Am I not scary?
Tiera’s whispered words reminded Shin of one of Rokuten’s members.
Shin had become a hardcore player simply because he enjoyed the game very much, but her reason for playing was the great quantity of time at her disposal, because of her long hospitalization.
Shin had heard her confess this when there was talk of organizing an offline meeting. That time, he felt an atmosphere very similar to Tiera’s now.
In other words, she was afraid of her real self to be known.
At that time, Shin and the other members treated her kindly, so she could find peace of mind.
Because of that experience, Shin did not change his tone or expression.
“…so you don’t know about this either. Black-haired elves are cursed, they are a symbol of misfortune.”
Tiera talked while looking down.
“A symbol of misfortune…”
“Yes. All elves have white hair when they’re born, in fact. This changes as they grow up: ultimately their hair becomes gold, silver, green or blue. Can you believe it? I had silver hair too, once.”
Tiera’s expression was one of self-mocking.
“But now they’re pitch black, because of the curse. Normally, elves’ hair never turns black.”
“It doesn’t turn black?”
“It doesn’t. And so, elves of black hair are bringers of misfortune. I did too. After I was cursed, sudden attacks by very powerful monsters happened several times. Because of that, I was exiled from my village.”
“I had no place to go, but master found me and took me with her. There’s a powerful barrier around this store, so no monster will be coming any closer, she said. I haven’t stepped out of this store for more than 100 years.”
“100 years…that’s a long time.”
“Yes, but if I can live without causing trouble to others, it’s fine.”
That can’t possibly be true! Shin wanted to shout.
No way that being locked up inside the store was a good situation, or so he wanted to tell her. But nothing would change even if he did, so he resisted that impulse. His clenched fists hurt.
Shin himself didn’t know why he felt so shaken by the plight of a girl he had just met. It was obvious, however, that he couldn’t leave her alone after she showed him an expression like that.
If this world was THE NEW GATE, there was a reason why Tiera’s hair had turned black, and also a solution.
Shin thought again, there had to be a hint in the conversation…
“Tiera, there’s something I have to confirm with you.”
“Yes. You said that your hair used to be silver, but how did it change?”
Shin felt that it would be the key to the solution.
“I was suddenly cursed one day, and my hair changed color.”
“Yes, suddenly. I fell asleep as usual, and when I woke up my hair was black. I had no idea what was going on at that moment, I was really scared.”
Maybe because she remembered what happened as she talked, Tiera hugged herself, trembling.
Next to her, Shin was fervently trying to scan everything he knew, in order to find something that could be related to the situation.
“Suddenly…hair changing color…curse…a character’s coloring changes…monster attacks…several times…the monsters are strong too…the character’s coloring changes…and monsters attack them more often? Can this happen….ah!!”
Shin was mumbling to himself to recap the situation, when suddenly something flashed in his head.
“Yes…that happens!! It could fit those conditions!!”
Tiera flinched again because of Shin’s sudden shout.
With no regard to her reaction, Shin stared at Tiera.
“How could I forget? Now…hm? Wait, there’s something off here. Why can’t I see her status? I thought I had set it to activate automatically…”
Shin had stared at Tiera to see her status: if his prediction was correct, Tiera’s status should clearly show “that”.
“Er, okay, open the skill menu, 【Analyze】…【Analyze】…here it is. The display is just off for targets outside players and monsters, huh. If we turn this on…”
For Tiera, Shin looked like a slightly dangerous person, moving his fingers in weird shapes in the air.
“Alright, I can see the status window. So…name, level, species and…! Yes, found it!!!!!!!!!!”
Shin threw a fist in the air in joy after finding what he was looking for. Tiera, forced to witness his strange behavior, could do nothing but flinch in surprise yet again.
“Rejoice, Tiera! I have found out the truth behind your curse of misfortune!”
“Don’t go “eh?” on me now. It’s displayed here, so there’s no mistake. The reason why your hair changed color and monsters started attacking you is this 【Cursed Gift】.”
Tiera was dumbfounded, unable to understand the meaning of Shin’s words.
The 【Cursed Gift】 was literally a curse, a phenomenon that happened suddenly and at random in THE NEW GATE.
Gifts were support abilities normally obtainable after doing specific actions, clearing certain quests or using certain items. According to the Gift, stats would be boosted -albeit slightly- or new skills would be acquired.
In contrast, the 【Cursed Gift】 happened suddenly and at random, to any player.
If the player didn’t use the item 【Drop of Purity】 or the Support skill 【Purification】, negative effects such as stat debuffs, incurable status effects and random encounters with unique monsters would persist.
Which effect would appear was completely random, but all players affected by the 【Cursed Gift】 would change colors. A part of the body would turn black and the mark of a laughing god of death would appear on their status window.
The possibility of being affected with the curse was less than 0.1%, and it was possible to use it as a joke too, so in a way it was a rare Gift.
In Tiera’s status window, Shin found that same laughing god of death.
“OK, now things will be quick. Tiera, could you come out from behind the counter and stand in the center of the store?”
Tiera, unable to grasp the situation and still confused, did what Shin told her to.
“Here I go, then. Activate 【Purification】!”
To dispel the curse, Shin held his right hand towards Tiera and activated the Support skill 【Purification】. It was a skill mainly used by Priests, but luckily Shin had learned it too.
“What’s….this? It’s warm…”
Tiera was surprised to see a light envelop her body, but the warmth of the light posed no threat. Tiera stood in place, a feeling of purification blooming from within.
After about 5 minutes the light progressively weakened and finally disappeared.
Tiera was still in a daze even after the light vanished, but then suddenly regained consciousness, looking utterly confused about what had just happened.
“…the icon’s gone, but…is this…a success?”
Shin mumbled to himself, still looking doubtful.
Tiera’s status window did not show the laughing death god icon anymore.
Her hair, which was supposed to go back to normal, was still mostly black, though; what changed (or, better said, turned back) was a single silver streak of hair.
It was difficult to say with certainty that the curse was gone in this situation. An awkward atmosphere hung on Shin and Tiera.
“Hmm, well, the curse is gone, but…well. Your hair hasn’t turned back completely…”
“Yeah…I’m sorry. Only a small part changed back to normal. Well…see for yourself.”
Dejected, Shin took a mirror out of the item box and handed it to Tiera.
Tiera, reacting to the word “hair”, snatched the mirror out of Shin’s hands and held it in front of her eyes.
The mirror reflected Tiera’s face, the same face she knew, unchanged. But one of the bangs hanging over it had turned back to silver.
It was, without a shred of doubt, the original color of Tiera’s hair.
Tiera’s eyes filled with tears, which then started flowing down her cheeks. When the first drop flowed down her cheeks and turned into a drop again in midair, it was followed by a stream of tears as if bursting out of a dam.
Tiera wept quietly, wiping her tears with her sleeves.
In front of the crying Tiera, one man was now at the apex of confusion.
Needless to say, that man was Shin.
(W-what should I do…? I’m sure that the curse is gone, but her hair color doesn’t change, Tiera’s crying…should I apologize? I should, right? But after saying all that, how am I supposed to apologizeeeeeehh!?!)
Not a small child, but a girl who, at least physically, could be called adult, was crying before him. And the reason for her tears could very well be him: a situation that exceeded Shin’s capacity.
In the end, Shin kept fidgeting without even handing Tiera a handkerchief (not that he had any).
“O-okay, got it. Take your time, okay? I can wait.”
Regaining some composure after Tiera’s words, Shin handed her a towel (an item used as an accessory in place of a handkerchief, which as an item did not exist). He then took the chair from behind the counter and had Tiera sit down, then waited for her to stop crying.