Good Morning, Aster! With our respite from dungeon raids, we have all day to enjoy ourselves! Will you meet Reylan and I at the Blacksmith’s shop? We can spend the morning shopping, then tackle a fun quest after lunch!
The message from Alisea arrived rather suddenly, but Aster had begun to grow accustomed to the unusual, unorderly mannerisms and quirks of her fellow prisoners. Not everything in this deadly world operated according to the neat rules that Aster was familiar with in the lavish household of her real-world home. Well, that was just fine. She would learn to cope, and even thrive in this bizarre world. Besides, today they were taking on an enemy she was quite well-acquainted with: Shopping.
Aster’s life hadn’t prepared her for much in this game: she’d never fought wolves before, never had to figure out the intricacies of so very many friends, or really anything other than dancing, a skill she had yet to see be helpful, despite the many, many points she poured into it. Dancing, that is, and shopping.
Her dark grey eyes took on an excited light as she messaged back “Sounds like a lot of fun! I’ll meet you all there in fifteen minutes!”
As she pressed “Send,” she hoped desperately that the exclamation points weren’t too much. She didn’t want to scare away the best friends that she had in this game.
With a quick check of her clothes, she nodded with partial-satisfaction, glorying in the feeling of being able to appreciate more than the simple garment’s texture. It was functional, if a bit unflattering, but for its price, she couldn’t complain. Well, perhaps that could be added to her shopping list, if it wasn’t too frivolous. A dress, to make her dancing skill worth something in times of peace.
The blacksmith’s shop was easily reached, and she waited there impatiently for the other two to arrive. Yes, today would be a good one: Aster, Alisea, and Reylan, against the mighty market!
Alisea and Reylan stood outside Peter’s smithy, casually conversing as players hustled past. Alisea was draped in her cloak, the cowl left down so her long, brown locks could absorb the morning sun. Reylan stood relaxed, his own silvery hair reflecting the rays brilliantly--though his well-worn outfit detracted from the radiance of his figure. They stopped their conversation when they noticed Aster approaching. Alisea raised a hand in a wave, making sure Aster had seen them waiting there for her.“Good morning, Aster!”
Alisea called in greeting when the swordswoman drew near. “Reylan and I were just discussing what we each needed to buy. I need to visit the magic school, of course. Reylan will need more arrows. But first things must be first, and so we are going to look for clothes!”
Reylan raised two fingers to his forehead in a lazy salute as Aster came over. He had been trying to keep up his appearance in this game but between these two, he’d bet he looked rather unkempt “I need to get something that doesn't look like I got mauled by a pack of wolves.”
He laughed a bit sheepishly at his lame joke. His equipment was missing from his person including the cloth armor that hadn’t gotten that much use.
Clothes were a definite necessity after the last run. The rigors of the dungeon had frayed the beginning outfits for most--and left certain others in tatters. Reylan’s clothing certainly had a weathered appearance; and it was slowly becoming apparent that Alisea was being very careful to keep the front of her cloak closed clear down to her feet.
Aster smiled as her two friends came into view. “Oh, that’s perfect, then! I needed to pick up a new set or two of clothes myself, so that should work out nicely. After that, though, could we maybe stop at an action trainer? I need to diversify a bit, outside of just triple strike.””Absolutely,”
Alisea answered. ”Now come! So many shops sell clothing, we can wander down this street and pick whichever ones look best.”
an enthusiastic, female voice greeted as soon as the trio stepped inside. Standing beside the front counter was a young woman with a bright smile--and a pair of cat ears atop her head. They were nestled into her rich, brown locks, with a headband running behind them to keep the hair and ears separated. As the trio came to a hesitant stop just inside the door, the girl turned to face them squarely, leaned forward, brought her hands up to mimic paws, and asked brightly, “How mew I help you today?”
Alisea was stunned. Whatever this creature was, it certainly wasn’t natural. Her own typically-unwavering smile was gone as she eyed the girl warily.
The silver-haired archer eyes widened at the sight, what the hell was he seeing right now? This game had girls with cat ears? Personally he found them cute but seeing it in person...was a little surreal if not totally weird.“Did I do it wrong?”
she asked, worry beginning to seep into her voice. “I can try again! Let me see…”“Try what?”
Alisea managed to interject.“Being a catgirl! One of the adventurers said I would definitely have more business if I could do this right! Do you, um, do you not like it?”
Reylan couldn’t bring himself to dash her hopes. “Uh, um. It’s fine! It’s kinda..”
He quickly looked at the other two unsure of what to say then back to the girl with cat ears. “...cute?”
Though he tried to say it regularly, it came off a little shy in his unsurity. “It does… pander well to certain… some adventurers,”
Alisea tried, choosing her words carefully as she followed Reylan’s lead in not cutting the idea down altogether. Still, letting it continue wasn’t an option. “Though I think you will do better just being yourself. When you show your customers your honest face, they believe your products are honest, too.”
The girl’s brow furrowed as she pondered the statement. Then her eyes shot open and her face lit up as though she had experienced a grand epiphany on the meaning of existence. She quickly reached up and pulled the hairband from her head, and--to Alisea’s relief--the ears came with it. “Okay! Then, again, welcome! My name is Nina. What can I help you with today?”
Aster had no idea what to think about the catgirl. Well, that wasn’t exactly true, she knew what she thought, but it wasn’t all too positive, so she did her best not to think on it too much. When her companions didn’t speak up, she decided it must be her place to, so despite her discomfort, she did so.
“Umm… actually, I had something I wanted. I don’t know what you sell exactly, but I was hoping to find a…” She glanced at her companions once more, a bit nervous, and whispered softly, “A dress. A nice one, like a ball gown, maybe? Something I could dance in. Something red?” Her face began to turn the color of the proposed dress. “And, um, also something more practical, to go with my adventuring gear, or to wear in town. Just a kind of normal dress, maybe something like what you’re wearing? But… maybe a bit more covering than what you have. Ahhh, no offense.”
She looked away, then back, and added. “One more thing. Do you have brass knuckles here?”“Mmm, no brass knuckles, but we definitely have gowns! Come, come! Back here!”
Nina eagerly lead her customers back to where the more elegant dresses hung. Dozens of dummies posed stylishly, flaunting the best the store had to offer. Bright colors and decorative patterns were the rule, with few exceptions. “Please remember all of these are for display only,”
Nina explained. “If you see one you would like, I will take your measurements and retrieve the appropriate size from the storeroom for you to try on. It is likely our dresses aren’t an exact fit, so you won’t be able to walk out of here wearing your new dress. We promise to finish all necessary adjustments within 24 hours of your purchase, so if you buy it today you can pick it up tomorrow!”
The range of options was huge, enough that Aster felt right at home. A violet number with a high hemline caught her eye, though she dismissed it at the sight of the plunging neck. A gold gown was beautiful, but not exactly her taste. A plain, dark red traveling dress was a certain buy, if only to replace her now-damaged outfit, but she still wanted something extra, something just for fun.
Two dresses fit that rubric. One, a layered red gown, exactly her sort of color, would fit pretty easily without many alterations, and was conservative enough to be comfortably worn most anywhere, though ornate enough to fit into any elevated social function. The other was black, matching Aster’s hair, and while it wasn’t her usual style, with its smooth, sleek fabric and snug, slender fit, she couldn’t deny that something about it was certainly appealing.
Turning to face her companions, Aster presented the two options, gesturing to the two mannequins to get some sort of input from her friends. “What do you two think? The red one, or the black? I like them both, but I’m not sure which one suits me better.”
While Aster looked around, Reylan had been looking around the store as he stood there for anything for a guy. He didn’t have much luck in his search. Thoughts of how Aster might look in a dress popped into his mind. Reylan was very much a visual thinker so it wasn’t difficult for him to picture. For some reason, he saw Aster atop of a large cliff by the shoreline with lush grass filling the land around her. She wore a long, white, sleeveless dress colored with splashes of red that flowed gently with a breeze. Down the cliff, ocean waves crashed ferociously against the sharp rocks below. The sky was ablaze with different shades of pink and orange mixing with the fine blue as the sun danced among clouds. It was pretty obvious to his two companions that he had been zoning out when Aster called their attention.
The tearing from his pseudo-reality jarred him, forcing him to take a couple extra seconds to understand what was asked. “It has got to be the red one! The color would frame very well with your hair and eyes and the style fits your personality pretty well I think. Not that the black one would be a bad choice either.”
He spoke with a sort of expertise. Being an Artist, Reylan had an eye for design details and how they complemented other things. “I prefer the red one but either would look good on you,”
he simply said smiling.
Behind him, Alisea watched their charmer of a guildmaster with deep interest. ‘Does he realize what he says? Or is that natural to him?’
There was at least one way to investigate further. “I think so, too; the red dress should make you look stunning, Aster. Nina, can you bring one for her to try on?”
As Nina set about ascertaining the size Aster would need, Alisea grabbed Reylan’s attention--an easy feat, as he was trying very hard to not watch Aster being measured. “Then what should I wear? Do you think this one would be right?”
Alisea stepped around behind a violet gown, mimicking as near she could holding it up in front of her.
His head turned to look at Alisea, right hand cupping his chin as he mentally projected the dress on Alisea. He really loved how the color of the gown went from a lighter shade to a dark one going from top to bottom “Violet is a very regal color that really fits you. It is a shade that really goes along nicely with your brown hair. But it stills needs a little something…”
He spoke, face in thought as he looked around. “Ah!”
he said as he spotted a pretty white blouse, and took it off its display and placed it around the arms of the violet gown. A bright half-smile as he said, “There. Now instead of just ‘alright’, you’ll look amazing!”
Reylan was a bit surprised at the fun he was having.
A deeper image expanded inside of his mind...a dark, rainy night in some downtown area of large city. The red tail-lights of cars reflecting of the numerous, small puddles forming as a strong-faced Alisea walks around a corner. In the dim light of the street lamps, she possess a mysterious elegance that forces the attention of passersby on her. Even as the rain beats against the fair skin of her face, she shows no sign of it bothering in the least. In fact, she seems rather delighted. Every step is made with the assurance that she has nothing to fear. The violet dress serving to further bring out the beauty and strength she already possesses. Snapping back to reality, he donned a small grin shaking his head at such thoughts. This was not the time to be day-dreaming.
Alisea’s face froze. ‘Just alright, am I?’
At least she had her answer now; no intentional charmer would make a mistake like that. Alisea kept her smile locked in place to hide her irritation. Nina disappeared briefly, reemerging with the red dress for Aster to try on. In the meantime the magess scanned the rows of less flashy outfits. A nice dress for the upcoming festival was all well and good, but she needed some changes of clothing for the here and now, too.
A kind of uneasiness filled his chest when Alisea hardly reacted at all to what he said. He had been with her long enough to know that she was hiding something behind that smile, which was scary. Had he said something he shouldn’t? In Reylan’s mind, he had referred to Alisea asking if the dress would look alright on her not that she herself had looked ‘alright’. His comment’s intention then was to imply that the dress would look much better than simply ‘alright’ on her. He might have chosen better words if he was more aware of how it might sound to the other person. Dealing with women was not one of his strong suits.
She seemed to move onto looking at other dresses, which made him a bit disappointed. He would have actually liked to see her in that dress. At the very least, while she was searching he could ask Nina about clothing for him “Hey, uh Nina?”
He said as he approached her “Is there any outfits for guys?”
So far he had only seen feminine clothing in the store.
Nina appeared to think for a moment then nodded. “We do! In the back there should be stuff for you!
” she responded to him, gesturing behind her. “Thanks.”
A small smile shone at her as he went to look. Tucked into an obscure corner, the selection was pretty limited he found out. Nothing was as good looking as the dresses; but there was stuff that would work for more casual wear and wearing underneath his armor.
Nodding silently in agreement, Aster accepted the red dress from the attendant, then went to change. She agreed with Reylan, the blue was a good color on Alisea.
Changing was easier even than irl, which was fortunate, with as many layers as the dress had. A quick jab at the “equip” icon, and she was wearing the crimson garment. The mirror mounted to the wall caught her attention, and as she turned to look, she was caught off guard by how well the garment worked on her. She’d need to do her hair and makeup if she wanted to go to a ball or event, but even as she was now, tired from the dungeon, she couldn’t help but marvel. The renn would be well-spent, she thought, as she emerged once more.