The Demon Appears
Wearing a shirt of chainmail under her dress, Shirley tied the laces on her thick leather boots. Because of the power of the Hero’s Toolbox, Shirley’s preparations for adventures are very modest, compared to her peers. If a regular adventurer was planning on fighting an ancient dragon, they would probably be carrying their own weight in baggage, but Shirley could be mistaken for a simple townswoman at first glance.
After finishing preparations, she started making breakfast, but she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she did.
After making a quick turn in the mirror, she made a dissatisfied little noise with what she saw. With that long one-piece dress with the flared hem combined with that youthful face of hers that hadn’t changed in ten years, she actually looked even younger than nineteen, her body’s physical age.
“…..If I stay looking like this, can I really still be seen as a mother….?”
Although it’s not something she can do anything about as a semi-immortal, recently she has been worrying about her image of motherhood due to her appearance. In fact, a lot of people who don’t know Shirley call her ‘young lady’ when they first meet. Even young adventurers barely older than twenty who travel from out of town call her that as well.
(Well… It’s not like most people believe me, no matter how much I try to explain.)
Seeing is believing after all. Without having beheld Shirley’s true power themselves, they could hardly be expected to understand. Even if she’s renowned as the brave Demonic White Sword, to people who have never seen her in action, it’s hard to shake that first impression of her being a simple town girl.
…..That being said, it’s hard to think of many town girls that come close to possessing a shade of Shirley’s beauty, but that’s not really something she’s considering here.
(If anything, I’d love to become a woman like Martha-san… A woman who suits an apron would be best.)
Although Shirley’s ideal of a mother’s appearance being someone clad in an apron may reveal some slight prejudice on her part, she’s completely serious. At the very least, it would be more appropriate for her than a thirty-year-old still wearing a white one-piece dress.
(I don’t actually dislike this dress, though… It’s my favourite one and it’s easy to move in.)
Simply put, her belief is that she can keep wearing the same clothes so long as they aren’t riddled with holes or stained with dirt that won’t wash out. In the past five years, Shirley hasn’t had to do much by way of shopping for new dresses, so to see her wear any new clothing was a rarity.
But, Shirley’s mental age also stopped to a degree at nineteen, the age where a girl’s appearance is her whole world. That said, although dressing up Sophie and Tio in the highest quality clothes that she could afford was her pride and joy, it’s not as if she just doesn’t care about her own looks.
She truly is a doting parent who spends far more time on her own daughters than herself, but she still has one or two favourite pieces of clothing. Like this white dress, for instance.
It’s refreshing just to gaze at it on a hot summer day like this and its simple, non-eye catching design suits Shirley’s preferences perfectly.
She lifted the hem of her skirt and made another twirl in the mirror. Even if her mental age might be younger, if you considered her actual age, this was a little embarrassing. But, she can’t help doing the things that she likes, sometimes.
(If anyone saw me doing this, I would die of shame.)
It was about time to finish up breakfast, but as she turned back towards the kitchen bench, she was startled by the two sets of eyes she suddenly felt on her.
“….We were found out.”
Shirley cursed herself for being so negligent she didn’t even sense a watching presence inside her own home. At the edge of the kitchen, she saw Sophie and Tio poking their heads around the frame of the door, looking at her.
“Eh? Um, well…”
“We saw you twirl around in the mirror. Twice.”
In other words, she had been seen destroying her dignity as a mother not just once, but twice. Shirley covered her face with her hands and hunched over, curling up as much as she could.
“Ahhh they saw it they saw it all my dignity as a mother is goooooooone its embarrassing it’s too embarrassing it would be better if I just dug a hole and stayed in there forever how could such a thing happening how could I just completely forget about being an adult and just play around in front of a mirror like a little kid without any vigilance to expose such disgraceful behaviour in front of my daughters my only choice is to die……”
“I-It’s okay, mama! I didn’t think it was weird at all!”
“Mm. It was actually a little cute.”
As they sat in front of a breakfast of bacon, eggs and a salad tossed with smoked meat, their mother who still hid her face out of shame didn’t respond when Sophie and Tio tried to assure her.
The twins were being completely sincere with their words, but Shirley had suffered damage so severe that not even they could fix it. Meanwhile, the other adventurers nearby were starting to murmur.
“But, I see… I was always worried because mama seems to pay way more attention to our clothes than her own, but I’m glad she still likes to dress up.”
“Umm… Actually, it’s even more embarrassing if you stare at me like that…!”
Shirley trembled in shame as Sophie looked at her with eyes so full of sympathy. She had never expected to be gazed at like that by her daughter, so the damage had become even more serious.
“A-Anyways, I’m going off to work now. I might not be home in time for dinner, so don’t worry about eating before me.”
“Got it. See you later, mum.”
Her face still completely flushed, Shirley stood up quickly and left the Deficit House. As their mother left in such a state, Sophie and Tio glanced at each other.
“….It doesn’t seem like mama makes much time for herself, does she?”
“Mm. I get the feeling that she doesn’t use her spare time on herself.”
The two of them thought about it. Just what could they do for their mother who is constantly putting her life on the line every day?
“Mum told us not to use the knives or stove because it’s dangerous, we could help Martha with food but mum also said she might be home late tonight… What about washing?”
“That’s something we should always be doing anyway, cleaning our room is the same…..”
Since those chores just felt like something the children could do as part of their daily routine, it didn’t feel special, so they were still troubled about what to do. For the time being, they could at least help out with the dishes, but when they walked into the kitchen they heard Martha’s voice echo out as she talked to her husband.
“So anyway, there are a lot of customers who want to eat sour foods lately, it must be ’cause of the season. Apparently, it’s a good way to prevent fatigue in this heat.”
The white-haired twins looked at each other, the exact same idea springing to their minds at once.
“Come to think of it, mama liked the taste of those mandarins, right?”
“I remember managing to make those for mum’s birthday two years ago.”
Citrusy fruits were Shirley’s favourite and she was delighted when two years ago, with Martha’s help in the kitchen, the twins had made her a type of cold dessert called a jelly using mandarins. Since it’s so hot, wouldn’t that kind of tart sourness would be perfect, especially if it’s another cold treat like before? As the two of them thought that, they returned to their bedroom for a strategy meeting.
“It wouldn’t be special if we bought the fruit using our pocket money, right? Since that’s money that mama worked hard to earn in the first place.”
“There are other things that can work, right? Like forest lemons and stuff?”
It was a type of fruit with a strikingly sour taste that was also rather common, children from the frontier town sometimes ate it as if it were a treat when playing in the forest. Since it looks like a lemon, the children had given it the simple name of ‘forest lemon’, but it’s official name was ‘forest citric’. It evolved in such a way that it would discourage insects and small animals with its strong acidic flavour, but that same flavour was what made it popular with humans.
It’s also sometimes grown by farmers and the variety that you can find in the forest is slightly more bitter than the cultivated crops, but according to Martha, if you cook it right they can still be just as delicious.
“They grow a lot during this season, so if we go out to pick some now, we should be able to make something by the time mum gets home.”
“Yeah… That can work! Even if she’s tired and doesn’t want to eat much, she can still eat jelly!”
After a unanimous vote, Sophie and Tio put on their sunhats and left for the forest. They brought along Beryl and Rubeus to help them look for the forest citrics.
“Well then, let’s go!”
The forest, which stretched from well outside the city to the park near the Deficit House was the ideal place to play during these hot summer months because of all the shade. Sophie and Tio, with their pale white skin, were especially grateful for a place like this, spending many hours of their summer days here enjoying the cool winds that blew through the trees.
“Last time… Where did we find them?”
“I think it was… Over this way.”
The forest is like a garden to them, since they’ve been playing in it since they were quite young, but it was still very large. If a child entered here for the first time on their own, they would almost certainly get lost. Abiding by the unwritten rule that they should never venture so far into the forest that they technically leave the town, they began to look for the forest citrics growing on this side of the walls.
Lead by Sophie, the two girls alongside their two birds set off, trying to retrace the steps they took last summer. Even though the forest does technically lead to outside of the town, there aren’t any dangerous creatures or monsters around, warded off by just how many of their natural enemies, adventurers, exist so close by. At most, a single goblin might sneak through the forest in the hopes of pilfering from a house, but it seems like all the goblin nests nearby had been completely annihilated by a certain adventurer during the spring.
That’s why children could usually traipse around the forest with little care, but for some reason, Tio felt a vague sense of unease.
“What’s wrong, Tio?”
“Mm… It feels like there’s… Something in the woods…?”
She can’t quite explain what she feels, but if she had to put words to it, was it the feeling of being watched…? That ominous feeling creeping its way up her spine set Tio’s instincts off.
“You shouldn’t worry so much… It’s probably just some of the other kids playing, right?”
“Maybe…? But this feeling… Mm…”
Seeing Tio looking so fretful and anxious about something she didn’t quite understand, Sophie stuck out her small chest and stretched out her hand.
“It can’t be helped. Here, your big sister will hold your hand.”
“No, it’s not like that.”
Having her kind gesture as an older sister refused like that, Sophie hung her head. With that uncomfortable feeling Tio felt not changing, the two of them decided to gather up the fruits and return to the Deficit House quickly as they pressed further into the forest.
“Ah! There they are!”
“Mm. They grew nicely.”
In the area where the wall of the town would have extended if it weren’t for this forest, they finally found the fruits they were looking for. As soon as they rushed forward to start picking the fruit, countless human arms suddenly appeared behind Sophie and Tio, reaching out to try and grab them.
Was it their instincts…? The two of them had leapt to the side almost at the same time to avoid it, as a rush of an uncountable number of hands scraped the ground where they had just been standing a second ago.
“Ahhh!? W-Where’s the pocket watch!?”
Had those arms somehow grazed against it? As they looked for the pocket watches Shirley had given them, which they usually wore on a piece of string, they saw that they were on the ground on the other side of those arms. Sophie and Tio’s faces paled at the loss of the watches. As if to only increase their fear, the monster responsible stepped out of the shadows, a low and cunning grin on its face.
“T-Tio! That person is…!”
“You’re right, that’s mum’s sister…”
Ugly. That was the only word that could describe the disgusting amalgamation of human arms and legs, smashed together in the form of a monster with the face of a handsome man, but they also recognized the woman with the torn and dirty dress who seemed fused with the body of that creature.
She was Shirley’s younger sister, Alice, who would have been their new ‘mother’ had things gone the other way during the duel back in the Empire. The monster’s fingers and hands seemed to have drawn her even further into his body, her dress and pinky blonde hair stained with dried blood. With the way she looks, it’s not even clear if she’s alive.
“W-What do we do…!?”
The pocket watches that could save them were out of reach and because of how overwhelming the monster in front of them was, they couldn’t move their feet at all. Their instincts were screaming at them that one wrong move could mean death, so they didn’t move a muscle. What’s more, the monster also stood between them and the way back towards the town.
It was an utterly desperate situation. That monster wore a sadistic expression as he stared at the young girls. Gran stretched out his massively thick arm, wrapped in a myriad of other limbs, to grab at the petrified girls…
But, Beryl and Rubeus flapped in between them to protect their masters. A huge monster against small birds. Even if they’re spirits, what could these birds possibly do to protect the twins against a creature like that? But, when those blue and red birds opened their beaks, a bright light began to shine from their mouths.
” “TWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!” ”
And then, there was a flash. Those blue and red beams of light they let loose from their beaks tore through Gran’s outstretched arm as if it wasn’t even there.