the owner said. “I can die now.”
Witches are clearly odd beings, and Zero is by far one of the most eccentric.
Short pants, long socks that reached halfway above the thighs, long boots, and an oversized hooded coat. Frankly, no self-respecting person would wear an attire like this, but she looked a lot more decent now. If she asked personally, any high-class inn would likely offer her the best room they had. That would only make me uncomfortable, though, so instead we made our way to a cheap inn on the outskirts of town.
As for the battered cloak we were supposed to burn, the store owner begged for it, willing to give his whole fortune away in exchange. In the end we managed to come to an agreement: Zero’s old cloak for the new set of clothes.
The cloak itself had been in contact with Zero’s bare skin for years. It wasn’t hard to imagine how valuable it was to someone who would never experience the company of a beautiful woman.
I asked Zero if she had any misgivings for handing the cloak over to the balding man, to which she declared that she didn’t care how her friend, whom she had already bidden her farewell, was treated. I thought she was cruel for saying that, but I was probably just as coldhearted for actually smiling at that.
“Mercenary, Mercenary.” Zero pulled on my ears. I was carrying her on my shoulders. That hurts, you bitch.
“I smell something good. I am starving.”
I turned my head towards the direction Zero was pointing. In one corner of an alley where a variety of shops nestled together, countless food stalls lined the street, vendors fervently selling all kinds of food to passersby.
Some stalls sold peeled fruits, some roasted meat. Now that she mentioned it, I was also getting hungry. Getting something to eat before heading to the inn wouldn’t be a bad idea. Before I could say anything, however, Albus bolted to the stalls. Zero, too, jumped down from my arms and followed him.