★ The First Visitor ★
Ryner made a small noise as he passed by."Hm?"
He looked over towards it, his exhaustion apparent in his black eyes and messy hair.
He stopped in an alley of the port town they’d been staying in to stare. It wasn’t a popular street at all, and there was a box on the side of the road.
And inside of that box…
Ryner just stared at the box, his head empty. "No, even if you meow…"
He took a step closer to peek into the box, and sure enough, there was a cat. A little one. It was probably still a kitten. Its small body was still unsteady, but it had pretty black, white, and brown fur - it was a calico.
It was so small, but instead of being scared, it looked up at Ryner with bright and shining eyes. "Meow?"
"I just said this, but even if you meow, I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me," Ryner said. "Ahh, you want some food? Lemme see if I have anything…"
Ryner searched his pockets for a moment.
"Meow, meeeoow," the cat said and made eyes at him.
"I don’t have any food! Geez…"
He kept saying it, but it just didn’t click with the cat… But that didn’t stop Ryner from continuing to talk to it.
"Living the carefree life, huh? You’re cute, so all you have to do is meow and people will feed you, and then you can eat, and sleep, and eat, and sleep… You can spend every day napping to your heart’s content," Ryner said, sighed, then sat down next to the box. "Listen to this, okay? My life’s been horrible lately."
"Meow?" "Yeah. There’s this expressionless, selfish, and dangerous girl that’s been working me to the death, and another girl who I promised that I’d marry a long time ago who keeps attacking me without thinking, and I always feel like I’m gonna come out of it dead…"
"Yeah. There’s this expressionless, selfish, and dangerous girl that’s been working me to the death, and another girl who I promised that I’d marry a long time ago who keeps attacking me without thinking, and I always feel like I’m gonna come out of it dead…"
"You get it, right? Right? It’s horrible, right? I didn’t even do anything wrong… I’d be happy if someone let me just sleep all day… I don’t have any big dreams or lofty ambitions."
"Hm? Yeah, naps are good. I completely agree with your opinion," Ryner said as he nodded and nodded to the cat’s advice, as if he were ill.
Apparently he was quite dissatisfied with his life. Ryner stared up at the sky. "Ah… If I were to nap right now, Ferris would just come over here and smack me…"
Then he glanced back to the cat, who was looking up at him with an expression of wonder. "Oh, Ferris is the one I mentioned earlier. She’s the expressionless, selfish, and dangerous one. She’s always telling me to get to work, get to work, get to work… That’s why I can’t stay here for too long. Sorry. I gotta go," Ryner said and stood.
Greedy as it was, the cat meowed again. "Meow!"
"Hey, what did I tell you about not having any food…?" Ryner mumbled as he turned his back to the cat.
Ryner grimaced at the sound of its pitiful little meow. "Uuh… Okay, okay. I’ll go get you some food, alright? I’ll bring you dinner tonight, so sorry, but it’ll be a minute. Man, people have ignored me so much lately that I’m really over here talking to cats instead…"
And so Ryner left, mumbling and grumbling to himself all the while.
He was ill, alright.
★ The Second Visitor ★
Ferris was a peerless beauty.
She had long golden hair that seemed to sparkle in the sunlight, almond-shaped blue eyes, and an unnaturally perfect face. Her limbs were delicate and pretty, despite the fact that she fought with a large sword. She was munching away at skewered dango expressionlessly as she walked through the port town.
It was a peaceful afternoon, and she had a vague spring in her step to match. Men catcalled her, but ended up on the ground as soon as she passed them. As soon as she finished her dango, she pulled out her wallet, entered a busy street on a whim, and came out of it with three more skewers of dango.
Nothing could stop her now…
It happened when she left the bustling shopping street and entered an alley instead. She heard a faint cry from the corner of the road.
She turned her attention to it. A single box had been left out. Someone had written on the side.
Please take this kitty.
"An abandoned cat, is it."
Ferris approached the box, dango in hand. A single kitten’s little head was poking up from inside of it.
Her blue eyes met the cat’s big sparkling eyes. They stared at each other for a long moment.
They stared and stared as time passed around them.
Then finally. Finally, Ferris’ face reddened… for some reason or other. "Kgh, not bad. No, I won’t lose. You are too cute to have a purpose in this dangerous world," she said with an even voice as she held her gaze. "What you need to survive in this world full of hardship is not cuteness. It’s knowledge. Knowledge about dango. That is what decides who wins and who loses. For example, do you know how dango is made?" The kitten tilted its head cutely. "Meow?"
The kitten tilted its head cutely. "Meow?"
Ferris nodded. "Mm. It is made from grains turned to a powder known as flour. The best dango is made from flour that creates a subtle elasticity. In the Roland Empire, most flour comes from the Selz region. However, the most delicious dango flour is produced by the Kowls region. Either works. The number of customers you get depends on if you understand this or not. On top of everything, flour from the Kowls region isn’t as well known as the Selz’s region’s, so it remains cheaper. This is crucial. Remember it as you start your own shop."
"Mm? You want to find a fine dango craftsman? Mm. That is difficult… However, it shouldn’t be an issue if you just put an ad up in the dango magazine. Rather than having many, I believe that the greatest happiness can be found after finding a single, best owner of a small shop through trial and error…"
Her face reddened a second time as she cast it downwards. "My dream aside… Let us meet again tonight for more conversation on the matter. I will bring tea for us to enjoy. Dango is best with hot tea, after all. Let us meet again tonight."
With that, Ferris quickly left, a faint "meow" heard from behind.
★ The Third Visitor ★
"Hm hm hmm~♪ Hmm hm hm~♪"
Milk Callaud was in high spirits just like always. She was a cute sixteen year old girl with a flaxen ponytail and big eyes. Even though she looked like this, she was chasing Ryner as a chief of a squadron of Taboo Hunters… Her subordinates were around her, surveying the world around her with serious expressions on their faces.
"Ah! There!" Milk suddenly yelled and took off to a small alley squished between two brick buildings. Her subordinates instantly lost their cool.
"A-ah, Chief! Running off alone is dangerous! What will we do if you trip!?" Luke, her oldest subordinate, said. He’d become even more overprotective of her ever since she’d been kidnapped.
Next up was Moe, who was only a little older than Milk. He had a lithe body despite his kind expression, and he took off after Milk with ease. "Did you find something, Chief?"Lach, about the same age as Moe, had a willful aura as he spoke to Luke. "I’m letting loose and going after them so they don’t get too far!"
Last was Lear. Unlike the other two, he kept his cool in situations like this. "Say that all you want, but don’t you remember the last time we let you two do this? I’ll accompany you this time, too."
"He’s right, Lach," Luke said. "We don’t want a repeat of that. I’m going too."
Lach’s shoulders fell. "Uuh… alright."
With that, they all ran after Milk… but she’d already stopped somewhere along the alley along with Moe.
They were peering into a box in the messy corner of the road. Then Milk grinned and turned back towards them.
"Hey, Luke, Luke! There’s a kitten! It’s super cute!" She said. She picked the kitten up and beckoned him over.
Luke… grimaced. "Uwah…"
The kitten climbed up over her arms and up onto her head. "Meow!"
"It, it’s adorable!" Lach yelled as he caught up to her.
"Right!? Meow, meow, meow!" She mimicked as she spun happily.
Then the cat meowed back, as if her words had resonated with it. "Meow!"
"Ahah! Meow meow, meoow, meooow!"
The two were apparently on the same wavelength, because they seemed to be having a pleasant little conversation.
Moe clenched his fist, clearly moved at the sight. "Amazing, Chief! You can even talk to cats!" No fucking way she can!
No fucking way she can!
…But no one was there to say that.
Luke watched from a spot just a little away from the others, a difficult expression on his face, his eyes narrowed and his arms crossed. He was deep in thought. "Hmm…"
"…This is bad," Lear said from his side.
Luke met his eyes. "You think so, too?"
"Yes. This is a bigger problem than anything we’ve encountered until now."
"Y-yeah… You’re right… What should we do…? It’s coming. What should we do…?"
"…I don’t know either… Really, what do we do…?" What were they so afraid of…?
What were they so afraid of…?
The answer to that… soon appeared.
After Milk, Moe, and Lach had their fun playing with the cat, Milk pitter-pattered over, the cat still lounging on her head. "Um, uh, so…"
She didn’t have to say it. Luke already knew exactly what was about to happen.
It was something that everyone who had ever been a parent was prepared to hear.
Milk stared up at him with her cute eyes. The kitten stared up at him with cute eyes. The cute eyes that only an abandoned animal could have. Probably because it was an abandoned animal.
"Can we keep it? Pleeaaasee?"
There it was.
Luke looked to Moe and Lach helplessly. But they didn’t give him the help he was looking for. Their expressions said it all: can’t we keep it? It’s just so pitiful out here alone.
Luke looked to Lear next. Lear sighed. "Chief, you know that we aren’t in the position to keep a cat right now."
Milk’s eyes moistened. "But, but this kitty…"
It’s just too cute! It’s okay! We can keep it!
Luke really thought that, but no! They couldn’t.
He had heard that keeping animals was a good way for children to grow a sense of responsibility, and it wasn’t like he wasn’t willing to do it for Chief Milk’s sake, but…
Those excuses just kept spinning in his head. But he couldn’t.
"Ah, geez! We can’t keep it!" Luke said, doing his very best to be stern. "We won’t be able to stay in very many inns if we have a kitty with us."
"W-we can just sleep outside!" Milk said, hugging herself as if to protect herself from what he was saying.
It was too cute…
Luke shook his head, not to be swayed even by his own thoughts. "W-we can’t, Chief. Our mission is too dangerous, and besides that, we are in a foreign country. We never know when we’ll be attacked by thieves or ruffians here…"
"But, but I can protect Mewmew!" "Huh? Mewmew? What…?"
"Huh? Mewmew? What…?"
"It’s her name! Cute, right?"
"Ah, it is cute… wait! Umm… right! Our journey is a difficult one. We could run out of food or water for it… But we’ll still have to keep going. This poor kitty might collapse if that happened, you know? Are you telling me that you want to keep it despite everything?"
They had to agree with him. If they didn’t, the cuteness overload of the two of them would knock him out.
Milk looked shocked beyond belief. "Th-the kitty might die? I don’t want that to happen!!" She said, shaking her arms vigorously as she burst into tears.
Luke was flustered. "Ah, no, I just said that it might die if we bring it, not that it would die now… That’s why we can’t bring it, okay, Chief?"
Milk gave him a small nod.
Luke smiled kindly. "You’re a good kid," he said and pet her head.
They were supposed to be elite Taboo Hunters… Seriously, what were they even doing? The mystery only deepened.
★ The Fourth Visitor ★
It was nighttime.
Her black hair glistened with the light from the stars. She had beautiful eyes and a face that was more perfect than that of others. Her shrine maiden outfit clenched her outstanding body in all the right places as Estella Fiurelle dashed about the dark streets.
"Youuu! That golden charm isn’t just any hunk of metal!"
"Hehe!" She laughed as she continued to sprint through the streets. "It is your fault that you allowed yourself to be tricked. You ought to be thankful that you were blessed with the sight of the moonlight goddess!"
Apparently today’s scam was that she was a moonlight goddess…
Either way, no one could catch the goddess as she ran.
"Hah, haah… They shouldn’t be able to catch me now that I’ve run so far," she said to herself through pants. "Of course, it isn’t as though a mere human could do anything to a goddess so beautiful as I."
Just when she was about to laugh, she heard a small sound from the corner of an alley.
"Meow? What? Is that some kind of new praise for me?" Estella wondered as she looked over. There was a box with a child’s writing on it.
I’m Mewmew. Nice to meet you!
A kitten’s head was peeking up out of the box to watch her.
Estella nodded curtly. "Hmph. I see that your name is Mewmew. What might you need from me?"
"Hm? You are enraptured by my beauty? Then sing my praises. Present all that you own to me and I will bless you with fortune. Now, how much do you have?"
"Hmm… I do not understand what ‘meow’ means. That is fine. You are only a kitten, after all. Even if you should offer up all of your money to me, it would not be much. I suppose I can bless you anyway."
With that, she lent a single bill to the kitten, setting it in front of it. The kitten stared at it blankly, then looked back up at Estella. "Meow?" "Mm-hm. Buy whatever you’d like with that, then report back to your cat friends that Estella is the personification of beauty itself. Tell them that they will face no problems in life if they simply serve me." Estella then laughed boastfully.
"Mm-hm. Buy whatever you’d like with that, then report back to your cat friends that Estella is the personification of beauty itself. Tell them that they will face no problems in life if they simply serve me." Estella then laughed boastfully.
But then… a familiar, unemotive voice reached her ears. "I see. The mistaken girl with no friends has stooped so low as to talk to cats in the night."
Energy suddenly burst from Estella as she quickly turned to face her foe.
A single woman stood in the dark alley, her blonde hair shining even in the dim light. Her blue eyes were clear but ultimately devoid of emotion. Her face was perfect… and it was a face she remembered.
Yes, this was…
"Mrgh! The dead fish dango woman!?" Estella said with a glare. "What might you be doing here in the dead of night!?"
"I could ask the same of you. What might you be doing with my tea-drinking companion?"
"Hah? Tea-drinking companion?" Estella repeated, then laughed just so. "What are you saying? You see, this kitten has just devoted its life to my beauty. It will not drink tea with the likes of you!" Ferris looked Estella up and down, sizing her up. When she spoke, her voice was calm. "Hoh. To beauty of your level? You are mistaken. That kitten has already aligned itself with me. Why? Because it understands the true beauty of dango."
Ferris looked Estella up and down, sizing her up. When she spoke, her voice was calm. "Hoh. To beauty of your level? You are mistaken. That kitten has already aligned itself with me. Why? Because it understands the true beauty of dango."
"Mrmrgh! Let us settle the matter of whose beauty is superior once and for all!"
"Mm. Bring it on."
Estella’s strong glare was met with Ferris’ cold eyes.
Just like that, the beautiful night turned to a perilous one.
"Now come, dango woman!" Estella yelled as she pointed her finger out. "This match will be decided by who the cat jumps out of the box to approach. Deal?"
Ferris nodded. "Mm. I have no issue with it," she said, then began to set her dango and hot tea up a ways away from the cat. "Now, come. This time we will talk about the dango economy." She looked confident. As though it was simply inconceivable that she might lose.
Estella, meanwhile, was on the cat’s opposite side putting gold, silver, and copper coins down. "Heheh. You ought to buy any number of things that you want with this. Now, come to me." She, too, was filled with confidence.
But the ghastly beauties turned the atmosphere rotten. The kitten shivered.
Then a woman’s voice… no, a girl’s voice echoed from a third direction. "Here I am, Mewmew!" That, too, was familiar. It was Milk Callaud, an innocent smile on her lips.
That, too, was familiar. It was Milk Callaud, an innocent smile on her lips.
Estella shivered at the sight of her. "Why… why is the demon of legend here!?
Ferris’ eyes narrowed. "Mm."
Then Milk noticed them and immediately her cheerful eyes turned to a glare. "Ah! Ah! Why are you guys here!? D-don’t tell me that you plan on stealing my Mewmew… Wait, but if all-beauty-and-no-brains is here, don’t tell me that Ryner is also…!? Where is he? Augh, don’t tell me that you were just waiting to get me alone? Alright, let’s go! I wish for thunder—"
There the demon of legend went, spewing bullshit and mindlessly casting magic again. She drew her magic circle quickly, light gathering in its center.
The poor, poor kitten just stood there, shivering…
"W-wait, Demon of Legend!" Estella said. "We are currently contesting to see who is the most beautiful as chosen by this kitten! Do not get in the… gyaaahh!" It didn’t matter what Estella said - it was already too late. The lightning shot at her.
It didn’t matter what Estella said - it was already too late. The lightning shot at her.
Milk completely ignored the meaning of the words that Estella had managed to get out. "Huh? You’re trying to decide who gets to keep Mewmew? Then if I win, Luke will say I can keep her? He’ll really say it? Alright! I’m playing, too, and I’ll definitely win!" Milk said, then pulled a piece of seeding grass out to use as a cat toy.
And from the final road leading to the cat… Ryner lay in hiding, watching with blank amazement.
"…Why are the three most annoying people in my life all here," he grumbled as he watched the hellish scene before him.
Ferris was pouring piping hot tea out. "Now, come. This tea is delicious."
But cats didn’t like hot water, did they? Ryner so wanted to say that, but there was no way that he could in this situation.
The poor kitty was shivering.
Estella was making a show out of dropping coins onto the ground, each accompanied by a gaudy sound. "How’s this? What, it isn’t enough? How about this, then? I will make it ten bills! Surely this is sufficient."
Did cats even know what money was? He wanted to say it… But then he’d really understand what death meant… After all, deathly intent was swirling around Ferris and Estella. Ryner gulped.
"Come here, Mewmew! Here, kitty kitty!" Milk said as she waved her cat toy around. But she was waving it so fast that it looked like it might break instead of attract a cat.
Truly, there were no words.
The deathly aura was so strong that even the cat was twitching with anxiety.
"I-I think I’m just gonna go home…"
"Oh, I know!" Milk said. "I have something even more fun than this toy to show you. I wish for—" "Wagh! Using magic is unfair! If you must do it, then I too will!" Estella said.
"Wagh! Using magic is unfair! If you must do it, then I too will!" Estella said.
"…Hm. Why are the two of you pointing your spells at me?" Ferris asked. "Is that a challenge? Very well. Don’t underestimate my burning passion for dango." "Meow, meow, meyowww!?"
"Meow, meow, meyowww!?"
And so the alley’s play turned to a tragedy…
A while later, the poor kitty had escaped its original place and its fire and water and slashing, and now was shivering in a different alley.
"Oh, you managed to escape to safety," Ryner said, exhausted, as he approached the cat.
It looked up at Ryner with scared eyes. "Meow?"
Ryner nodded. "You’ve been through a lot, huh…"
He set some leftovers from the inn’s kitchen down on the ground for it. The kitten leapt over as fast as it could.
"I knew you were hungry. I guess no one but me thought about feeding you."
Ryner sat beside it as the kitten greedily chewed at the food. He stretched out as he looked up at the stars.
Then he heard something like an explosion from afar… no, who was he kidding, it was definitely an explosion. Ryner ignored it and sighed.
"Listen to me complain for a minute while you eat," he said.
The kitten looked up at him. "Meow?"
I’ll never lose to the likes of youuuu!!
And so on and so forth. It sounded like everyone was reaching the ends of their ropes…
Ryner pretended like he couldn’t hear it. "Maan. It sure is a nice and quiet night tonight."
"Uuh. I can’t hear it. I can’t hear anything."
"The hell are they even… no, wait, don’t listen, Ryner!" He said. "You lose if you listen. A-anyway. We’re ignoring all that. Listen to me instead, okay?"
"You’re listening, right? Okay, so lately, my life really sucks… All I want to do is nap, but those guys won’t let me do it… They’re always getting in the way of everything…"
He complained and complained as he looked up at the night sky, his head otherwise empty.
He was just so tired. He couldn’t get any naps in, and he had to work. Those girls were constantly bothering him, and they’d definitely end up killing him at some point…
"Augh, it’s all such a paiiinnn…"
Then the cat suddenly jumped up on his shoulder.
Ryner slowly turned his head to it. "Hm? What? Are you thirsty, too, now that you’ve eaten? Ah, shit. I forgot to bring you water…"
The kitten pressed one of its front paws to Ryner’s cheek as if it was trying to push the upset expression off of his face.
The kitten then licked his nose before it jumped back off. Then it set out down the alley… but it stopped once at the end of the road to turn back to Ryner one last time. "Meow."
It left him with that single word before he… she…? Before the kitten left him alone in the alley.
Ryner just stared after it. "I can’t believe I’m at the point in my life where I need a kitten to comfort me…"
He sighed deeply, but it was drowned out by the sound of explosions.