“Do you understand? No matter what happen, you can’t take this off on the streets, or else people will freak out, understand?” Johan said to the girl in a serious tone.
Pria looked at the hero confused for a moment, not really understanding why he was so vehement about it, but nodded nonetheless. Although she was unable to follow his reasoning, she would automatically follow whatever he told her to do, seeing that he had much more experience in this world than herself.
After he went through all the rules he had set so she follow him in his travel to the magic store one last time, he finally sighed and looked at her one last time, to which she smiled back.
While he was wearing his full hero costume, with full armor and only his helmet off, which he held in his arms, Pria was wearing one of his old overcoats, one that had a large hood that covered her head. Dressed like that, unless something really obvious occurred, it should be possible to pass her as simply another new Super.
The idea that people were more likely to trust a person who wouldn’t reveal their faces to one that would walk around showing themselves, but had odd bodies felt somewhat bizarre to Johan, but he couldn’t really bring himself to complain too much.
Seeing as the Hero shook his head, he made a motion for her to follow him to the backyard, which she gladly did. Feeling a warm and comfortable heat from the depths of her chest that came from the gem that Johan had lent her, Pria couldn’t help but widen her smile a bit more.
Just like how Marian had said, heroes truly were really kind and gentle. So this means that the ones who were attacking her earlier weren’t heroes, but villains.
That said, what was in her mind at the time wasn’t who were heroes and who were villains, but rather the prospect of going to see that place that she had read about. The mystical magic store!
She had read about it on the book that Johan had lent to her, about how it was a shop with all kind of curious things that were spread around, huge cauldrons full of strange bubbling liquids with all kind of curious smells and an old and wrinkly shopkeeper who would laugh disturbingly every time he or she would speak.
Well, she had been warned by the hero that anything she expected would probably be wrong, but it was still a brand new experience for her, so even if it was vastly different from what she expected, it was still going to be something extremely interesting for her.
Watching as Johan put on the helmet from his armor, covering his head, he soon turned to her and asked.
“So, how do you want me to take you?” As he said that, he quickly closed in on the girl and pulled her hood up so that she could hide her face. “Also, make sure to not let this fall down. It will be troublesome if people mistake you for a monster again.”
She nodded cheerfully before stopping to think for a moment. She still remembered how fast Johan, or Ace, as he was called in his costume, was while running through the rooftops. Since she was still recovering from having spent all her energy escaping from the villains earlier, she was sure that she would be unable to follow him.
That means that there was only choice.
Smiling, she jumped while passing her arms behind his neck. Ace reacted almost instantly in surprise, and before he had the chance to even understand what she was doing, he already was carrying Pria in a princess carry, much like how he held her when he brought her home the previous day. While staring at the girl in confusion and shock, Pria took her chance to nestle a bit closer to him.
While the overcoat was a bit bothersome in that she couldn’t feel his heat as effectively, as long as she had the gem in her body she wouldn’t need to worry about getting fed any time soon. On the other hand, she simply enjoyed a bit of skinship after spending such a long time isolated from the world, so it’s not like she would lose anything by clinging a bit closer.
Meanwhile, in Ace’s head, he was silently complaining about later teaching her a bit more of personal space.
However, since it was indeed one of the best answers they had for the problem at the moment, he didn’t complain, and simply held on to her a bit tighter before turning towards his usual direction.
Just like the other day, they started by walking up a wall like they were strolling, before finally start a jump-a-thon from roof to roof. However, this being the suburbs, the amount of time they had to jump down to the streets was significantly higher than downtown, so their ten minutes travel was a large mix of ups and downs.
Pria, however, didn’t miss how some of the people on the street would greet Ace cheerfully, asking how he was doing and who he was carrying in his arms.
“Just a friend who is in a special situation.” He would reply all the time before moving away.
Since Pria had been warned about avoiding being seen, she couldn’t turn to see the people whom Ace was talking to, so she could only hold back her curiosity and cling to him.
Luckily for her, it didn’t take much longer for the two of them to arrive at the shop, even if Ace hadn’t been going at full speed. Dropping her to the ground, Ace quickly urged her to go in after she took a good look at the store.
Truly, it wasn’t anything like she was expecting. Far from being a shady looking store in the corner of a backstreet, it was in a fairly agitated street, not too far from the main street. With automatic doors and windows that allowed one to see the inside should the blind be lifted.
However, this didn’t stop the girl from looking at it marveled at the store. Quickly following the hero as he walked inside, her feet made a slightly wet sound every time she took a step on the ground.
The inside was just as different as the outside, with plastic shelves spread all around the room, and all kind of different ingredients neatly lined on them. Though the ingredients weren’t exactly what she was expecting, most of them being some kind of strange glowing dust and gems. However, as she looked at them she couldn’t help but wonder how they all tasted, seeing how magic was usually a lot more flavorful and varied than the other energies she could eat.
“Pria. Careful to not break anything.” Ace told her in an extremely serious tone. “Most of the things here I can’t even begin to imagine how I would pay for them!”
At that moment, she couldn’t help but feel that her evaluation of him dropped a little bit.
“Such petty words… As I thought, it’s really you, Ace.” A voice came from the stand at the very back of the store.
Pria immediately turned towards the source of the voice, looking starry eyed in search for the owner of the voice. What she saw was a young man, probably in his mid twenties wearing a striped purple suit with long white hair. On his handsome face, the pair of narrow eyes and business smile gave him an oddly dependable look while he fixed the purple tie around his neck.
“Seriously, stop with that shady smile every time I come here, will you?” Ace replied coldly while approaching the counter and leaning on it with his gauntlet. “The two of us know that the silly business smile doesn’t affect me at all.”
For a moment there was a strangely tense silence as the two stared at each other, and while Pria wondered what would happen, a strange sound echoed.
“I have no idea what you mean, my favorite customer.” The man said with a kind tone.
“You have no convincing power when you say that right after clicking your tongue, you know?”
“Anyway, it seems that you got yourself some company today?” The purple dressed man said in a gentlemanly manner and a heavenly smile. “Would you mind introducing me to your illustrious friend?”
“If I had the chance, I’d rather not.” Ace replied bluntly, making a small vein pop on the man’s face for a moment. “But, I don’t have much choice seeing how I have to count on you for my materials, so… Anyway.” Ace cleared his throat for a moment before pointing to the man behind the counter. “This guy here is the owner of this store, Ryan McMoney.”
“Mc…McMoney?” The white haired guy said a bit shocked, but before he could even rebuke, Pria was already giving him a brief nod before staring at him in wonder. For a moment, Ryan looked at her wryly, before finally blinking and frowning. “An obscuring spell?” He said confused before turning towards Ace. “Why would you add an obscuring spell to his cloak?”
“Her. Pria’s a girl.” Ace corrected him quickly while an amuse expression appeared on the shopkeeper’s face. “And she’s an aberrant, so I decided that using something like that might be safer for now.”
“Oh? An aberrant?” Ryan said surprised before scanning her from head to toe, his eyes lingering on her feet on the ground for a few seconds before it finally dawned on him. “Oh, seems like you created a new ritual again?”
“Yeah. Had to make that specifically for her, seeing how I didn’t have anything at hand.” Ace replied in an annoyed tone, but noticing as the shopkeeper’s eyes literally started changing into a pair of gold coins, he quickly went on. “Back to the matter at hand, shall we? Anyway, I came to buy some Stigmatized silver.”
“Who are you and what did you do with my cheapskate of a client?” Ryan reacted immediately by pulling out a sword from god knows where and pointing it towards Ace.
“Why the hell are you doubting me just by the amount I’m spending?” Ace replied by quickly brandishing his own sword and sending the clerk’s away.
“Because you are the guy who would rather cut his expenses by ten percent, even if you had to create a brand new kind of ritual for that?” The shopkeeper said in a cold and blunt tone, making Ace flinch for a moment. “For a hero, you are a surprisingly tight spender. I wonder what people would think if they saw you when you are shopping.”
“Gh…” Ace became completely speechless for a moment, before finally looking away in defeat. “I’m still a human… I need to pay the bills, you know?” He said wearily while clenching his fist.
“Yes, yes.” Ryan said victoriously before nodding and starting to walk to the back of the store. “Well, since it’s not something I can have on display, I’ll go get it. How much do you need?”
“Twenty three point ninety four cubic centimeters of a grade three ingot, stigmatized through the Forzhallestic Ritual.” Ace said bluntly with a confident look in his eyes. “From your store’s price range, that amounts to a total of six hundred forty two dollars and thirty nine cents.”
“Your mind is scarily keen when it comes to saving money, isn’t it?” The clerk said amused before nodding and entering the depths of the store with a business laughter.
As soon as the man left through the door, Ace slumped on the desk with a clatter as his armor hit the counter. Even with his face hidden behind the helmet, one could already guess the exhausted look he had while saying:
“Gah, dealing with that man tires me out.” He said before looking towards Pria, who was still watching him in wonder. “Well, I did say it would be boring, didn’t I?”
The girl immediately replied by shaking her head, smiling to herself before skipping closer to him and tugging his arm. Ace raised his eyes to look at her confused, but once she started pointing to something, he finally understood. With a weary sigh, he stood up and followed the slime girl to the thing she was pointing at.
“So, you want to know what this is?” He asked, and saw as the hooded girl nodded excitedly. “Well, this is…” He gave a brief look at the item in front of them and soon went on explaining mode. “This is a second rank black beast’s claw. Despite the name, it’s actually the thorns of a black rose planted on a soil cursed with a high grade Decay curse, it’s used in rituals to add a mild effect of either poisoning or damage. However, if used on a Tetra-axis ritual, it can be made into a catalyst for hiportemal magic, or a stopper for the Sixth demon type of curse if used on a Gatalach Fallback circle.”
While he said everything with a straight face and an examining look, Pria kept nodding excitedly, even if nothing he said made any sense for her, she could somehow notice that Ace was some kind of really smart person when it came to this kind of thing.
Her curiosity sated, she quickly dragged him to the item besides that one, hugging him excitedly while nudging him to explain the next thing. Noticing that she wouldn’t calm down until they went over everything on sight, Ace nodded weakly and started explaining each and every item that popped up in front of them.
Going from the mid-term items that cost an arm and a leg, to simpler things, like ritual chalks and a ‘Magic for dummies’ book that made Pria look really interested. Sadly, despite not being expensive, the book was still a bit too much above his own funds, so he couldn’t bring himself to buy it for the girl.
As always, despite the extremely pretty and well organized store, since the time was still what many heroes considered “work time”, the movement was really low, and only a single other person appeared during all the time, only to take a brief look at the store and leave.
A good ten minutes later, a scary fiery sound coming from the back of the store, only for it to die down a few seconds later. While Pria jumped surprised at the sound, Ace simply ignored it and kept on with his brief summaries.
Even then, a good two and a half shelves of products were explained to the girl by the time the back of the store opened again.
“Here is your silver, my dear customer.” Ryan said with a wide smile while putting a small palm sized piece of silver on the counter before him, as well as a large package that was easily the size of an arm. “And as usual, here’s the bonus for the purchase.”
Ace quickly nodded before taking the long paper box and opening it. Pria quickly approached and by standing on the tip of her toes, she saw what looked like a long and painful looking object. Staring at it for some time, it took the girl some time to link it to what it actually was, and only when Ace swung the large flat blade around a couple of times she understood that it was some kind of weapon.
“A scimitar this time?” Ace said surprised, before shrugging. Soon enough the sword disappeared into the magic he used to store his weapons. “I’ll take it.” He said before taking the small piece of silver and examining it. it had the shape of a small ingot, although one of the corners was still hot from being melted, it was otherwise perfectly symmetric. “…You added a bit of silver here, didn’t you?”
“Why would I do that, dear client?” Ryan said with a kind smile.
“So when you weight it, you’ll cost me an extra?”
“Damn it.” Ryan said while clicking his tongue before finally nodding and sighing. “Yeah, I did try to get a few ten bucks out from you.” He admitted.
“And the cheapskate is me.” Ace complained loudly before shaking his head and turning to the man. “Okay. Take out the extra bucks you wanted to take from me.”
As Pria watched Ace, she wondered if he had any real right to complain to the clerk, but seeing how he was a hero, he probably was right. Watching as Ryan clicked his tongue once again, he quickly took the small piece of silver and stored it in his suit’s pocket before taking a very similar one from another pocket.
While she couldn’t see any difference between both pieces, she noticed as Ace nodded satisfied and gave a strange card to the man. After passing it through a strange machine that she had no idea what it was, the man gave the card back to the hero, who received it with a strange weight to his movement.
“Si-Six Hundred dollars… I just… Six hundreds…”
“If you are so troubled by money, why are you trying to buy this?” Ryan said with a sigh while shaking his head.
“Because wearing this armor in the summer is simply unbearable, so I need to make an enchantment to protect me against heat.” Ace said while passing the silver to the obviously curious Pria. “Don’t eat it, okay?” He asked and she nodded excitedly before raising the silver to her eye height.
“But, Stigmatized silver? For heat protection?” The clerk eyed Ace with the eyes of a predator. “I don’t think I heard of that…?”
“Yeah, it’s a new original one.” Ace said with a grumble. “The usual one would cost me twenty more bucks to make, so I made a more economical one.” He said with a sigh. “I did find a few other cheaper ideas, but they weren’t as reliable as this one, so in the money-efficiency ratio, this one is the best.”
“How ‘best’ is it?”
“Not telling, neither am I selling you the recipe, before you ask.”
“Stingy knight wanna-be”
While the two kept on with their name-calling, Pria kept on looking at the piece of metal in her hand with wonder. She could clearly feel that it had some kind of energy emanating from deep within the metal, and even though she knew that eating all of that would be easy, since she had promised Ace, she held herself back and simply kept looking at it.
After finally looking at the metal piece a good ten times over, she finally tugged Ace’s overcoat and got his attention, giving him the piece of metal over to the hero, who took some time to recover from his angry state before taking the piece and shoving it in his pocket.
“Well, Since I already got everything I wanted here, I’ll be leaving now.” Ace said with a needlessly happy tone before passing his arm around Pria’s shoulder and pulling her away from the store.
A click of tongue came from the man behind the store, but he quickly put on his friendly business smile and gave a brief acknowledging nod.
“We hope to see you again soon.”
“Not if I could help it.” Ace said before shutting close the door behind him. After heaving a long and tired sigh Ace turned to Pria and said. “Never, ever, under any circumstances, go on that store alone, are we understood?”
The girl looked confused at Ace for some time before finally nodding and looking back at the store. Looking through the glass with a slightly disappointed look, wanting to know a bit more about the curious items she saw in there.
However, while staring at the things on display, another thing caught her attention. Looking at her own reflection on the glass, she stared at herself for a few moments trying to understand what exactly was off, it finally dawned on her after some time. Surprised, she started tugging at Ace’s sleeves excitedly.
The hero blinked surprised before looking at where she was pointing, and after resisting the urge to make a rude gesture to the shopkeeper inside who stared at them confused, he noticed what Pria wanted to say.
“Oh, that?” He said with a brief laugh, looking at the girl’s reflection, showing a perfect and complete darkness within the hood she wore, not even the slightest sign of her face appearing. “It’s a spell for keeping your face hidden. Not that effective considering you have to keep the hood on all the time and even the briefest removal dispels the magic.” He explained with a proud tone. “It was a fairly cheap solution at the time for someone who didn’t have a mask.”
Pria widened her eyes in surprise while within the hood before turning to the makeshift mirror and staring in awe once again. For a while, the duo stayed there, with the occasional passerby looking at them curiously, but once they understood that they were a super and a companion, most of the interest soon died off.
“Anyway, let’s get going back home before it gets too late.” Ace said, only to have Pria look at him in shock for some time, probably with really sad eyes under the hood. “…Look, I have some other ingredients back at home that I can show you, okay?” She hesitatingly nodded to his words finally calming down a bit. “Also, don’t you want to find out what happens on the end of that book you were reading?”
These last words he added finally hit the mark, the girl jolting upright and nodding energetically before clinging to him so that he could carry her.
Ace sighed loudly while noticing that the gazes directed at them became even more curious, so deciding that lingering too much would lead nowhere, he quickly passed his arm behind her knees and lifted her in his arms.
Not even ten seconds later, Ace and Pria were already on the rooftops of the building on the other side of the street, making their way back home.
“…We seriously need to find another way to take you around.” Ace said with a sigh.
Pria replied by shaking her head and clinging tightly to him. Why would they need to change something that she liked so much? While her innocent mind made such decision, the hero started getting conflicted feelings about the girls hugging him.
“Hey, Pria. Is the gem not enough for you?” He asked her after some time.
The girl blinked for a moment before nodding excitedly, taking her hand towards her bountiful chest where she always kept the gem floating when Ace wasn’t charging. If she had to say something, the gem was more than enough to keep her going for a few days straight, as long as she kept her activity to a minimum. Much like how she have been doing.
“Then, why do you keep clinging to me?”
To the following question, she simply tilted her head not really understanding it. Did she need a reason to hug him?
Noticing that his questions weren’t going anywhere, Ace finally sighed loudly and shook his head.
However, not even he decided to go home and call it a day, a familiar voice echoed through the air.
“STOP RIGHT THERE!”
Which were soon followed by a couple of gunshots. Thanks to his experience as a patrolling hero, Ace quickly dropped to the ground, throwing his body over Pria so that he could protect her from whatever it was that was shot.
However, after a few moments with nothing happening, he quickly raised himself from the ground and looked at Pria worried for a moment, only to notice a fairly large blue puddle underneath him.
He would have reacted shocked if it wasn’t for the fact that not even a second later, the puddle quickly gathered itself together by seeping through the cloth of the empty overcoat and reforming the feminine body once inside. Pria, whose hood had fallen down, looked at Ace with a look that was more of a confusion and curiosity than blame.
Ace didn’t have the time to appreciate that, as his instincts quickly took charge of his actions and he jumped up, extending his hand out so that he could withdraw one of his weapons, a clearly oversized sword with a wide blade a heavy look.
Taking a stance with the weapon, he looked around, searching for the owner of the voice.
“I SAID STOP DAMMIT!” Came the feminine voice again, soon followed by three consecutive shots.
“That’s… Dead Shot?” Ace said surprised before turning to Pria. “Wait here, okay?” He said while pulling up her hood once again. The girl stared at him surprised for a moment before nodding.
Receiving the confirmation, Ace quickly made his way towards the voice, standing on the edge of a nearby roof while looking down, searching through the less active streets from above until he saw a trio running through the middle of the streets.
On the lead were two man, a thin and tall man wearing some loose ragged pants. His whole body covered in scarlet scales and a long tail sprouted from his back and claws from his feet and hands. His face contorted in a reptile shape, from which a forked tongue came in and out regularly. The other one was a bit shorter, but looked way fitter than the lizard, wearing casual clothes and a bandana across his face, he would easily pass as a normal person walking down a road if he took out the make-shift mask.
Hunting the two was a girl in a tech-cowboy outfit, wielding a pair of revolvers which she tried to aim and shoot at them, however, lizard would always intercept the bullets, making them bounce off harmlessly on his scales. Even from afar, Ace could see as the girl frowned in annoyance, her hand twitching to go to one of the cases she carried on her waist, only for her to give up.
“Too many pedestrians, huh?” Ace said annoyed while looking down at the situation. A grimace appearing on his face as he cursed mentally for not bringing the Hero ID card this day.
Sighing, he quickly gave a look back, seeing as Pria approached him and leaned over to see the ground, he finally sighed.
Taking a step forward, he soon found himself running down the side of the building, holding the massive sword with his two hands while making his way to street level.
By the time the trio of hunters and hunted noticed the man running towards them, it was already too late for the fleeing duo. Thanking the fact that the pedestrians had opened more than enough space, Ace pivoted himself on the ground with his right foot and swung the massive sword with the flat face forward.
The bulkier man widened his eyes in surprise, but luckily for him, before the blade made contact, the lizard came in front of him and braced himself for the impact.
However, even if super-strength was something that Ace lacked, his enhancement being relatively minor compared to some heroes out there, he still had all his inertia from running towards them, and all that energy blew the duo away towards the other side of the street, making them bounce through the luckily empty street and slam against the wall.
“THIS IS A HERO SITUATION! ALL CIVILIANS PLEASE EVACUATE FOR YOUR SAFETY!!” Ace shouted while dispelling the sword away and staring at the duo, only to widen his eyes surprised at seeing them surprisingly well. “What the…”
“ACE! What are you doing here?” Dead-shot said while skidding to a halt besides him and taking aim at the duo.
“I was just coming back from the magic shop I usually go.” He said briefly. “…By the way, my hero Id is at home, so I’ll be counting on you, okay?”
“Really?” Dead said with a wry smile before shaking her head. “Okay, we’ll deal with that later.” She said putting on a serious look. “These two are charged with multiple occurrences of store robbery, petty theft and invasion of private property. Left side, Willmer ‘Slither’ Burns, powers is some kind of reptile morphing, usual package of strength, resistance and speed. Right one, Cole ‘Bary’ Thompsom, magician whose specialty is air compressing, but is not limited to that.”
“Screw him and his conveniently cheap magic!” Ace said with an angry tone that seeped with his bottomless fury. After his brief outburst he finally sighed and became serious. “So… need help?”
“Yeah.. The two are a really bad match with me.” Dead-shot said with an annoyed face. “Oh yeah, look out. The two together are considered to be one rank above you, alright?”
“…Fantastic.” Ace said in a complaint before taking a brief look back at the girl on the rooftop. “Let’s finish this quickly because I still have to take Pria back home and eat something.”
“…Pria?” Dead-shot asked after a brief moment of silence.
“Yeah, she’s…” Ace started to explain, but before he had the chance, he caught sight of the two villains taking a stance. “I’ll explain later.” As he said that, he quickly summoned a new and smaller weapon, that he could use on the streets and parried the lizard’s swipe. “For now, we have a job to do.”