A Stroll Through the Capital — Part 1
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
“H-How do I look?”
Nell nervously tugged at the hem of her dress as she did a little bit of a spin to show it off. Her voice was tinged with insecurity, no doubt in part due to the more tomboyish outfits in which she usually found herself clad.
“Nell…” I got down on a knee and looked her right in the eyes.
“W-what?” she stammered. “W-why are you looking at me like that?”
“H-huh!? W-w-what’s gotten into you all of a sudden?”
She went from looking at herself nervously to fidgeting about in a fit of embarrassment. Her face had gone from carrying a light, anxious blush to one that was full-on scarlet. The serious tone and expression with which I had conveyed the idea only served to further the extent of her reaction.
“You’re so adorable that I just want to pick you up, take you home, and put you on display,” I continued, my tone unwavering and sincere. “You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever laid eyes on. Please be mine. Forever.”
“U-uhm… I-I’m really happy to hear you say all that, but I’d uhm… like if you could save it for when there isn’t anyone else around.”
She glanced to the side as she fiddled with the fabric of her clothing. Looking beyond her ears, which were just as flushed as her face, I realized that we were being watched. The store’s clerk was giving us a look that clearly indicated she was less than amused.
Oh, right. Yeah, she exists. Oops. It’s hard to hold back with Nell all dolled up like that. Unfortunately, I had no choice but to keep myself in check. Nell was far too shy to tolerate public displays of affection.
“Alright, then how about we compromise. I’ll keep myself in check, but only if you put the dress back on again as soon as we get back to our room—and I get to flirt with you as much as I want.” I said. “It’ll be perfect. We can have ourselves a Nell-In-A-Dress Appreciation Party.”
“W-what’s that even supposed to mean!?” She squeaked. She paused after the question in an attempt to get me to explain myself, but I simply remained silent and continued to stare, which prompted her to panic, and then give in. “Okay, fine! I’ll do it, so please, just calm down! But if I’m going to put on a dress, then you have to put on a tuxedo too!” There was a jarring, sudden shift in her tone. She went from being panicked to strangely excited. “W-what do you think, Yuki? I think that sounds like a great idea!”
Nell and I were currently at a tailor. There was simply no choice for us but to visit the shop given the nature of our circumstances. The grand ball, or whatever the king was calling it, was to be happening in the immediate future, and neither of us had any clothes appropriate to the occasion. While I certainly didn’t care for formalwear myself, I did still enjoy the experience; it had taught me the wonders of putting Nell in a dress.
Though often dressed in armour, she had always been the type of girl whose appearance was both prim and proper. I was already willing to declare that Nell was basically the cutest thing ever under normal conditions. Throwing a gown into the mix only emphasized the destructive force of her charms. Her cuteness levels had gotten to the point where I was willing to bet that she could pierce the heavens and take down the anti-spirals. Holy shit, I’m so flustered that I’m not even sure what the fuck I’m saying anymore.
“Wait, you want me to put on my tux? Ehhh… I dunno.” I frowned. “I don’t really see the point in it. I kind of just picked a random one off the shelf because it looked like it would fit. Besides, who the hell cares how the guys look anyways? Events like the ball are all about the girls.”
Seriously. Why even bother dressing up a man? It’s a waste of both time and effort.
“I’m not really sure I agree…” said Nell, disappointed. “I really wanted to see you in a tux. Aren’t you at least going to try it on?”
“Nah, I’m good. I checked the size, and it should fit, so I’m not going to bother,” I said. “I hate formalwear. It’s always way too tight to be comfortable.”
“Aw… I still really want to see you wear it though,” she frowned. “How about this then. I’ll only put on my dress if you put on your tux.”
“Ugh… fine.” I groaned, before turning to the lady at the front desk, who still happened to be giving us a less than amused stare. “Excuse me, ma’am, how long will it take for you guys to finish the final adjustments?” The tone I used with her was one a bit more polite than my usual.
“We’ll need approximately three hours,” she said. “We can have your items delivered to you if you inform us where you’re staying.”
“I appreciate the offer, but no thank you. We’ll be picking them up in person.” I said before turning back to the hero. “Alright Nell, you heard her. We’ve got three whole hours to burn. Got any ideas?”
“Hmmm…” She spent a few moments in contemplation. “How about we do some sightseeing? I think you mentioned wanting to enjoy some of Alshir’s tourist attractions, so how about I show you around?”
“That sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it.”
We got ourselves measured to give the tailor some concrete numbers to work with and left the store. No sooner than stepping outside did we find ourselves blasted by a literal wall of noise. The city’s main street was crowded with people going to and fro; there were a countless number of people moving in every direction.
“Is there anything in particular you wanted to see?” asked Nell, as she looked up at me.
“I mean, I don’t really know what there is to begin with,” I said as I turned my head to the side to face her. “So not reall—oh wait. Do you know if there are any places that sell handicrafts? I’ve been meaning to check some of those out for a good while.”
“Handicrafts? I didn’t know you were interested in those.”
“I’m not,” I said. “But you know how I make a lot of my own stuff? I’ve been meaning to check out other people’s designs, you know, for reference and whatnot.”
Lefi had her wedding ring already, but the same couldn’t be said for Lyuu or Nell. There’d certainly been opportunities for me to hand them over, but I’d ultimately ended up missing each and every one. In my defence, I’ve still got a full year before Lyuu and I are officially hitched, and Nell was staying over as a guest, so I didn’t want to just spring it on her like that.
While I certainly found it to be a good excuse, their status as my fiancees was not the reason I hadn’t put rings on them just yet. Rather, it stemmed more so from my indecisiveness. I couldn’t decide whether to make their rings or buy them, and regardless of which of the two options I picked, I would first need to examine the market and see what rings made by other people tended to look like.
“Oh yeah… You do make all sorts of weird things all the time,” said my brunette companion.
“W-weird!? What do you mean, weird!? None of the stuff I make is weird at all! Besides, don’t you know that most era-defining inventions have come out of what most considered worthless piles of junk!? Do you know what that means!? It means that every little thing I make has the potential to be revolutionary enough to make a fortune!”
“Okay, Yuki, whatever you say,” giggled Nell. “Everything you make is amazing, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’m sure you’ve invented plenty of revolutionary items already.”
“Uh… yeah… that.”
The way she placated me as one would an excited child caused me to immediately lose all my momentum. I felt too embarrassed to keep talking. I just couldn’t, not after that.
“Okay, let’s go. There’s a flea market not too far from here. I’m sure it’ll have plenty of people selling their handicrafts.”
“Alrighty then, lead the way,” my confidence began to fade as I spoke. “And uhm… here.”
I slowly, awkwardly extended a hand in her direction. A faint blush crept onto her face, one that surely matched my own, as she realized my intentions and hesitantly accepted the invitation.
Now hand in hand, we navigated through the densely packed crowd.
But I paid it little mind.
I was more focused on the warmth I felt conveyed to me through my hand and the occasional touch of her shoulder brushing against my own.
We were just holding hands.
And yet, I somehow found myself feeling incredibly soothed, comforted, filled with a warmth I continued to bask in until I was pulled back to reality by a giggle, one that had come from the girl by my side.
“What?” I asked.
“I just started thinking about the last time we walked around a city together,” she said. “You and Lefi were incredibly hard to keep up with. The two of you did whatever you wanted with no concern for how much trouble you were causing me.”
Her words seemed accusational, but the tone she spoke in was more indicative of nostalgia than anger.
“Oh, you mean when we were checking out Alfyro? Oh man, yeah, that was fun. Especially with how much you were panicking.”
“Oh, is that right?” She flashed me an unhappy glare. “You were having fun because I was panicking?”
“Yeah, Iunno, having you around tends to bring out the sadist in me. I just can’t help but want to tease you,” I said. “But if anything, that’s a good thing. It means you’re fun to have around.”
“I know you’re expecting me to be happy to hear that, but I’m not,” she smiled awkwardly before continuing, “That was the first time anyone’s treated me like that since I became the hero. You basically dragged me around.” She smiled wistfully. “And then there was the attack. But even then, the two of you basically acted like it was nothing special, and resolved it in a heartbeat. The whole sequence of events was so ridiculous it had me completely blown away.”
“You’re making it sound like we’re weird, but honestly, from a normal person’s perspective, you’re not much different,” I said with a shrug.
“I-I am? I always thought I was pretty normal…”
“Do you really think a normal hero would marry a demon lord?”
“Good point. I guess I might be a bit of a weirdo after all,” she giggled and gave my hand a bit of a squeeze. Her eyes were directed at her feet in order to make it slightly more difficult to see the extent to which her face was flushed. “Oh, it looks like we’re almost there.” When she finally raised her eyes, she realized that we’d reached a set of crossroads. “We just have to make a right here, and then walk a little bit further.”
“Aye aye, cap’n.”
I allowed her to take the lead, trailing behind just far enough for our hands to remain slackened. But as we turned, I stopped and caused our link to suddenly go taut.
“Is something wrong?”
“Nah, sorry, don’t mind me,” I said. “I was just wondering what the flea market was going to look like. Is it just set up with a bunch of different booths or something?”
“Mhm! People claim spots by setting up carpets. Many of the merchants set up on top of them and lay out all their wares for the passersby to see. You’ll also see a whole bunch of different stalls,” she said. “The market is packed with an incredibly wide variety of items. Many of them are unusual, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything even remotely similar elsewhere.”
“That sounds pretty neat.”
“It really is. There’s a mix of good and bad, and you get extremes on both ends,” she elaborated. “But I don’t think that’ll be a problem. Not for you, at least.”
“Heh, I see. I get it now.” I grinned, fiercely, and began to cackle. “So you have brought me here to showcase the extent of a Demon Lord’s power! Very well, I will use the full extent of my power over the art of appraisal to seek out diamonds in the rough, treasures in the dust, and bring them to light!”
“Mhm! I’m counting on you.”
After taking a good long look at the bright smile on her face, and returning it, I raised my head and looked away from the adorable hero’s expression to glance in the direction of the man observing us. It seemed he had yet to take action, so I turned my gaze back to the wonderful woman by my side and continued to follow her lead.
Editor’s note (Joker): Hey, guys! Joker here. Sorry about the absence. Just dealing with irl stuff, as you know. A bit of an update for you all. My dad’s doing great. He’s off pretty much all the machines they had him on, even dialysis. He’s got a pacemaker in, and they’re now trying to stabilize his blood pressure so that they can move him to the rehabilitation area so that they can work on getting him strong enough to send home. Thanks so much for your well wishes and comments. They really helped me get through that rough patch. Didn’t mention this when I told you all about it, but only two days after my dad was admitted, we had to also put down our dog. So March wasn’t… really a good month. But thanks to everyone who helped me through it all. It means so much to me. *bows* See y’all in the next chapter.