Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
Arc 2 Storm
Chapter 4 Preparedness
Failed. Failed. Failed.
A voice echoed through my mind; Ideal’s low voice, tinged with a certain bitterness.
I regret ever becoming involved with him. I didn’t think he was that naive… he doesn’t know anything.
I didn’t remember how I got away from that place, but the next thing I knew, I was back in the room they gave me, breathing roughly. My knees creaked and ached from running as fast as I could. That wasn’t all. My heart, which was thumping rapidly, ached as if it were being squeezed.
As I crouched down and tried to catch my breath, Akane, who I still held in my arms, leaned over and roughly licked my cheek. The cat’s tongue was painful and itchy, but he seemed to be trying to comfort me, and my cheeks relaxed a little.
“I’ll have to ask him if I can keep you again later… No…”
Even if it was just to suppress the curse created by his ancestors, what Ideal and I were doing was still sex. I wondered what it felt like to have to embrace someone he didn’t like. I wondered if I would understand a little better if I had experienced it myself. I didn’t want to believe that everything up til now had been a lie.
He had truly treated me with kindness and care. But now that I had heard, albeit by accident, that he regretted it, I couldn’t continue to take advantage of his goodwill.
“In town… maybe I can find a house there. I’ll need a live-in job and… and a way to break the curse as quickly as possible.”
The last time I had been held was the day before. I still had about two days to go. For the time being, I would still be able to enter the places I couldn’t go when the curse was in effect. Once I had decided to go, I picked up a cloth bag containing all the money I had; tarnished copper coins that I had spent the last twenty years accumulating. It was only a handful, but it was enough to make a large purchase if I spent it all.
I opened the bag and found a shiny copper coin sitting at the top. It was one that was given to me by Ideal in exchange for some medicinal herbs. In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to exchange it for bread, so I had put it in here.
I closed the bag and shook it so that the coins inside would mix. The coins danced around making light clinking sounds.
“Okay, here we go, Akane.”
I asked the maid to leave a message for Ideal that I might not be back until tomorrow, and left the mansion with the red cat.
* * *
“Woah, was the capital always like this?”
We were about a thirty minute walk from the mansion. The capital city, which I slowly explored using my own two feet, was very different from what I remembered twenty years ago.
“It used to be livelier.”
Akane would go and look at anything that caught his fancy, and then come back to my feet. He was extremely lovable, but not many people would catch his eye. Everyone had gloomy expressions on their faces. They were so busy trying to survive that they had given up on many things, and didn’t seem to have time to enjoy anything.
Just like me when I was working as a merchant in that alley.
“Come to think of it, I’ve heard that public safety concerns are getting worse…”
It was an odd sight for the capital city of a country. There were nothing but people who looked the way I did, depressed and resigned from the curse. Of course most of them got paid for their work and lived in houses that could shelter them from the wind and rain. But that was the only difference between them and me.
“Akane, don’t follow anyone but me.”
I walked with broad steps, straining my creaking body, so that the people around me wouldn’t notice that I was physically disabled. Twenty years ago, the capital had been a lively, bustling, laughter-filled place, but now, even on the main streets, one had to be wary of muggers.
“Maybe the forest would be a safer place to live. Akane, would you like to live in the forest?”
The well-timed meow sounded like he was telling me that anywhere would be fine.
* * *
“Sorry that dinner took so long, Akane.”
In the evening, Akane and I had a light meal on a street corner. Akane had dried fish. I had tea and black bread. I was impressed again and again that I could talk with store owners and shop in a normal way.
“However, no response from the book lender.”
There was a large bookstore, as this was the capital of the country, but even after a full day of searching, I couldn’t find any clues about how to break the curse. Of the four major countries in the world, the Land of Humans was supposed to have the highest literacy rate, but there were very few books written about the curse itself.
If it was a curse, there might be more information in the Land of Demons or the Land of Ogres. But now that the curse had intensified, it would be impossible for me to travel that far. Even if I were able to endure the pain in my ankle, the only future I could see would be me being killed along the way by people who hated me.
…I didn’t think I could ask Ideal to come with me either.
“If you’re looking for information, all you need is a bar, or–“
I glanced at the alley across the street. It was a dimly lit alley lined with glittering buildings.
Suddenly, I remembered what Ideal said.
—I didn’t think he’d be this inexperienced… he doesn’t know anything…
Maybe, if I were more experienced.
Under my robe, I clutched the cloth bag containing my money. I had spent some of it, but most of it was still there. It would empty the bag, but I had enough to pay for a night.
Would that lessen Ideal’s burden? Not only were there stores to purchase women in the alley, there were stores where you could buy men as well. The first time and yesterday, all I did was lay there and receive what Ideal was giving me. The exchange of bodily fluids and mucous membrane contact– if I was going to beg for help from Ideal, or anyone else in the future, I needed to learn some tricks of the trade.
“Can you find a safe place to stay? Well, you know, until tomorrow morning or so…”
Akane licked my hand, and with light footsteps, he disappeared into the shadow of a nearby house. I heard him jump up with a thump, thump, thump, and then he reappeared up on the roof.
“Just as I expected. I envy you.”
When Akane left, I made up my mind. I clutched the bag of coins tightly.
–The shiny copper coin inside came to mind, but I pretended not to notice.