Ben: Hey, Inaba, how long have you been working in this hotel?
Inaba: Ara ara, has Master taken an interest in me? I'm flattered! I've been working here my whole life, if I must say so.
Ben: I-I see… You must have met a few interesting guys along the way, huh?
Inaba: Eto… Not that I know of. I haven't experienced the joy of falling in love, actually.
Ben: S-seriously?! Ahem, I mean… So, do you have a preference? Like younger guys for example? *nonchalant*
Inaba: Hmm… If I had to choose, I guess I would prefer an older guy. Ah! Actually, you just might be my type, Master! Hypothetically, of course. He he.
Ben: So, you really are a teenager, after all.
Inaba: Who knows? I might not even age at all. *sticks tongue out*
Ben: Ah ha ha… You're so cruel, Inaba…
Inaba: Teehee. Master is such a funny person~
Chapter Six: Combustion
My name's Ben Tennyson. I'm a former hero, a soccer ace, a college student, a sucker for moe… and… Japanese maids are justice.
"Careful not to get too caught up on sightseeing, Master, or else you'll end up lost. It happens more often that we'd prefer, unfortunately."
"I can imagine. This place is huge!" Ben couldn't help but cry out as he admired the intricacy and extravagance of the corridors they passed by. The large connecting hallways were beautifully furbished with possibly the highest standard of class money can buy.
And the halls themselves—now Ben may have an inkling why this place is dubbed "Paradise on Earth".
"He he, new arrivals always have the same reaction. But it is still amazing, after all, regardless of how many times I've seen it myself, so again, Master, try not to get too caught up, ne?" Inaba smiled sweetly at Ben as she led the way, her posture picture perfect as she walked ahead of him.
"Thanks again for giving me a tour of the place, Inaba. I doubt I'll get anywhere by myself if I went alone," Ben nervously laughed as he kept pace with the bubbly maid.
"And with Gwen just suddenly disappearing early in the morning, I might as well kill some time until I run into her. Jeez… That girl…"
Ben sighed as he recalled how empty the huge room was when he woke up.
Except for his crumpled up shirt that she wore the night before which was, for some reason, draped all over his face. Does she relish in torturing him that much?
"Ah, Master, perhaps you feel a bit lonely that the Mistress is not with you, currently?" Inaba asked upon seeing the downcast look Ben had.
"No, that's not it. My relationship with Gwen is strictly platonic. She's more like an older sister to me than anything else," Ben was quick to counter.
"Aha, so Master enjoys the thrills of taboo! Kyaa, forbidden love sounds so exciting!"
"I told you that's not it!"
"He he, fret not, dear Master, it's not my place to judge. Anyway, I'm more than thrilled to show you around. Guests these days are so afraid to approach the staff for anything, so I'm very glad you came to me for help~" Inaba beamed at him.
Ben felt his heart skip a beat. She was just that charming.
"A-ah, yeah, m-me too," Ben replied as turned his head the other way, trying to hide the evident blush.
"God, if you keep smiling like that, I might do something incredibly stupid like propose to you on the spot."
"Hmm, to be honest, I haven't fully explored the entire 'Garden of Eden' myself despite working here for so long," Inaba pouted as she crossed her arms in deep thought.
"Eh? How come?"
"Well, like I've said, this is a very big hotel, Master; a very, very big hotel. Officially, hotels are rank up to five stars at maximum, but this one is recognized as a six-star hotel—the first of its kind in the entire world."
"Sounds more like an advert than anything else," Ben teased.
"We're required to memorize it," Inaba shot back with her tongue playfully stuck out. "Anyway, it's really true, Master. And there are also some parts of the hotel and garden that are restricted, not only to guests, but even to us staff. B-but, don't worry, it would still take you at least a month to fully explore the entire place!"
Ben almost gagged.
"Hai! It is paradise after all!" Inaba smiled brightly as she waved her one arm about in the air.
"H-huh, I see. Well then, let's see how much we can cover in the meantime."
Having said that, Ben then suddenly felt an arm wrapped around his own. Inaba has linked them both together as she cheerfully clung to the startled Ben.
"It's easy to get lost, Master, so walking like this should solve that problem. But… eto… Guests aren't actually allowed to come in physical contact with maids so please keep this a secret between us," Inaba winked at him as she then proceeded to drag a helpless Ben along.
"Not good! What if somebody sees us? We'll get kicked out of here for sure! Wait, what if Gwen sees us…? Gah, it's too scary to even think about!"
"Hah, don't get so worked up. Inaba promises not to let anything happen to her master. If someone tries to threaten Master, Inaba will distract them with her smile!"
Inaba pressed her forefingers to her cheeks as her lips curved upwards.
"Damn, this maid is just too cute."
"… And then, knock them out while they're confused!" she added.
"It's all part of our Maid-style art self-defense. It incorporates over thirty different fighting styles."
"Th-Thirty?! So you're an elite kind of maid?! H-have you ever used it on anyone?"
"Ano… Here and there, guests tend to get rowdy. And I wouldn't say elite, Master. I still haven't broken pass twenty-eight concrete blocks."
"Twenty-eight?! Are you telling me Maid-style art is superhuman?! Why aren't the Plumbers practicing Maid-style art yet?!"
Ben wasn't sure if he should be impressed or downright terrified; how can such impossibly remarkable fighting prowess exist inside this innocent-looking maid? And with such a gentle touch to boot, there's just no way…
"Of course, I was only kidding. That would sound outrageous to begin with, ne?~"
"..Ah ha, ah ha ha…"
Ben laughed dryly, somewhat relieved, but, at the same time, disappointed for some reason.
Roughly over an hour has passed since the pair started their tour, arms linked together—well, Inaba dragging a rather tense Ben Tennyson along the hotel's many, many twist and turns.
So far, Ben has been left speechless, to say the least, of how well-equipped the hotel is judging from what he's seen. Inaba wasn't surely just sugarcoating it.
They've already passed by countless restaurants—many of which had expensive-sounding names, numerous pubs, coffee shops, video game stores, electronics, clothing stores, a ballroom, an indoor gym, you name it. Even a weaponsmith! Seriously, a weaponsmith! … In a hotel! And all of it was just on one floor! Of this multi-storied mammoth of a hotel!
"The underground level is off-limits at this time, unfortunately. But don't worry; I'll take you there next time."
"Inaba, how big is this hotel, exactly?" Ben huffed as he tried to match pace with an overzealous Inaba tugging at his arm.
"Eto… Godzilla, maybe… on stilts?"
"That wasn't the answer I was hoping for…"
"Ano… One million, three hundred fifty-eight thousand, seven hundred thirty-nine point thirteen square centimeters… I think?" she replied, sounding every bit serious.
"That's an oddly specific and unnecessary measurement!"
"At least, that's what it looked like from ten-thousand feet above," Inaba casually shrugged.
"I don't even know where to begin asking…"
"Teehee, daijoubo, daijoubo, Master! You can count on me as your guide. Inaba's power level is high enough to breeze through random encounters," she stated, eagerly punching the air in front of her.
"What is this—a dungeon crawl? But, somehow, it totally fits her character."
"Well, I'm in your care then, Inaba. So, where do we go next?"
Inaba looked around for a bit, and, at that moment, the expression on her face quickly changed. She tightened her hold on the teen, squirming slightly as she turned her head rapidly from side to side, at which point, Ben noticed the panicked look she had on.
"Inaba, is something wrong?"
The blue-haired maid jolted with a squeak upon hearing his voice, hesitantly turning towards him with eyes on the verge of tears.
"Umuu… Master, I think we're lost…"
"Gomennasai! Gomennasai! Gomennasai…!" Inaba uttered repeatedly, bowing apologetically each time she said it.
"How can we be lost? I thought you knew your way around?" Ben sighed, scratching his head, as he looked at his surroundings. Truth be told, the design did made it seem like a maze for any newcomer—and, apparently, for a certain maid, as well.
"To be honest, I'm not very good with directions, Master. One time, I went out to do some groceries, but I accidentally got enlisted in the 75th Regiment to Farah, instead. It was really scary…" the maid whimpered, as if recalling a frightening memory.
"That's an absurd punchline! Are the Rangers even that desperate for new recruits?!"
"I'm so very sorry, Master," Inaba said as she clasped both her hands together. "I was just so excited when Master asked for my help. And you seemed like an interesting person… I just wanted to do my best…"
Seeing Inaba make such an adorably apologetic face was almost enough to make Ben gush out a stream of blood. Guests should take note not to get too up close and personal when interacting with maids…
… For their own safety.
"W-well, I guess it can't be helped, after all. Like you said, this is a very big hotel and all…" Ben nonchalantly waved off, hoping the maid wouldn't catch the embarrassed look he had on.
"Master is so forgiving! Kyaa, watashi wa anata ga daisuki desu, Goshujin-sama!" Inaba exclaimed as she excitedly wrapped her arms around Ben in an almost spine-crushing hug.
"Uwaa, easy now, Inaba! You're starting to not make any sense!" Ben gritted as he tried to pry away the (really) hopeless maid.
Inaba, who had just become aware of her actions, turned beet red and quickly let go of the winded brunette.
"Ah, gomen ne… Aya, I mean… sorry, Master. I keep forgetting that most of our guests don't really speak Japanese. You see, the Headmaster… or rather, the President of Misaki Towers is a man of proud Japanese descent, and so, he prefers that all his staff are of Japanese heritage as well."
"Well, um, that kinda sounds strange when you think about it. I mean, we are far out in the west, after all. Wouldn't this lead to a lot of communication problems?"
"Ara, it's not a big deal, Master. Most of the staff is well-versed. Only I have this problem from time to time!"
"I should've figured! And why do you sound as if you're proud of that?!"
"It's because guests usually avoid me for some reason, thus why I don't interact with them that much. Usually, I only talk to the other staff members—mostly, the other maids. They're very kind to me, but they tease me a lot." Inaba puffed her cheeks.
"I can imagine why…"
"But Master is different. You came to me with such a soft smile, and you never once gave me that look that everyone else did. That's why I felt so happy. Back then, when I introduced the three of you to this hotel, I was really nervous. It was my first time, and I wanted to make a good impression. Master, how did I do?"
She asked her voice somewhat shaky.
"If I had to say: Homerun! Your ditzy personality suits you so perfectly. It goes extremely well with your cute face and hopelessly flawed charm. I'd give you a ten—heck, if we weren't lost right now, I'd give you an eleven. If someone ever finds us, I might bump you up to a twelve. Maybe even marry you. Gah, are all Japanese maids this cute?!"
"Y-yeah, you did great. I didn't even know it was your first time. You seemed so confident, and I was actually very nervous back then. But I was pleasantly surprised at how gentle you were. So, I thought it would be fine if I came to you. Ah, but it's a relief that we're both new to this sort of thing."
Ben then noticed the confused smile Inaba had on, before realizing what he had just said.
"A-ah, sorry! The way I worded it must've sounded weird! I didn't mean it in a perverted way! I-I was just… I mean…"
"Teehee, it's alright, Master. I kind of get what you were trying to say. Anyway, we should focus on finding our way back, ne?~"
A strong, feminine voice suddenly called out from nowhere.
"Are? Shinohara-senpai?" Inaba called out.
The confused maid clumsily twisted and turned, almost stumbling as she tried to find the source.
But before Inaba, or Ben for that matter, could get a grasp of what was going on, a figure clad in black and white of frills and laces soared past the top of their heads, doing a full flip, and, at the same time, her body spinning in a side three-sixty motion, before gracefully landing behind Inaba with a flourish.
Ben didn't have time to admire the amazing feat he had just witness, because, as he was about to say something, the mystery person then started feverishly groping Inaba's breasts through her clothes.
"Kyaa!" Inaba squealed.
"What the hell?!" Ben screamed in his head after seeing such an erotic public display.
"Natsumi-chan! I was looking all over for you! Everyone was worried because none of the staff have reported seeing you today! Where were you off running to, you troublesome maid?!" The rather tomboyish-looking female gushed as she continued to harass the helpless maid.
"Ah~ Ah, Shinohara-senpai, please s-stop!" Inaba squirmed, her face flustered and her knees shaking as she struggled against the perverted assault.
It was then that Ben noticed that this person in question that was harassing his innocent Inaba was also wearing a maid outfit, albeit a bit different from Inaba's. Her dress was significantly longer—almost reaching all the way down to her ankles—as opposed to Inaba's mini-skirt style outfit. The frill on top of her head had a skull-like appearance; definitely not that of a standard maid's. And her uniform looked disheveled in appearance, as if she had just woken up from a nap while wearing it, or didn't bother to put it on properly at all. And for some reason, she was wearing combat boots.
In terms of her appearance, she sported crimson-red hair that was fashioned into a long ponytail. She was tall—even taller than Ben. She looked to be somewhere in her late twenties, possibly early thirties. Her face was sharp, her smile seemed to bear fangs, and her one eye was covered by a bizarre eye patch. At a glance, this woman was the very definition of what you would call a weirdo.
"Is this supposed to be a boss fight?" Ben raised a brow, unsure of what to make of all of this.
"Um, excuse me, who are you?"
"Natsumi-chan! Natsumi-chan! You're even cuter today!" the woman completely ignored Ben as she fawned over Inaba.
"Kyaa~ Sh-Shinohara-senpai… yamete…" Inaba moaned weakly.
"Er… hello? Pirate Maid?" Ben waved a hand at her, trying to draw her attention.
At that point, the 'Pirate Maid' stopped what she was doing and quickly let go of Inaba, who slumped to the floor, breathless and visibly drained. Her head then slowly turned like clockwork towards Ben with a wicked grin deeply ingrained on her face.
"Who are you calling "Pirate Maid", brat?" the woman gritted, as she stared the brunette down with a death glare. Her body then started exuding an aura of intimidation the likes Ben has not felt in a very long time, as she slowly advanced towards him.
"Ah, I'm sorry! I'm very sorry! I didn't mean what I said!" Ben was white as a sheet as he tried to back away.
"You betcha you didn't! A rude, little punk like you, calling a stunning beauty such as myself by such a demeaning nickname! Do you wanna die? Or would you rather die? Or do you prefer being dead?"
"All those three choices are exactly the same!"
Ben then felt his feet buckle beneath him as he fell to the floor. The ground shook as a boot slammed at the tiled floor just inches from him, sending bits of shards flying through the air. Rearing his head up, he felt his heart stop as he stared into two evil, glowing, red orbs for eyes bearing down on him.
"I'm gonna be killed by a demon, pirate maid! That sounds so freaking cool, but still I don't want to die! I've barely got to know Inaba! Or even the weaponsmith! At least let me visit the weaponsmith!"
"Ah, w-wait, Shinohara-senpai, please don't hurt him. He's my precious Master!" Inaba cried out.
"Eh? Is that so…?" she replied in a rather emotionless, chilling tone. "... Well, if that's the case, then it's fine!" The woman called Shinohara shrugged as she gave a hearty laughed as if nothing happened.
"She completely switched personalities in an instant!"
"Well, here, lemme help you up," Shinohara offered as she extended a hand at Ben, who warily accepted. "Sorry about that. I'm a bit of a hothead, y'know. Didn't mean to scare ya."
"'A bit' isn't quite accurate…"
"Aha, Natsumi-chan, forgive me! I didn't mean to almost decapitate your friend," Shinohara rubbed her head, as she smiled apologetically at Inaba.
"Hold on, what did you mean by 'decapitate'? And why are you saying something horrific in such a cute way?"
"Ah, don't worry about it; as long as Master is fine. Ah, gomen, Shinohara-senpai, this is my young Master, Ben Tennyson. Master, this is my senpai, Shinohara Shino."
There was a moment of awkward silence that enveloped the air as Ben and Shinohara exchanged empty smiles.
"I'm really sorry about your name…"
Yes, this boy clearly gets it.
"… Master, Shinohara-senpai is my superior. She's the chief maid of this hotel and supervises the rest of us."
"He he," Shinohara casually waved her hand. "Actually, I was looking for a place to slack off when I heard that Natsumi-chan hasn't reported in this morning yet, so I figured I could use finding her as an excuse to lay low and not do any work."
Shinohara nodded to herself proudly as she spoke.
"'Chief maid', my ass, you useless pirate! How are you even still employed in this hotel?! Whose family are you threatening?!"
"Ah, Shinohara-senpai is so cool. She's always so calm when doing her job. That's why around here she's known as 'Kaze' or 'The Wind.'" Inaba blurted out excitedly.
"Inaba, I think you missed the point why she earned that nickname. Your faith in her is severely misplaced…"
"More importantly, Natsumi-chan, can I borrow Master Brat for just a sec? Domo! C'mon now, pretty boy," Shinohara said as she firmly wrapped an arm around a hesitant Ben's shoulder and proceeded to drag him along with her.
"Hai?" Inaba tilted her head with a confused smile.
Shinohara steered Ben towards a corner and pushed him against the wall. Her brows furrowed as she eyed him intently, her expression filled with curiosity.
"Oi, how did Natsumi-chan become friends with someone like you?" she said as she pressed her hands against his shoulders, trapping him in place.
"Y'see, lemme tell you a little something about Natsumi-chan. That girl is extremely cute. The cutest little maid you'll ever see in your life. In fact, she's become a sort of an idol here. Her reputation spans the entire Garden of Eden. She's even known as the 'Angel of Eden'. Guests are intimidated to approach her—she shines that much. Males would steer clear of her. Her cuteness has become a curse in itself. She's oblivious to how cute she is, and even more so to why she's being avoided. It's actually heartbreaking to see such a sweet and pure girl get treated that way. And then you came along from out of nowhere…"
"Um, uh… yes..?"
What was Shinohara trying to say? Was he causing trouble for her? For Inaba? Was there some sort of unwritten law to never ever approach Natsumi Inaba? For fear that she might get hurt? Just what exactly..?
"I've haven't seen Natsumi-chan smile like that for quite a long time. I don't want you to get all cocky now, brat, thinking you're like her hero or somethin'. But still, I appreciate it, nonetheless. You just keep on doing whatever it is you do," Shinohara grinned.
Well, she does seem to be concerned about Inaba. Maybe she isn't so bad, after all.
"Because, y'know, Natsumi-chan is totally out of my hands! It's a lot of work and all for me to handle!" Shinohara shrugged in a childish tone.
"No, I take that back. You're terrible! Absolutely the worst!"
"But just so y'know, Master Brat," Shinohara gripped hard at Ben's shoulders. "If you ever so much as make Natsumi-chan cry… I'll really kill you. I'll definitely kill you. I'll totally kill you."
"Just how much do you want me to die?! Could you at least expand your options?!"
"Ah, you don't have to worry about that. I'll definitely do my best," Ben replied with a confident smirk.
Shinohara nodded her approval as she gestured for them to return to a waiting Inaba, who was, to say the least, not in a cheery mood.
"Umuu, you guys are so mean leaving me here by myself! I really thought you guys ditched me…" Inaba sobbed with her head slumped.
"A-ah, it's not like that, Natsumi-chan!"
"Y-yeah, we were just talking about how you've been a big help to me today! R-right, Shinohara?"
"Eh... that's right, that's right! Natsumi-chan is so dependable! G-good job!" Shinohara replied in a heartbeat, giving Inaba a thumbs up.
"Are? Sou ka? Well, I'm really glad I could be of help, then~" Inaba smiled—seemingly sparkling as she did.
"An angel is before us…" Ben and Shinohara thought happily in unison.
"Ah! That's right, Natsumi-chan! You still haven't signed in for today! We might get in trouble with Boss Man if he finds out!" Shinohara suddenly remembered, crying out in panic.
"Eh?! What're we gonna do, Shinohara-senpai?! Are?~ Are?~" Inaba looked left and right, trying to make light of where they were currently. "Umuu… I don't want to disappoint Headmaster-sensei. L-let's follow the North Star!"
"Get a grip, Natsumi-chan! We don't have time for your cute hopelessness! Just come with me!" Shinohara said, grabbing hold of Inaba's hand, as she turned towards Ben. "Brat, I'm sorry for cutting your alone time with Natsumi-chan short, but we really must be going."
And with that, Shinohara pulled Inaba along as she sprinted past Ben—with Inaba trying hard not to trip keeping up with her.
"Uwaa, Master, gomennasai! Gomennasai! Go-men-na-sai!" Inaba cried out before the two turned the corner and disappeared.
"Ah… Godspeed, Inaba…" the brunette waved at the empty space in front of him.
"… Gomennasai! Gomennasai! Gomennasai!" Ben could hear Inaba's screaming voice echo through the hallway.
"… Inaba… it's fine… really…"
Ben sighed as he reassessed the current situation. Without Inaba, he was now on his own and lost. Well, that would still be the case even if she was here. The only difference being, that he had a cute maid around to be lost with him. And with the sudden appearance of that lazy pirate chief maid earlier, things will definitely just get more complicated from here on out.
"Now, what?" Ben mumbled to himself. "I still haven't caught whiff of Gwen yet, and I have no clue where I am. Maybe I should try backtracking? …. Or maybe ask someone here for directions. Hmm, what to do?"
Just as he was in deep thought, Ben felt something poke his back. Twice.
"Ano… can you help me out, Big Bro?" a small, cute voice called out from behind him.
Ben turned around and saw a young girl roughly a little over half his size looking at him with a hopeful expression. Her hair shone a bright-pink color and was fashioned into long twin-tails. Her face was quite round, as was expected of a child her age, and she was dressed in what seemed to be a panda-themed outfit: A black-and-white dress with a panda design in the middle, knee-high white socks, black shoes, and alternating black-and-white striped hand sleeves. She was also wearing a backpack that looked like a panda.
"What the hell is this? Cosplay?"
" Um, do you need help with something?" Ben asked politely.
"Hmm, hmm! I'm actually looking for someone, and I was hoping you've seen a certain person past by here," the young girl replied excitedly, as if seemingly in a hurry.
"Uh, I'm sorry… I don't really know my way around here. Actually, I'm kinda… sorta… lost, to be honest…" Ben rubbed his head in embarrassment.
"Aya, seriously?! Bwahaha! Are you stupid? You're definitely stupid! Stupid big bro! Baka! I'll call you 'baka onii-chan'! Baka Onii-chan!" she pointed at him while laughing mockingly.
"Damn you, you little twerp!" Ben gritted.
"Ah, it can't be helped, then. Not when a stupid onii-chan like you is way more helpless than me. I guess I could look out for her while I show you the way back. Stick with me, Baka Onii-chan, I'll bring you back to the main lobby!" the little panda girl grinned as she motioned Ben to follow her.
"You're actually a kind-hearted, rude, little twerp, aren't you?"
"Ah, I would appreciate that a lot, actually. Thanks. Oh, the name's Ben Tennyson, by the way," Ben said as he followed the happily skipping panda girl.
The panda girl promptly stopped on the spot, as she spun around in an adorable-looking way with her hand proudly pointing towards Ben.
"Pleased to meet you, baka Ben Onii-chan!" she declared, her cute, childish voice ringing with confidence.
"My name's Ayumi! Haruka Ayumi! Don't ever forget it! He he~"
Ayumi: Baka Onii-chan! Don't forget you owe me big for helping you get back, okay?!
Ben: Hah, sure thing, Ayumi. *pats her head*
Ayumi: Uwaa! Don't treat me like a little kid! I'm eleven-and-a-half! I'm almost a teenager, you know!
Ben: I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Of course you are. *still talking to her in a childlike manner*
Ayumi: Umuu… Stupid big bro! Baka! Baka! Baka! *repeatedly hits Ben's chest*
Ben: Um… maybe I went a bit overboard…?
Inaba: Next time on Changes— Convection: Honor of a Samurai. Till the next chapter! Bye-bye!