The bar closed for a few weeks. The guards had come to investigate what had happened but had left after assuming it had just been a common bar brawl. Most of the people in the bar had been too embarrassed to tell the story that theyd lost a fight so heavily tilted in their favour, which made things much easier for Quarta, who had been extremely worried about the kingdom finding out about Prota.
Quarta was gratified to see that the few months he and Prota spent together had made her more trusting, but was still concerned that she still refused to speak much or open up. Prota had been somewhat quiet after the fight. Shed always been quiet, but now she didn even reply when Quarta spoke to her. He often caught her staring at him, deep in thought, and she always flinched when she noticed he was staring back, then would walk away as if nothing was out of the ordinary. He wouldve approached her about it were it not for the fact that Zero had warned him not to say anything.
”Its plot development, Quarta, ” Zero had said with a shrug. ”Just leave it alone. ”
When he said something like that, there was nothing he could do.
Much of Quartas time was now spent cleaning the bar up. He had to scrub at bloodstains, clean up all the burnt wood, throw out the tables and chairs… it was annoying. He considered hiring someone to come in, but… that would probably just cause more complications that he really didn need at this time.
After a week, the bar was clean. Clean meant there was nothing left. All the booths were gone, the bar was gone, the tables were gone… all that remained, really, was the alcohol and food storage, and that was only because it was underground. Quarta sighed. How had it come to this?
He heard a small noise behind him. He turned around to see Prota, looking uneasy.
”Hm? You need something? ” he said, dusting his hands off.
”Yeah, sure. ”
They headed upstairs, sitting on the sofa in the same position theyd been in the first day theyd met, Quarta staying as far away from Prota as possible, Prota huddled on the other side.
Prota was fidgeting, clearly unsure how to start. The two just sat in awkward silence, Quarta waiting for Prota to speak and Prota hesitant to start. Quarta had gotten good at interpreting what Prota meant from just a word or two, but it was impossible to divine something out of literally nothing, especially when it looked like a long and involved story.
”Finally! ” Zero exclaimed, pulling at his hair as he appeared out of nowhere. ”We can talk. ”
”Or, for **s sake you
e telling me THIS is the plot development you
e talking about? The thing Ive been waiting for? ” Quarta exclaimed angrily.
”Plot… development? ” Prota said quietly.
”Yeah, this was it, ” Zero moaned, ignoring Protas question. ”Ive been waiting for this. The bans are finally lifted, I can talk, which will also probably save little Prota here a lot of work. ”
”…tch, isn that convenient. Isn that just bad writing at this point? ” Quarta grumbled, but let it pass.
Zero settled into a comfortable position above both of them like there was a second sofa floating invisibly above the two.
”This is a story that has to do with Protas past. ”
”Ok, weve got that right. Id imagine she trusts you enough now to explain what happened to her to go through all of this. Since shes going to tell you anyway, I can save us all a lot of time and effort by explaining it for her. ”
He took in a deep breath.
”Protas full name, as you know, is Prota Char. She is the child of Norman and Alice Char, and twin sister of Anta Char. ”
”You have a sister? ” Quarta asked in surprise. The girl nodded tearfully. That would explain her reaction when hed spoken about a little sister.
”Oi, don interrupt, ” Zero grumbled. ”Anyways, her family was known for being completely powerless for many years. No mana cores, no nothing, but a good and kind family, so most of the village knew them. However, somewhere around last year there was an attack from a demon, although Prota probably doesn know that, ” he said, glancing at her. A shake of the head indicated that no, she hadn known that.
Zero paused and looked surprised.
”Huh, weird. I really thought that would get censored. ”
”What, cause she didn know it was a demon? ” Quarta said with a puzzled look.
”…she probably assumed it was a monster, a powerful one, maybe, but not a demon… its strange that Im allowed to say that. ” He shrugged. ”Well, no point in questioning it. ”
Prota looked at them both inquisitively, but as usual, there was no explanation as to anything about ”plot development ” or ”censoring, ” not to mention how Zero knew any of this at all.
”Hm… ” Zero appeared to be scrolling as if on a screen, but there was nothing to be seen in front of him.
”Oh. Thats interesting. She did call it a demon, but really only once… was it buried in her subconscious? ”
”Huh? What did you just do? ”
”Ill teach it to you later, ” Zero said. ”[Reader] shenanigans. ”
”Regardless, lets just get back to the story. Now, Prota is a special case in her family. She has powers, but they
e [Redacted]. ” Zero grinned with satisfaction. ”Yeah, theres the censoring I was waiting for. Anyways, her powers are kind of a mystery, but she somehow ended up killing her parents while causing a gigantic explosion that burned her house down. Her sister, Anta, was [redacted], and we don know where she is. ”
Zero had told the story in a rather rough matter, not paying attention to the girls feelings. Quarta looked at Prota. She wasn crying, but she did look a great deal sadder. However, he didn really know how to console her and indicated for Zero to carry on.
”The village, with no one else to blame, blamed Prota. She was too much in shock to say much. I mean, you can really blame a five year old for freezing up, but I guess the villagers didn consider that. The chief used an appraisal orb to determine if she had enough power to have caused the whole fiasco, but found the mana signatures of her parents instead. ” He raised an eyebrow here. ”You should be able to gather a hint about her power from that, Quarta. ”
Quarta rubbed his chin, deep in thought, but the answer eluded him. He wasn exactly the best of thinkers at times. Besides, thinking seemed like a lot of work at the moment.
”Ok, Ill file that one away for later. Keep going. ”
”There isn much left to tell. The chief, having a bit of pity on her, sent her off to the capital, here, where she might be able to survive. Unluckily, a villager travelled here once and recognized her. He didn do anything directly; he was too much of a coward for that but he did start spreading rumours. Initially, Prota had survived by the charity of others. All of that changed instantly. You have to understand that people don take very kindly to demons here. She got barely enough food to survive, and was often sought out by idiots or the extremely just, sometimes getting beat, sometimes accidentally killing those that came near. That, ” Zero concluded, ”explains the state shes in right now. ”
Quarta looked at her. He really, really wanted to give her a hug or a headpat, but… doing so would kill him, apparently. Well, that wasn actually that bad, but still something to avoid… Besides, she would end up pulling away anyways.
Quarta didn know what to say. He wasn great with words, and he wasn exactly someone that was good with emotions, either. However, he was aware enough to understand that the experience had been hard for her. It hadn been Prota that had told the story, but it was given only with her permission. That couldn have been easy.
Looking at her, it was hard to see her as just a six year old. In many of the stories Quarta had read, the hero was a brave and noble soul, out on a quest for justice no matter the cost, often beginning at a young age, but Prota wasn that hero. She was just someone trying to survive, someone who longed for affection but received hate instead. That was a burden no child shouldve had to bear, but here it was.
She sniffled and nodded. Slowly, she got up and went to her bed and laid down. That was the end of their talk for the rest of the night.
”Wake up, sleepyhead! ” Quarta said cheerfully.
Prota got up sleepily, rubbing her eyes and then stretching, her soft snow white hair tangled like a birds nest. She was confused. Didn Quarta have the bar to run?
”Come on, lets go out! ”
She just stared at him. Out? What did he mean, out?
”Come on, its been, what, three months now? ” Quarta shrugged. ”Youve been cooped up inside this room for days, its about time you went outside. Come on, Ill let you pick anything from the stores. ”
”Its fine. Trust me on this one. ”
She considered it for a while but then nodded.
As she went into the washroom to get herself ready, Zero appeared.
”Are you sure this is a good idea? ” he said.
”Im sure itll be fine. Really, whats the worst thing that could happen? I die? ” Quarta snickered.
Zero just sighed. ”Alright. ”
The morning passed by like any other morning. The two had breakfast, Quarta put his scarf and sweater, and then they headed out. Prota was dressed in warm pants and a fleece sweater and then wrapped herself in the large white cloak Quarta had given her when theyd first me. It was still too big for her, but she cherished it and so Quarta had stitched it a bit so that she could wear it for now, and could extend it when she grew taller.
Snow was lightly falling outside, a thin layer already gathered on the ground. The cold nipped at Protas nose, but she was a lot warmer than she had been last year. The hood overshadowed her face, making it hard to distinguish her features. The snow crunched underneath their feet as they hurried along, their breath coming out in little puffs of steam that floated up into the clear morning air and dissipated into nothing.
”Cold? ” she said, looking up at Quartas six feet of height.
He was dressed in the exact same attire as always: a black zip up hoodie, unzipped revealing a red t-shirt, black track pants and red sneakers. A red scarf wrapped around his neck, but otherwise that was it. His hood was currently up, but considering how cold it was outside he couldn possibly have been warm.
”Magic, ” Quarta winked. ”Ill be fine. ”
…magic? Didn he say he was manaless?
The other thing that was somewhat curious was his behaviour. His eyes kept flickering around, but it didn seem like he was checking for watchers. Rather, his eyes would unfocus as if looking at a screen directly in front of him. His fingers would come up once in a while, swiping or tapping an unseen system.
Quarta flinched. ”Oh, yeah. I didn tell you about this, did I? ”
They stopped to take a break. Prota was in much better condition than shed been when Quarta had first found her, but she was still a small child, and so she needed breaks. As they stopped, Quarta pulled her into a dark alleyway. He seemed to be contemplating something, but shrugged as he made a decision.
”Zero, can you add her to the system? ”
”…are you sure? ”
Despite his ghostly counterpart not appearing, he could still hear Zeros voice in his head. Prota, on the other hand, couldn hear anything.
”Its only fair we show her one of our secrets in return for one of hers. ”
”…you know very well the system was made specifically for you. I don even know why adding someone is an option. ”
”Just do it, dumbass. ”
”Fine, ” Zero grumbled. There was a faint blue light that enveloped her, then faded away. Her eyes widened as a whole system of screens appeared in front of her eyes.
[Welcome, user. Begin tutorial?]
There was a [yes] and [no] button. Instinctively, she reached out and pressed the [yes] button. The light was unlike anything shed ever seen, a faint blue that didn exist in this world.
[Welcome, user. What is your name?]
From there, they stood as she learned how to navigate the various applications, such as the mapping system that generated a map of all the areas visited, to the health and mana bars she could see in the top left corner of her vision. She could see Quarta on the map, too, as well as his health and mana. There was a calendar and reminder system, too. All in all, not something designed for combat or utility but for convenience.
A little box appeared in the lower right portion of her vision. It was a message.
[Ok, based on your reaction, you can see this. Neat! Ive never used this function before.]
[Yeah, maybe because youve never needed to, dumbass. Why is this a function anyways?]
The last message came from Zero. It was similar to a messaging system, but Prota, whod grown up in a world without technology, didn know this.
[You can send messages too. Just… uh… think them, I guess. Anyways, we should go now.]
They hurried along, finally reaching the market. Prota could now see how he navigated the streets so well; it wasn out of familiarity. He just had cheats on.
”Ok… first, the carpenter, then the glassblower then the retail store for dishes and whatnot… ”
She could see him making inputs in a list, and the motions didn as out of place now that she knew what they were. She followed him around as he made his rounds, placing orders.
”Ok, Prota. You want a treat? ”
They were heading into an area with a bunch of stalls as delicious odours permeated the area. Juicy roast beefs, slices of crispy ham, baked breads and sweet pastries, pies and cakes galore, steaming hot drinks, both fragrant and rich… her mouth was already watering as her eyes darted from stall to stall, wondering what to pick.
”Go crazy, ” Quarta chuckled. ”Get whatever you want. ”
She practically ran over to one stall, pointing at a slice of roast beef, so tender the knife carved through it like butter.
”Ah, Quarta, ” an elderly lady said, turning to see her newest customer. ”Whos the little one? ”
”A friend, ” Quarta said, leaving it at that. ”Two, please. ”
”Of course, of course. ”
Prota liked the old lady. She seemed kind.
Next was a cup of hot chocolate, rich and steaming, then a slice of baked bread with golden butter oozing through the spongy freshly baked dough. Her eyes were shining as she took a bite out of everything, the closest to happy Quarta had seen. He filed this one away for later, and resolved to treat her to better foods later on.
Unfortunately, the good time came to an end.
”Oi! Thats her! The demon girl! ”
The drunkard that had initiated the bar fight was back, and he didn look pleased. The presence of the royal guard didn help.
”…demon girl? ”
”Now that I think of it, she does sort of look like… ”
They put their spears up and turned to Quarta.
”Sir, Im going to ask you to hand over the girl. ”
”Fuck off. ”
”Sir, Im asking now. Don make me make it an order. ”
”Are you deaf? What are you, a child predator or something? ”
That was a mistake. Quarta let his guard down, and in that brief moment one of the guards dashed forwards, his spear mere inches away from Protas head.
Time seemed to slow down. Quarta could feel his heart pulsing, the blood flowing through his veins, energy spreading like an electric shock to his legs, like a cannon ready for fire.
”No! ” he yelled, launching himself forwards. He couldn hit the guard, but he did the next best thing.
He pushed Prota aside. Her eyes went wide as they made physical contact for the first time, and with that Quarta felt like his soul was being sucked out of his body.