As Shin and Ariel entered the simple shoe store, the first thing that caught their eyes was the endless rows of footwear, that was freshly produced by the store’s cobbler. Comfortable, leather chairs were littered all over the place with an adequate amount of knee-length mirrors for customers to fully view how the shoes look on them. An aromatic fabric fragrance filled the noses of the two children the further they moved into the shop.
“Oh, my! Customers!”
An adenoidal voice sounded out from behind the wooden counter. Strangely enough, although the shoe shop seemed to be one of the most inviting stores in the waypoint, there was not a single soul shopping for apparel. Hence, when the retail manager saw Shin and Ariel, he was slightly startled.
“Hello, little ones! Is there anything that you are looking for?”
The brown-haired young man left the counter and hastily jaunted to his two prospective customers. Being part of the business for so many years, he could instantly tell if customers were big spenders or not with a single glance. Ariel was wearing a bright red silk robe with gorgeous embroideries of golden phoenixes and heavenly flowers. And although Shin’s clothes were not as flashy as the fiery little girl’s, he was still donning on a Mushinkei issued cotton robes, making him look like an upper-class citizen.
Recognising that the duo were likely to have hefty wallets, the manager put on his most amiable smile and addressed Shin and Ariel.
“We’re looking for some cute gomushins! Can you show us your best works?”
Ariel exclaimed in place of Shin. She had some pride in being a shopping connoisseur even though she was way too young to receive that title. As the First Elder’s granddaughter, the places she had visited were not limited to just Chilyoja Waypoint. Once, Ariel followed her grandfather to the busiest place in the western part of Himmel Empire, Huuring City.
The shops in Hurring City were much more extravagant in their designs, and their products were twice as expensive. Hence, although she was young, she had a little experience when it came to shopping in the high-end areas. In fact, she had honed her haggling skills while she was in Hurring City and couldn’t wait to demonstrate it in front of Shin.
“Of course! Right, this way!”
Bowing down in joy, the shop manager led the first customer he has had in days straight to the aisle where the gomushins were located.
“Oh crap! I just realised that I don’t know Emma’s size!”
Shin came to a sudden realisation. When he left the mountain, he had promised to purchase souvenirs for his siblings back home. The other gifts were simple. Elyse wanted sweets while the rest were alright with anything he sent back. But for Emma, Shin had promised to buy a pair of footwear without asking for her size first.
“God damn it, Shin! You sure are hopeless. Must I do everything for you?”
Greatly bemused by Shin’s helpless expression, Ariel chided him while trying to withhold a smile.
“Emma should be the same shoe size as me. Don’t worry, I’ll be your fitter.”
Volunteering herself, Ariel’s eyes shone in delight as she glanced around the luxurious store. With so many adorable designs present, Ariel felt that she could spend the rest of her time here just to try on each and every shoe.
“That helps, thank you!”
“Hey, I expect some payment! If I see a shoe that I like, you must buy it for me!”
After the earlier bizarre shopping spree, Shin was down to his last two silver coins from his monthly allowance. When he first entered the shop, he managed to take a quick look at the average price of the products. His heart bled when he saw that a mere piece of foot protection could cost as much as one silver coin.
But to appease Emma, he begrudgingly decided that it was alright to spend that much. Now with Ariel joining the fray, after today, the young boy would be entirely broke.
‘Whatever, I just need to not spend for the rest of the year…’
Thinking back, it was rather easy for him to save money. Since all his meals were provided for and he had no need to pay rent, the young boy had basically no expenses.
“Here let me try!”
While he was busy agonising over the thinning of his wallet, Ariel had already struck up a conversation with the store manager. Putting on a pair of alluring purple gomushins, the young girl walked around in a circle to test how comfortable were the soles.
“Hmmm, not bad! Shin, what do you think?”
Striking a pose in front of a mirror that clearly highlights the designs of the charming shoes, Ariel asked for Shin’s opinion.
“I think that’s great! Let’s go with this one!”
Visualising Emma wearing those pair of gomushins, Shin was content with the image. Hoping to wrap things up and go home, the boy suggested that they purchase that pair.
“Hold on you moron, we can still try other pairs of shoes! But you’re right, it does look good. Could you hold onto it?”
Removing the gomushins, Ariel placed them on the shop manager’s outreached hands and continued browsing through the shelves, in search of the perfect footwear.
“Of course, young lady! You sure have a nice boyfriend!”
The duo were currently shopping for a pair of shoes for Emma. Misunderstanding the situation, the shop manager mistakenly thought that Shin was willing to fork out any amount to please his partner.
“H-huh?! We’re not in that kind of relationship!”
Ariel’s face flushed instantly after hearing the manager’s words. Flustered, she attempted to clear up the man’s misconception.
“Oh! My apologies!”
The young man gave a deep bow while hiding his wide grin. From her adorable reaction, that triggered his fatherly side, the experienced shop manager could tell many things.
It has been a while since he felt this way. Recent days had been rather dreadful for him, and having a pair of innocent young children visit his store somewhat warmed his heart. Mentally, he had already decided to give them a little discount if they asked for it.
While Ariel was busy getting agitated, Shin noticed a figure approaching from outside the shop. Draped from head to toe in a grey overall coat, the hunched man limped into the store with his head looking at the floor, preventing anyone from seeing his face.
“A new customer?!”
The store manager raised his eyebrows surprise. Business was slow these few days, and he had expected to close up early. However, there was a sudden influx of customers which brought great joy to the brown-haired man. In his jubilation, he did not even notice that his new customer was behaving erratically.
“Young lady, would you mind if I tend to the next customer. Feel free to browse around while I’m away. If you have any questions, don’t worry! I’ll rush to your side to answer them!”
Leaving Shin and Ariel behind, the shop manager hurried over to the entrance to greet the newcomer. Due to recent events and slow business, the manager was forced to retrench many of the employees in the store leaving him the lone guardian. In charge of everything in the shop, he had to do all the chores. From cleaning to servicing customers.
“Good afternoon, mister! How may I help you today?”
Rubbing his hands in delight, the manager welcomed the man dressed in a grey coat.
“I see that business is bad, huh? Manald?”
A hoarse voice, as rough as sandpaper, sounded out from under the newcomer’s covered hood.
“Right! Right! Business really has been… Wait, how did you know my name?”
The shopkeeper’s pleasant smile turned into a confused frown the moment the man spoke. From the depths of his memory, he seemed to recall hearing that voice somewhere, but he was unable to pinpoint the owner of the voice.
“How cruel… It looks like even you don’t recognise me…”
At that moment, the man raised his two hands to his hood and gently lifted it. Slowly, more and more of his facial features were revealed to the confused store manager. His wretched face was filled with boils and burns. His pale white hair had turned a sickish-yellow colour after being dyed in sewage water for too long. The light in his right pupil had diminished completely, leaving only the whites, essentially making him half-blind.
The closer the store manager got, the more prominent the putrid stench of faeces and urine could be smelt. Panting heavily, the man’s rancid breath mixed with his distinct odour to form a unique foul smell that could not be found elsewhere.
Typically, one would back away covering their nose and mouth from such a bad smell. But the manager was too overwhelmed with shock to do that.
Falling to his butt, the store manager revealed the name of the man that he had not met in many weeks.
Himmel Empire. Chilyoja Waypoint. Constable Headquarters.
“You found the Watkin Murderer?!”
On the highest floor of the mysterious building, a booming voice resonated through the hallways as a plump middle-aged man, slammed his fist on the desk as he stood up. The contents of the table shook violently, and some of them even fell to the floor after the Lewis punched the miserable wooden desk.
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, sir! Constables on patrol had witnessed him entering a store in the commercial district. They are currently on standby, awaiting orders.”
“Fantastic! Tell them to hold their ground. Wait, scratch that! I’m going to fly there right now! Where did you say he was spotted?”
Eager to apprehend the felon that he was chasing for over two weeks, the meaty man questioned his subordinate.
“H-he… Entered the Watkin Shoebox.”