- 2 -

MY ENCOUNTER WITH THE ADVENTURING PARTY

"I was a pretty big fan of the unique concepts Journal of Destria introduced, especially as one of the first shooter VRMMOs."

I opened my eyes.

Not that I ever remembered closing them, of course. The harsh sunlight played a full act of aggression in opposition to my awakening, and I flinched as my skin bristled against a massive thistle bush mere inches away from my face. I let out an unconscious groan, pushing myself up and smacking the back of my head into a tree.

What a great start.

I was not in the streets of Caeciles, nor was I in the mass complex that was my room in Japan. Instead, I was just about buried in a lush green forest, sprawled underneath a great oak that appeared to shade every segment of ground within its vicinity except for the one I was under. I hesitantly got to my feet, audibly feeling the sound of leaves crunching underneath my boots.

Underneath my boots—..?

My heart swelled with excitement as I remembered the events that occured moments previous. Did it happen? Was I now Aria, the—…

There was no sword.

As I was relishing in my fantasies, I began gripping at the segment of my waist where my sword usually lied, but only grasped empty air. My fingers quickly started to rotate around my waist, trying to find any semblance of a weapon.

Within a few seconds, they rolled across several strange bulbous objects that were cool to the touch. They were inscribed with strange patterns, and when I etched upwards, it almost felt like a pin—…

Oh no.

Strangely enough, I also seemed to be wearing a bandolier of sorts, complete with a staggering array of pockets. Not to mention the baldric against my back, which held a large, metallic piece of weaponry.

My body became fully awake as my eyes shot fully open.

"Curse you, god!" I screamed.

I wasn't Aria, the goddess of white.

I was Artisa, the level five scout from Journals of Destria.

"You got the wrong character!"

I sighed as I collapsed back onto the ground. Artisa was merely level five, barely a step above the "novice" HUD indicator which all players received upon starting Journals of Destria for the first time. I had only played for about an hour or two, getting a feel for the game before logging out. I had planned to play more at a future date, but I was caught up in the large-scale territory events of Gaynn Online and Asciel. Currently, Artisa had mediocre stats, with most having been specced into the agility category for quicker movement and reload times. She was an honest scout, through and through, one of the most technically difficult but rewarding classes in the game. They were fast, but generally had little to no firepower, excelling in reiconsinnance and "plifering", a player-made term for a player who ran through the mass of useless monsters at the beginning of the dungeon and then placed a teleportation sigil down, allowing the players further back to get straight into the action. It saved a lot of time, but had a high risk of death, which meant being kicked out the of dungeon with less than half of you acquired resources, and generally making your party members extremely upset. Since pliferers had become a key player-made mechanic of Journal of Destria's world, many players weren't equipped to handle the trash monsters seen in earlier parts of the dungeon.

I suppose you could say scout was purely a support role, especially since most of their recommended loadouts involved grenades which could stun opponents and apply debuffs, as well as medical stims which could revive fallen allies.

In short, it was not a class I would want to be in an isekai life-or-death scenario.

Maybe I have some cheat stats..? I mused to myself, willing my menu to open. Surprisingly, it worked, and I came face-to-face with Artisa's stats.

Asami Miyahara Human Level 5

(Occupation: Scout. HP: 20/20. MP: 15/15. SP: 30/30.)

Average Offensive Capability: D.

Average Defensive Capability: B.

Average Magical Capability: C.

Average Dexterous Capability: A.

Average Mental Capability: S.

Abilities:

[Quick Step II], [Dexterous Movement I]

—…

That was it.

Artisa and I were one and the same.

Although, my name had been changed to my real-life one, rearranged in western style. Strange.

Also, my mental capability was a lot higher than anything I remembered Artisa possessing. She was smart, of course, but "S" implied her intelligence surpassed her agility, which wasn't the case. Was it pulling data from me in the real world?

I guess you can't really simulate a character's intelligence in this scenario. I won't suddenly become dumber being placed in someone else's body.

In addition, I had also noticed the stats were very different from Journal of Destria's screen. Gone were simple terms followed by numerical values like "AGI" and "INT", but now a large array of stats were collected under certain categories, with each category being awarded an alphabetical value.

Also, my defensive capability was B?!

My health was abysmally low. Was it my gear?

In any case, I would probably still die in a few hits.

Seriously unfair

I checked my abilities just to make sure they were the same as I remembered them.

Quick Step: A scout-unique ability. Can be used to increase one's agility for a short amount of time. Strength and duration increase with level. Max Level X.

Dexterous Movement: A scout-unique ability. Allows scouts to traverse up segments of wall and ground that other classes cannot. Max Level I.

All the same.

I didn't completely forget Artisa's upsides, though. Assuming I was in a fantasy world like Gaynn, a gun would be incredibly useful!

Except, if I remembered correctly—…

Artisa was only carrying three empty magazines…

I was out of ammunition.

The large gun on my back, a P90 submachine gun, was rendered absolutely useless.

Artisa did have a sidearm, though. That was fully loaded, which means I had nine rounds available to me. It was a Glock, specifically a model 27. Certainly, a bit of chainmail or even iron wouldn't stand much of a chance against its firepower. Still, to have only nine shots…

I'm a little on the weak side, aren't I?

Now that I think about it, my average offensive capability was D, right? Did that mean my gun was actually really weak in this world, or did it not take equipment into account?

To test my theory, I tried to pull out my glock from my holster. Instead, I ended up grasping empty air.

Huh—..?

Was it not equipped?

I willed my Glock to appear, just like I would in the game. The air seemed to shift around for a moment, almost as if it were being materialized into reality itself, and then...

Average Offensive Capability: S.

Oh.

I suppose guns are really strong in this world then, huh?

I slid the Glock into my holster, and my stat line stayed the same.

Maybe my weapon has a modifier which increases my strength?

In that case, why doesn't my P90 boost my offense?

I pulled my P90 off my back and ran my fingers across the surface. A screen appeared in front of my character stats, describing the weapon and its powers.

P90: A personal defense weapon designed and manufactured by FN Herstal in Belgium. Featuring a compact bullpup design with an integrated reflex sight and fully ambidextrous controls, the P90 is an unconventional weapon with a futuristic appearance.

My eyes scanned the screen for any mention of damage.

Increases Firearm Strength by 595 when loaded.

When loaded.

Well, I suppose that makes sense.

Is 595 a big number?

It would make sense if my Glock was lower. Despite that, my offensive capability with the Glock was S-rank. My opinion on Artisa's strength was just put into perspective.

Still, I would need ammunition. If a gun meant I was S-rank, then it must mean guns didn't exist in this world, or at least existed in very low quantity.

Basically, I would have a hard time reloading. I would have to conserve every shot, and with just nine of them, that would be difficult.

I do hope that I'm the only one who can analyze items like this. The phrase "manufactured by FN Herstal in Belgium" would certainly be confusing for any people born in a fantasy world.

Actually, I can't be sure if this is the world of Gaynn Online or not

Whatever god or moderator brought me here, they obviously already messed up once.

Then again, they never did promise that I would be my character from Gaynn Online, or that I would be in the same world, did they?

That survey just kind of asked me if I would prefer it…

Was that some kind of genie survey?

"Sign here to die, please."

I'd sign, assuming there was manga in the afterlife.

None of that "reincarnated as a middle-aged salary man" stuff.

I shook my head. Focus, Asami.

What do isekai protagonists do in this scenario?

Get a lay of the land, right?

Mm mhm! I nodded to myself.

I started walking straight.

Hm.

I see.

Trees. Oaks, even.

How peculiar.

I was in a forest.

Lay of the land complete!

Screw that! How do I get out of this place? I haven't been outside in almost three years!

What's that thing that those survival people do?

Right!

I licked my finger and held it up toward the sky.

Ah.

I see.

It's very cold.

How does this help me?!

Alright, calm down Asami. I can find my way out.

I just have to walk in one direction, right?

So I walked.

And walked.

And walked…

This is taking forever, my feet are starting to hurt!

They weren't, actually. For some reason, I seemed to have incredible staying power.

Walking to the fridge to get a snack was normally a nightmare for me.

I wasn't obese or anything. Just lazy.

In my defense, my house is very large!

I guess I must have inherited Artisa's stamina as well.

It made sense. I just overlooked "her" stats, after all.

Suddenly, I started to hear voices. They were pretty faint, probably muffled through all the forestry, but they were definitely there.

Civilization!

Beds!

Food!

I was a bit upset that those last two popped into my mind before anything else.

A normal person would think "finally, people!" or something in this situation, right?

I couldn't care less for other people, honestly.

I mean, assuming they needed help, I would try my best…

I don't like social interaction, is what I'm trying to say.

"S-Stay away from us—..!"

Ah.

No matter how I tried to reinterpret it, that was a cry of distress, wasn't it?

I didn't really want to get into combat before I knew how I compared to others.

What if "S" was really just a fancy way to say "F" in this world?

Still, I couldn't let someone get helplessly slaughtered by a wolf or something…

Alright Asami, it's time to take action!

I pumped myself up as I strode out from the brushes.

"I—…"

"Listen girl!" A male voice snarled, rudely cutting into my grand announcement, "We told you earlier—the blonde one comes with us, we take the money, and your necks stay. Capiche?"

Well, thanks for recapping the situation for me, I suppose.

The face of the most stereotypical bandit appeared in front of me. It was really just a stereotype on a stick-shaped body. There was hardly skin on his bones. If this was a comedy routine, I'm certain I would've shouted "Oh look, it's a skeleton! My first monster!"

His henchmen were a bit more burly, and by a bit, I mean machismo times testosterone. If the sly looking man was a branch, they were the entire trunk.

You can do this, Asami. They're just men. They even look like goons! You fight bandits in Gaynn Online all the time! It's just like then…

But no matter how you put it, this was real, wasn't it?

Slowly slinking back in fear were three girls. Their clothes were a bit ragged, likely from some intimidation tactics by the two trunk men. There was an overturned cart beside them, and a horse who seemed more confused than worried.

Wait, did one of those trunk men flip that cart? No matter how you look at it, I'm out of my league here, aren't I?

At least they thought to remove the horse before they flipped it. I would be sad if I had to see an injured animal. Then again, wouldn't the act of flipping over the cart scare the horse away?

I guess there are outcast horses in the world, too.

The three girls were all rather cutesy in their own way. Basically, they weren't the kind of girls who you'd expect to be going down a forest path alone. The blonde girl that branch mentioned earlier was majestic-looking. Her locks ran down each side of her head in moe-inducing curls. In fact, everything about her screamed moe. She wore a simple white dress, but it was fashioned in a way I'm sure was abnormal in a fantasy world. Unlike her two companions, not a thread was visible, leading me to believe she was some kind of noble. At the very least, she had enough coin to afford lavish clothes.

The girl to her right was equally doll-like, but in a more "village girl next door" way. She looked a bit more outdoorsy, but not in an athletic kind of way. Country-like would be the more apt term, I suppose. Her hair was also a bit curly, but only at the ends. A long tousle of brown heaps. She had a few freckles that dotted across her cheeks, which were endearing and lovely in their own way. It wasn't an imperfection in the slightest. Her clothes were a lot more simple, something you'd assume a stable hand would wear on an outing.

Finally, the girl to her left was the absolute pinnacle of "outdoorsy athlete". Her slightly auburn hair was cut short, painting a somewhat "tomboyish" look to her face. In comparison to the two girls next to her, she was showing the least amount of fear, but it was clear she was just as scared if not more so than her companions. She was likely doing her best to put on a brave face, which made me want to cuddle her and tell her it'd be all alright.

The situation was a bit dire for that, though.

She was gripping a small one-handed sword in both her hands, steeling herself against the intimidating presence of the two trunks. It seems she was the one who made the bold declaration earlier. Despite her stuttered warning, she was doing her best to protect her friends. I almost cried right there.

"You know what will happen if you don't give here," the branch smacked, the sound of his saliva clashing against the inside of his mouth. I cringed at the noise.

"I won't hand over Alicia! Not to some t-thugs!" she cried, taking a brave step forward.

Meanwhile, my expression was that of annoyance.

Nobody has even noticed me yet…

I'll also say this: I did my best to contain my anger, but seeing three youthful girls pressed to the breaking point from the three pig-faced men...it was impossible.

It brought back too many memories of him.

"Hey, porkers and piglet, why don't you hitch a ride out of here before you get burned?" I growled.

The piglet in question turned in surprise, his sly face contorting first into confusion, then into amusement.

"Ha, another girl? Fine, we'll kill you too! Amar and Amar Two, restrain her!"

Creative names.

Amar grunted, grabbing the hatchet that Amar Two held out for him.

"Girl go back. Amar no like to kill."

"I'm glad you lack a single speck of proper verbalization. Really fits the 'pig' archetype I tagged you as."

Amar frowned.

"Warn is real. Amar under containment."

"Containment? Wonderful, just like the barnyard animal you were destined to be!"

Amar yelled in anger, charging in my direction with the hatchet held above his head. A brief image of me shooting the hatchet out of his hand flashed through my mind as I unholstered my Glock, firing a shot that cut through the air like—…

A carving knife through a piece of cake?

Er, sorry.

Bang!

Amar blinked as his feet skittered to a stop. The metal axeblade slid harmlessly to the ground as the center of the hatchet snapped. He seemed confused, but not as much as branch, whose focus was completely trained in my direction.

"A m-mage dares challenge the mighty Karkous?!" Branch screamed, desperation entering his voice.

"Not wise—…" Amar Two started to say, but violent shudders cut him off as he gripped his chest, his teeth clashing angrily against one another.

Containment, huh?

"You brute, shut up and listen to my orders!" Karkous said, pulling out a knife from behind his back.

I knew his type well. The sly fools who grew desperate when backed into a corner. There were many of them in the E and D classes within the Phrontistery. Individuals who grew distraught once they realized just how inferior their intelligence truly was. Having gone their entire life thinking they were the pinnacle of intellect, their sudden reality check must've been jarring. However, the ones who took their predicament in stride were the only ones who ever climbed the intellectual ladder. Fools like Karkous remained in the lower classes, never rising. Not even for a moment.

Because their outlook was fundamentally flawed.

I shot Karkous in the chest, and another loud boom rang throughout the woods. It must've been a shock to witness a young girl harnessing the powers of thunder with a metallic cylinder. It was probably a mixture of that and the pain that Karkous collapsed to the ground, frothing at the mouth.

Serves you right.

Amar and Amar Two took a step forward, and I cursed.

So disabling the master doesn't cut whatever "containment" he talked about, huh?

I pulled out a small sphere from my belt loop and pressed the button near the top, relishing the feeling as a click resounded in my open hand. The outsides of the sphere pressed outwards as I threw it forward, radiating steam as the outside heated up beyond fifty degrees celsius.

The sphere exploded outwards, sending a ripple effect in between the two trunks.

"Auraaagh—..!"

"Garagaah—..!"

They both collapsed right in front of their master, their bodies limp.

Concussion grenades.

Their power was concentrated into a small point, just like Journals of Destria. I was a fair distance away, but I'm sure a real concussion grenade would have had a larger radius of effect.

I sighed, holstering my Glock and wiping the sweat from my brow.

I wasn't even scared. Not for a moment.

It was like my anger had taken control.

"T-Thank you, miss..."

Before I knew it, the blonde girl was in front of me, her eyes looking up at me like some kind of celebrity.

I took a hesitant step back.

"O-Of course, it was no problem."

"That was amazing, ma'am!" the tomboyish girl announced, her earlier fear completely replaced by admiration. She ran around me, her eyes devouring my belt with curiosity. "You don't look like a mage, though."

"Well—…"

"Thank you ever so much for saving us!"

Country girl was next, bowing her head slightly.

Well, I didn't expect that.

She talked in a more formal way then I thought she would. I thought it would be something like:

"Thank ya' kindly, miss stranger!"

I suppose that was pushing my misconceptions on another person, though…

I was becoming a bit overwhelmed. Their thankfulness was growing rather oppressive.

"Well, you see, I, er, um—…"

"What's your name, ma'am?" the athlete asked.

"I wish to know as well."

"Mm mhm."

"Well, that's—…"

I cleared my throat.

"Artisa."

I shouldn't give out my real name. It would probably be weird, in any case.

Suddenly, I felt the air shift around me.

What was that?

On a hunch, I opened my status menu.

Artisa Human Level 6

My name changed.

I guess it's because I recognized it as something else.

Wait, I leveled up?! Those guys were worth that much EXP?!

Assuming this world went by Journal of Destria rules, that was a lot. Even by Gaynn Online rules, for only three knockouts…

Maybe they were actually pretty strong..?

"To think that someone could take out assailants from the Kingdom of Neferis with such minimal effort! I suppose people with that level of strength do exist!" the freckled girl smiled.

Ah.

What I did was rather extraordinary then, right?

In isekai novels, don't the protagonist usually try to hide their true power?

Something like "if I reveal how strong I am, I won't be able to relax?"

I don't want to become some famous S-rank adventurer! I want to relax and read manga!

I felt a little of that, of course. But I also wanted to cement myself in this new world and start a new life, like I always dreamed.

Whatever requires the least amount of walking, I'll do.

"Names! We forgot to say ours!" Tomboy exclaimed.

"Apologies! My name is Celera, but you may call me Cel if you wish." The freckled girl curtsied.

"I'm Erin, nice to meet ya'!" Tomboy grinned widely, hands on her hips.

"A—...Alicia…"

S-So cute!

They were all adorable.

"How old are all of you?"

"Fifteen."

"Fourteen! Heh heh!"

"...T-Thirteen…"

And they were all pretty close to my age, to boot.

I'm just glad they didn't say something outrageous like "a hundred and nine".

"Why were all of you out here?" I asked, perplexed.

"We're adventurers, of course!" Erin grinned.

Ah, I see.

Wait a moment.

"Y-You all are?" I blinked.

"Yes, although we are rather new," Celera grimaced.

"...Very," Alicia nodded in confirmation.

Novice adventurers, huh?

"Why were assailants from the Kingdom of, um—…"

"Neferis," Alicia supplied.

"—...Neferwhatsit attacking you, then?" I finished.

"Well, you see, er, um, well, I, Alicia here is kind of a, um, er, well—…" Erin fished about for an answer.

"A princess," Celera finished.

Erin turned about, surprised, but Celera simply shook her head.

"I am certain we can trust Artisa, she just saved our lives, after all."

"...Alicia is very grateful…" Alicia murmured.

So cute!

The horse sniffed in the corner, almost as if it were saying "Left out again, I see."

"Petriple!" Erin exclaimed, running over and embracing the horse. The horse nodded.

Yes, notice me. I'll forgive you this once. It seemed to say.

Pentriple, though. It was a strange name for anyone, but a horse?

A weird name for a weird horse, I guess.

I had quickly begun to notice that Erin got distracted very easily. One would think that such a thing would be a bad trait for an adventurer.

I'll have to inform her later. I can't have her absent-mindedness endangering her allies.

"Where will you all be going?" I tried to make the sentence come out as casually as possible, but I couldn't help but feeling like a creepy old man.

Get a hang of yourself, Asami! You're giving a bad name to old men everywhere!

"To the capital of Farces, eventually, but we'll be stopping near one of the outskirt cities," Celera explained, "they have a nice inn where we'll be spending the night."

"Oh, so it's pretty close, then?"

"Yep!" Erin's grin somehow grew wider as she strode over to our group with Petriple in tow, "Farces is a lot nicer kingdom than Neferisis, don't worry!"

"You added an extra 'is' there, Erin."

So even natives don't know how to pronounce that kingdom's name.

Erin scratched at her face bashfully.

"Come...with us?" Alicia asked.

I'll follow you anywhere, Alicia!

"If none of you mind my presence."

"Of course not, Lady Artisa. You are our savior." Celera gave me a gentle smile.

Savior? Isn't that a bit much?

Actually, didn't I just save a princess? I'm really starting to stand out, aren't I..?

I hadn't even reached the first town yet.

"I've been meaning to ask—...what's that armor you're wearing?" Erin asked, walking around me.

I completely forgot! Artisa was wearing MK1 scout combat gear; a normal everyday sight in Journals of Destria, even mundane. But in a fantasy world, it was undoubtedly exotic.

If only there was a shop where I could purchase normal-looking clothes… I mused internally.

OPENING SHOP.

What?

A large menu opened up in front of me, causing me to stumble backwards.

"Aragh—..!"

I let out such an unladylike sound, throwing up dust from the dirt road around me as I fell.

"Are you alright, Lady Artisa?" Celera asked, holding out her hand. I grabbed it, pulling myself up hurriedly.

"Y-Yes! I merely felt a little light-headed is all…" I laughed awkwardly.

"Oh, then ride Petriple, Lady!" Erin tugged at my arm, "He'll carry you!"

Petriple turned to face me suddenly, I will? His look seemed to say.

"We'll walk alongside you. It's no trouble, so don't even think of complaining! Here, Alicia, you get on too."

"...Okay." Alicia responded.

And that's how I ended up riding Petriple with Alicia snuggling into my back, gripping onto my waist with all her might.

"...Really high…" She murmured.

So cute!

I guess she wasn't used to riding horses. She was probably in the carriage up until this point, but…

I looked back at the upsidedown carriage missing three wheels.

Yeah, that's not going anywhere anytime soon…

To distract myself, I focused my vision back on the inexplicable menu that nearly gave me a heart attack.

Seriously, does any menu in this game have any concept of personal space?!

Just as I thought, it appeared to be a microtransaction store, complete with several tabs that brought up a large array of items. It looked very similar in style to Gaynn Online, but at the same time, it was quite a bit more simplistic.

Actually, minimalistic is a good word.

It had a translucent background, and text occupying the outermost layer with small square images representing different items. Selecting an item would give a detailed description of what it did, and some items even had a little preview screen where you could get a three-dimensional representation of what it looked like. Unlike the MMOs of ages past, the item would actually appear in front of like a hologram, allowing you to inspect it fully.

This is really a microtransaction shop…

Is this some kind of cruel trick?

What kind of isekai world comes complete with a cash shop?!

The bottom left had a numerical counter with the image of a winged stone. Aulura, the paid currency of Gaynn Online. I suppose whoever sent me here carried over my Aulura as well. I had about two hundred thousand, which translated into about sixty-thousand yen, or about five hundred American dollars.

Hey, don't look at me like that!

After I bought everything I wanted in the cash shop, I had no real need for anything else, so I just kind of let my paid currency sit there. Occasionally, I would use it to open a gacha whenever one was released, but that's it. Gaynn Online was explicitly a game without pay-to-win.

Sure, some elements were a bit borderline, but they were so miniscule compared to other MMOs that most players gave it a pass.

Clothes, clothes...outfits? I selected the tab.

Immediately, an array of clothes assaulted my vision, nearly blinding me with the massive amount.

Just how many outfits are there?!

A small number near the top right answered my question.

Displaying fifty out of three million results.

T-Three million?!

With that number, every outfit in existence must've been catalogued. And these were only complete sets—there were options to sort by individual pieces as well.

W-Where do I even start—..?

First, I'll try looking up an outfit native to this world.

What exactly would I search up, though?

ATTEMPTING TO FIND ANSWER.

"Ah!"

"Are you alright, Lady Artista?"

"O-Oh, me? I'm fine."

"...Lady Artista is also...scared of horses…" Alicia smiled, snuggling up against my back even more.

T-Too cute! I can't handle this anymore!

I would normally correct her statement, but I couldn't live without this level of adorableness in my life.

Wow, I was really starting to sound like a pervy old man, huh?

Back to this shop screen, I guess.

The voice, as I had begun to call it, brought up several results. Each were sorted into nice little drop down menus, including "noble", "commoner", "clergymen", among others.

I selected "commoner".

Hm, a lot of these look uncomfortable…

I attempted to change my selection to "merchant", but ended up selecting "noble" on accident.

Ah!

Something incredibly cute assailed my vision.

It was a white dressed with pink frills, with a pink ribbon to match.

Purchase!

I heard the clink of coins as the Aulura was uncredited from my account.

...Huh?

No! I accidentally purchased it on instinct!

My first thought was "this would look so good on Artisa!", I didn't even consider the ramifications!

It wasn't that this was my style. I did own a lot of overly-cutesy clothes, but that was more or less due to my family than anything. Ah, what a huge mistake!

Well, I didn't want to waste anymore Aulura...I suppose I'll try it on.

I opened my inventory and tried equipping the outfit.

(Error. Outfit must be summoned and equipped one piece at a time.)

Oh, so I actually had to physically change. That was annoying.

[Outfit Change I] was obtained.

Hm?

I just got a strange new skill…

Hesitantly, I tried it out.

(Select outfit to equip.)

I selected the noble outfit I purchased, titled "White and Pink Quality Noble Dress".

A white light encompassed my body, and Alicia shielded her eyes as my clothes swapped.

"W-Woah!" Erin announced, rubbing at her eyes in an act to foil some sort of deception.

"A spell that swaps out clothes? How useful…" Celera mused.

"B-Bright…" Alicia groaned.

I'm so sorry, Alicia!

I looked down—my combat gear from earlier had been completely replaced by the cutesy dress I purchased. I twisted my hips slightly, allowing the frills to rain down Petriple's sides.

The dress itself wasn't that long, so it could hardly be called a ballroom dress. It was more casual, but still incredibly comfortable.

"Are you a noble by any chance, Lady Artisa?" Celera asked.

"A noble?"

"Yes. That dress has remarkable quality; I've never seen anything like it."

Well, it is the "Quality Noble Dress", I suppose.

I had to come up with some kind of cover story.

"I'm actually from a village far away, a place more adept at magic than these parts," I explained, trying to keep a straight face, "I can't tell you much more than that, so please abide by that explanation for now."

"Oh, so you're like a runaway! Or a majestic princess? Ooh, mystery!" Erin's eyes widened as she began filling in the blanks herself.

Perfect.

[Poker Face I] was obtained.

—…

I got another weird skill.

I guess I'll see what it does…

Poker Face: The ability to create an impassive expression that hides one's true feelings. Activatable. Max Level X.

...Yeah, that's about what I thought it did.

Activatable, huh?

I had a few activatable skills on Aria. Never on Artisa, though.

For the time being, I kept the skill to "off".

[Poker Face I] probably wouldn't be that strong, but it seemed enough to convince Erin.

Then again, it didn't seem that difficult to convince Erin…

Poor girl…

At that, Erin sneezed.

"I understand, I won't inquire anymore." Celera nodded, continuing to walk alongside Petriple.

Actually, wasn't Celera kind of noble-like?

If Alicia was a princess, it wouldn't be farfetched to assume that Celera was from a rich household. Maybe a baron?

What did that make Erin, then?

An idiot.

I was almost ashamed at how quickly that thought came into my mind. Almost.

She was cute, though. And she tried to protect her friends. Those qualities, at the very least, got a pass from me.

Still, she's a little to naive, don't you think?