Chapter 06 – The Marketplace
After exiting the temporal domain, Chelsie and Ruri were planning to make their way to the marketplace in the Nation of the Dragon King, but…
“Chelsie-san, where is this marketplace anyway? Do you have a car or something?” “Car… You mean a carriage? Of course I don’t. You see any horses around here?”
“Then how are we getting there?!” This place was surrounded by forest. It was extremely hard to imagine that the marketplace Chelsie spoke of was anywhere nearby.
“If we were to walk, it’d take us five days to get to just the nearest village.” “Five days?! We have to walk that long?!”
“That’s only if we were walking, but no one said anything about that. Besides, the marketplace isn’t in the village, it’s in the city farther on.”
“Farther than that without any means of transportation aside from walking… Ah! Don’t tell me we’re going to warp like in some fantasy story or something?”
Leaving Ruri to brew in her growing excitement, Chelsie moved over to an area devoid of obstructions. She was then instantly engulfed in light. Ruri was left clueless as to what had happened as she squinted at the blinding mass of light which grew larger and larger until it was taller than the house and the trees around them.
“Woah woah woah woah!” Once the light faded, Chelsie had vanished and in her place was something else—a gargantuan reptile covered in hard scales with an equally large tail and a pair of wings. “Chelsie-san turned into a lizaaard!” Ruri screamed in sheer panic, but Chelsie retorted as she would normally.
“I’m not a lizard; I’m a dragon! Don’t group a proud race such as dragons with common lizards. It’s utterly disrespectful.”
That voice didn’t come in through her ears but echoed directly into her head. “That voice just now… Was that you, Chelsie-san?”
“I’m using what’s called ‘telepathy’ to talk directly to your brain. I can’t speak normally while in my dragon form.”
“Dragon… So you were dragonkin this whole time, then.”
Ruri’d thought Chelsie was a big lizard at first, but as she circled her dragon form and inspected her closely she saw clearly how wrong she’d been. She wasn’t a serpentine creature from Eastern tales but a large winged dragon of Western lore. Nonetheless, she was quite…
scary. Ruri was treating her normally because she knew it was really Chelsie, but if she didn’t focus on that fact, the huge reptile’s intimidating aura would make her shiver in her boots.
“Come now, quit dilly-dallying and climb on.”
Apparently, they weren’t going to hit the road but the skies. They certainly didn’t need a car if that was the case.
“Uh, how? Climbing aboard is easier said than done…”
Right now, Chelsie towered over her at five stories high, and the scales adorning her body were too smooth to make any sort of climb up easy.
“You have magic, don’t you? Use a wind spirit’s power to levitate your body.”
As she was instructed, she envisioned herself floating in the air and used her magic; her body started to levitate. However, she found it hard to keep her balance and couldn’t hold herself in place, spinning out in mid-air.
“I know that it’s hard to keep your balance at first, but once you get used to it, I’m sure you’ll be flying side by side with me in no time. Just remember that flying consumes mana, so make sure to keep an eye on your mana reserves. Then again, that’s probably something you don’t need to worry about.”
Once she’d clumsily reached Chelsie’s head, she grabbed onto the horn atop it. “Okay, we’re taking off, so hold on tight.”
Ruri replied energetically to Chelsie, who then took her gigantic body to the skies. In the blink of an eye, they ascended high enough to look down at the many trees of the forest below. Ruri had never been good on roller coasters, but despite being on Chelsie with no life line and only her horn to rely on, she surprisingly felt no fear. That was no doubt thanks to the wind spirits’ magic that she felt all around her, which gave her a sense of surety that she didn’t have to worry about falling to her doom even if she were thrown off.
Also, perhaps Chelsie had a barrier installed around them because the wind flowing past her was only as strong as a gentle breeze. The weather was excellent and visibility was high. Below them, the forest that housed Chelsie’s home spread far. Looking down from above, the giant forest never ended. If someone were to get thrown in there without any equipment at all, they surely wouldn’t make it out. It was a sobering reminder to Ruri that it was a miracle she had survived.
She would have withered away by now if it weren’t for the spirits. To say that she was lucky was an understatement. And it was more likely than not that the people in Nadasha weren’t banking on Ruri surviving in that forest either. Though, Ruri hoped that they would think she was dead and consider the case closed…
They had already passed the village that was supposed to take five days to reach in a matter of hours. Once they’d flown over a number of small settlements, a sprawling cityscape came into view. “We’re here,” notified Chelsie as she landed on a spot that was quite a distance away from the city entrance. Although she would have liked to land a little closer to the entrance, Ruri descended from Chelsie’s head. Soon after Ruri hit solid ground, Chelsie’s body was once again engulfed in light and she returned to her familiar human form.
Next, she pulled out Ruri’s brown wig from her space pocket and handed it to her, causing some confusion for Ruri. “I’d almost forgotten, but do me a favor and have that on before we enter the city. And make sure you never take it off while we’re there.”
“That’s fine, but can you tell me why?”
“It’s because your hair color is extremely rare in this world. If you don’t act with caution, chances are a slave trader will set their sights on you, so be careful not to take it off in public under any circumstances.”
“There is slavery in this world?!” That news was a severe blow to Ruri since she was raised in a land to which the concept of slavery was totally foreign. Public safety in this world must be even worse than Ruri originally thought.
“Not here, but there are a fair number of nations where slavery is legal. Those belonging to uncommon races or possessing rare colors can be sold for a higher price, so cases of individuals being kidnapped aren’t uncommon. You seem to hail from a peaceful land, but you need to be careful. Especially around humans.”
Ruri was none too pleased to be lectured like a toddler, but she refrained from voicing her complaints. Something Chelsie said had caught her attention.
“That’s right, humans.” Catching the hint that Ruri didn’t understand this warning, Chelsie ran her eyes around Ruri. Ruri followed where Chelsie was looking only to find the spirits, who had followed her as usual. Ruri cocked her head, completely stumped. Chelsie saw this and explained with a sigh. “The only people who would try to assault someone with this many spirits hanging around them is either a human without enough mana to see spirits or someone with a death wish.”
“Aren’t there demi-humans with weak mana as well?”
“Even if they can’t see them, demi-humans have senses that are a hundred times sharper than those of humans, so they will at least be able to sense the spirits with this many of them in one place. Still, only a handful of humans with strong mana can see them anyway. That is why I’m telling you to be careful so that you don’t end up getting targeted.”
“I’m not a child; I heard you the first time, thank you very much.”
If danger were to befall Ruri, then the real danger would befall everything around her. As they walked to the city entrance, Chelsie proceeded to give Ruri so many warnings that she felt her ears were going to fall off.
As soon as they passed the main gate, they found themselves in a… fuzzy, cuddly heaven. There were Western European-style buildings and stone-paved roads with establishments lining either end of the street, which was filled with shoppers. At least, that’s what it looked like they were doing. The lack of any bags or goods in their hands made it hard to tell for certain, but that was most likely because of the space pocket magic that Ruri had just learned about today.
The sight of the city, seeing so many people in one place for the first time in a while, sent Ruri’s already high excitement even higher. There were beast people who closely resembled humans but had animal ears and tails. There were beast people who were just the opposite, who resembled animals yet walked on two legs. A wide variety of different types of beings were walking here, there, and everywhere.
For the demi-humans that had a completely human form like Chelsie, it was difficult to tell what other form they might possess—or if they were even demi-humans at all, but, for the most part, this city was said to be comprised entirely of demi-humans. The children they saw in the streets all either had animal ears and tails or were beast-like in either the upper or lower portions of their bodies.
There were demi-humans still too young to assume complete human form; the small, fuzzy, and cuddly-looking children were absolutely adorable. She wanted to pet them so badly… She impulsively went up to one of the playing children and squatted down to meet them at eye level. She looked at their long, fluffy-looking cat tail standing on end. This cute little girl didn’t appear to be experienced at taking human form, so in addition to her ears and tail, she also had other cat features like her nose and the whiskers along her face. The girl paused her playing and stared at Ruri blankly.
“Hey there, would you mind letting me give you a little pet?” “Okay~”
Ruri was convinced that the child would be wary of a weirdo they’d never met before abruptly asking for permission to touch them, but, much to Ruri’s surprise, the child agreed with relative ease. Ruri herself was worried over the little girl’s lack of caution, but her cuteness coupled with her supple coat of fur made Ruri melt into a smile. She gave the child’s ears a gentle stroke; they were warm to the touch and twitched as if tickled, proving beyond a doubt that they weren’t a costume. She continued, going over to a child with a white rabbit head straight out of Alice in Wonderland and petting them, too.
Their cuteness had Ruri enraptured. “Oh God, this is sheer bliss…”
“What are you doing, Ruri? Let’s go.”
“Look, Chelsie-san! They’re super duper cute!”
“They’re children; of course they’d be cute. Leave your detours for after we do what we came to do,” Chelsie said, pulling Ruri by the arm.
Although reluctant to leave, she parted ways with the children, who waved farewell back to her. She then followed Chelsie closely, so as to not get separated in the busy city, and headed toward the marketplace. On their way there, Ruri couldn’t hide her surprise at some of the beast people she saw walking down the street, but, for some odd reason, they looked just as surprised when they saw Ruri, which puzzled her.
In the city square, there was a huge selection of shops and shoppers. Not only were there foods, like fruits and vegetables, that Ruri had never seen before, but there was also a variety of different items with mysterious uses. Some had stalls and some just displayed their merchandise atop large tapestries laid out on the ground.
While what was for sale wasn’t the same, this place reminded Ruri less of a marketplace and more of the flea market she would often visit on the weekends back in her world.
Ruri and Chelsie found an open area and spread a big tapestry on the ground, placing their own medicinal plants and fruits atop it. However, the intense stares they received from those around them were none too comforting. This staring had persisted ever since they entered the city. People would have shock written across their faces the second they saw Ruri and Chelsie, or they’d look at Ruri and start whispering to each other.
She checked to make sure she hadn’t accidentally messed up her hair, but it was fine. Her wig was on straight, so her hair color wasn’t the problem here. (Do they find my outfit strange? Maybe my clothes are out of fashion, or something.) Ruri had borrowed the outfit she was wearing from Chelsie, but Chelsie didn’t strike Ruri as being very fashion-forward since she lived alone in a massive forest, so its style being outdated was definitely possible.
As soon as she decided that was the case, she heard a child’s voice. “Look, Mommy! That girl has a bunch of spirits hanging around her!”
The spirits that normally hung around on both sides of Ruri’s shoulders and her head were an everyday sight to her now, but she recalled what Chelsie had told her about it being rare. Now Ruri understood why everyone had been staring at her this whole time. “Just a guess, but do they see me as some kind of rare animal?”
“Something of the like, yes,” Chelsie replied to Ruri’s whispered question, making Ruri’s stomach drop.
She had become a sideshow attraction without even realizing it. Even though she wanted to live as ordinary of a life as possible, she cared for these sweet spirits too much to ever consider shooing them away. She couldn’t possibly bring herself to do so now. She regained her composure, focused on setting up their merchandise, and by the time things were all set up, Ruri’s shop tapestry had gained a sizable crowd.
“Did you pick these medicinal plants yourself?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Then, I’ll take this.”
“I’ll take this one!”
“Hey, no cutting, jerk!”
They had only been open for a minute before it turned into a warzone, with customers
pushing in one after another.
“Miss, please wrap these and these.”
“Sure! …Um, Chelsie-san, could I ask you to handle that?” Ruri asked, seeing as she had her hands full ringing up another person, but the customer who’d asked Ruri to wrap their purchase rushed to intervene.
“Ah, no, no. I want the young miss to do it.”
She was suspicious as to their insistence, but since there was no time to lob questions back and forth with droves of customers at her doorstep, she proceeded to fulfill their request.
“Miss, what do these medicinal plants help with?” “Those? Umm, what was it again? Chelsie-san?”
“After drying them out, you grind those up into a powder, dissolve them in hot water, and drink the solution as cough medicine.”
“And there you have it.”
Customers kept trying to go through Ruri for everything. Whether it was handling the merchandise, taking payment for the merchandise, explaining the merchandise—they never once, without exception, asked Chelsie. Since she was so swamped, she would ask Chelsie to help her out, but everyone would try to intervene.
Ruri couldn’t tell one plant or fruit from another, didn’t know the price of anything or even understand the currency, and couldn’t calculate totals as a result. Meaning she had to go through the time-consuming process of asking Chelsie about every single thing as she worked. On top of that, she kept getting non-business related requests, too, such as handshakes and requests to pet their children’s heads. Their stock disappeared in the blink of an eye. The rush was over and Ruri remained—the only one that was positively exhausted.
“You did so good, Ruri.”
“Boy, why was I so singled out…? Chelsie-san was right next to me the entire time.”
“I told you that someone beloved by spirits as much as you is uncommon, didn’t I? They’re trying to get any drops of the spirits’ power they can by touching either you or anything you yourself picked up.”
“You can receive a spirit’s power with a handshake?”
“No, not at all. Let’s call it a matter of feeling over logic. Still, that just shows you how much the power of spirits drives this world; it’s essentially a religion. Demi-humans who can see spirits see you as a precious and sacred entity, so they want to interact with you as much as they can.”
“Well, better to be loved than hated, but I don’t think I can handle it if this is what happens every time…”
“I’m sure it will calm down if you visit the city a few more times. But be on your toes, regardless. This doesn’t mean that everyone bears only affection toward you. Don’t forget that there will be those seeking to manipulate you, so don’t go trusting strangers willy-nilly.”
“Yes, ma’am. Will do, ma’am,” Ruri replied, fed up that she was right back to getting an earful of incessant warnings.
As Ruri strolled around the city, looking to buy some necessities with the money she’d made off her sales, she made accidental eye contact with an older man standing at a shop selling fruit. He waved her over, and she cautiously approached him.
“How’s about it, young miss? They’re guaranteed delicious.”
The seller had a whole stock of fruits that she had never seen before in her world, all lined up in rows. He recommended one fruit, assuring her it was in season and ripe, but with its poisonous red and blue polka dot color palette, it honestly looked like you needed some serious courage to even take the first chomp. While Ruri wondered if this fruit was even edible, she decided to buy one to satiate her curiosity.
“Okay, I’ll take one, please.”
“Oh, don’t just take one, take a bunch,” replied the shopkeep, as Ruri proceeded to watch him put fruit after fruit in a bag, making her panic.
“No, wait! Just one is fine, I couldn’t afford all these right now anyway…” Ruri was planning on getting some other items after this and, since she didn’t know how much this was going to cost, she didn’t want to do any wasteful spending beforehand. However, the older man held out the bag filled with fruit with a warm-hearted smile.
“No need to pay me. This is my little gift to you.” “Huh? But, uh… I couldn’t possibly…”
“It’s fine. It’s fine. In exchange, come back to this city again, will you? And if you keep me in mind and buy from my shop again, it’d be greatly appreciated!”
Ruri was bewildered, but Chelsie ordered her from the sidelines, “Take them, child.”
Ruri hesitantly took them and gave her thanks with a polite smile. “Okay then, I graciously accept. Thank you very much.”
“Come again, now.”
She waved goodbye to the generous fruit man and went about her business. Afterward, she took peeks at other shops and stalls—each time they gave her the warmest of welcomes—all the while Chelsie rebuked her for wandering around in her curiosity. Even though they were giving her more goods than she could hold, she hadn’t paid a single coin for any of it.
“Is this also because I have spirits by my side?”
“Any land where spirits gather becomes fruitful; the soil grows rich and natural disasters diminish. So, to answer your question: it’s because if you come here, the spirits will come, and if the spirits come, the land here will prosper. All of this is a small price to pay if it means getting you back here again.”
“Oh wow…” Spirits in this world were almost like deities, like Buddha back in her world. But considering you could actually see spirits here and magic was integrated so heavily into these peoples’ daily lives, their awe and reverence was probably immeasurable. Ruri was finally starting to piece together just how big of an impact spirits had in this world—as well as the dangerous power she held, merely by being adored by those very spirits.
(I hope I don’t get pulled into any more trouble, and yet…)
But those worries flew away in an instant when she realized this was her first shopping trip in forever. They had the clothes that she wanted and in large supply. Not those gaudy dresses with loads of frills they gave her in Nadasha, but functional clothes that were easy to move around in. The selection here made Ruri breathe a sigh of relief. Nevertheless, fashion was different than in her world, and it wasn’t commonplace for girls to wear pants here, with most wearing skirts or dresses. Be that as it may, since Ruri was living in the woods, pants she could be active in were a necessity.
It wasn’t as if they didn’t have a selection of pants, but none of them were all that cute. It made her contemplate just making some herself, but she wasn’t good at sewing and getting a bespoke pair would be costly.
Out of options, Ruri settled on a pair of plain slacks. In addition to other personal items, like shoes and underwear, she bought a supply of preserved foods as well as seasonings. Once she was done, she climbed on Chelsie, back in her dragon form, and they flew back to their home in the woods.