Chapter 3:

Onwards to Manzhouli

Toaru Ramen no Hanashi

Bocchan settled on his seat, awaiting his order from his beloved aunt. For whatever reason he has a bigshot nickname, it will be revealed some time later. Sitting on his chair, his short but chuncky legs are steadily swaying a pace. It's displaying the habit known to many as restless legs syndrome. Whilst doing so, he routinely keeps stealing side glances to the boy's direction. The boy threw a weak elbow to Gourmet's side to show his irritation, to which Gourmet could only grin playfully as a response.Bookmark here

The mood inside the shop returned to normal. One by one, the regulars loosen the cautious aura they had earlier. Bocchan's order finally got served, a tonkotsu-based ramen with heavy toppings of extra large slices of chashu, three soy-flavored eggs, scallions, beansprouts and slices of green chili for spiciness.Bookmark here

"Whoa, looks and smells delicious." he said while reaching for chopsticks before clasping and chanting "Itadakimasu."Bookmark here

The sun has finally taken a rest, the evening sky outside is taking over. The night noise, the neon signs from other establishments, the flock of people walking the sidewalk. The atmosphere has completely shifted to its nocturnal mode.Bookmark here

Then all of a sudden, everyone inside the establishment have begun speaking simultaneously. There's a frenzy of different topics being discussed in each of their respective spaces. Some talking politics, some gripes about their workplace, others their romance problems, then there's those who speaks of hobbies and the likes. Gourmet and his seatmates, are as usual, in their ramen discussion. They were discussing the different type of noodles and the variation of thickness depending on their preferences. Mingling naturally is Bocchan, another ramen enthusiast, who has shared his vast knowledge on the matter.Bookmark here

"Oh, that's surprisingly cool, Bocchan. You're a ramen master!" the boy claimed with an amazed look. Forgetting his chagrin after being turned as bait by Gourmet.Bookmark here

Bocchan blushed, but Eroi instantly retorted out of nowhere. "Well, of course. He's got the black card. Of course he can go anywhere to eat ramen." she lets out a smirk at the end.Bookmark here

"Hmph, you mood killer." is all what Bocchan can utter as he went back eating his ramen. His movements are so fluid that even awed the boy. No unnecessary motion, literally very refined to the eye and had a quiet sipping sound of the soup, akin to the table etiquette being practice in the West.Bookmark here

The view annoyed Eroi to an extent that she began slurping the whole bowl of soup in one go. "That's how you eat ramen, you moron!" she added while wiping her lips with bits of oily residue with her plan hand.Bookmark here

"My, my, my! How inelegant!" Bocchan shuddered, then he took a wet napkin wipe from his bag and handed it to Eroi. "You're a fellow lady, act like one!"Bookmark here

Pouting as if she did something irreversible, she meekly thanked Bocchan and was silent for a while. The boy and Gourmet looked at each other and had the same comeback in their minds.Bookmark here

"No, no, no. You're a bonafide man, dude."Bookmark here

Of course, it remained as internal monologues. Gourmet finally decided to get back everyone's attention so that they can move forward the unfinished story of Alliona. Without any further ado, he once again snapped his fingers in the same loud fashion as earlier and then restarted the storytelling.Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

Alliona took a swim in a nearby river. At the same time, she also secured her breakfast by flashing out some fishes from the body of water just by her hands like a routine performed by a bear. The cold morning resulted a few shivers after she gets out of the river. Her breath was condensed enough to have a visible puff of cold smoke coming out of her mouth.Bookmark here

When noon hits the time of the day, Alliona finds herself wandering the market once again to sell some animal furs she gathered in the wilderness. She talked to some merchants who she already acquainted in the past days hoping to get them to take the pelts off her hand, but her excursions are unsuccessful. One merchant though in particular, gave Alliona advice to go directly to Manzhouli, about 100 miles from their settlement. She gave it some thought and took a look at her pouch to see if she got enough coins she needs to pull another long walk in the semi-arid land that is, as aforementioned, notorious for natural hazards and adding to that, the presence of the bandits who roams randomly prowling for caravans. She roamed the settlement, trying to gather any information about the route to the city of Manzhouli and of course, the latest news about the activities of the said scoundrels who skulks in the unmanned territory outside the law enforcement's reaches.Bookmark here

After quite a while, she then decided to go see Manzhouli herself. With information about the ever-changing climate and the rumours about the bandits, she thought that she can pull it safely by trekking the rocky terrains instead of taking the relatively easier path by flat land. She frugally bought supplies for her upcoming trip, even resorted to haggling to which she procured a fair amount of success. The sun soon dyed the sky in orange hue signalling Alliona to go back to her spot in the wilderness for rest. On her way towards the exit, she overheard a crowd talking to the guards staying put a garrison outpost talking loudly about the latest bandit attack that occured just the night before, resulting another caravan decimated with no confirmed survivors.Bookmark here

Angry mobs are pushing the guards to maintain vigilance and to request reinforcements in such case an unusual attack on the settlement becomes a happenstance. Such farfetched notions has then spread like wildfire in the settlement, naturally causing a stir that then prompted unrest among the people. According to the information, it was the fifth caravan to be attacked just within a span of six months. To add more worry, the subject of the assaults are confirmed to be done by a sole bandit group known for their mobility and ability to stealth themselves rendering the caravan guards unsuspecting of an impending onslaught.Bookmark here

It didn't take too long before some merchants, of small or large business, can be seen packing their tents up and sorting everything for an apparent relocation. Before long, a gathering in the market had one particular group of merchants taking the people's attention. A representative of that group is now recruiting caravan guards with a mouthwatering offer, take their people to Manzhouli and they will pay 10 gold and 25 silver as compensation for roughly a hundred miles trip mired with its share of danger. Given the current emotional climate in the settlement, not even one soul has the guts to volunteer themselves even for such lavish amount of coins that can support a family a year or two.Bookmark here

The situation remained the same for a quarter hour in the central market. The crowd can be seen talking all at once, the noise of the conversation was prevalent unlike any of the usual boisterous atmosphere the central market has heard before. The representative could only sigh while shaking his head in disbelief. Not only his employer was willing to pay a big amount of money, they're also guaranteeing an upfront amount of more than half of what they proposed, yet still nobody takes the bait. Alliona then has been tapped on her shoulders by a merchant she used to have dealings for the past few days. He, too, looks like he's preparing to relocate to somewhere else safer.Bookmark here

"You're leaving too, sir?" she directly asked.Bookmark here

The old merchant sighed a heavy one. "Apparently, that's the only choice. I've seen this type of bandits before, they grow more and more daring each time they successfully pillage and soon, they will bare their fangs to this settlement, I'm sure."Bookmark here

Alliona subconsciously clicked her tongue out of disgust. A wrinkle can also be seen between her eyebrows.Bookmark here

"Now, now, my dear. I only talked to you so I can hand you this. Don't worry, it's on me. It's the last thing an old man like me can do for a sweet girl like you who seem to always like what I sell." the old merchant said before giving Alliona a portion of her favorite dish in the market. The banana leaflet of course, gave no secrets, plus the alluring aroma and the heat of the item brought an instant smile on the girl's face.Bookmark here

"Thank you, sir! I'll eat this with a lot of gratitude!" she joyfully said to the old man with a friendly embrace. "But, when will you leave? Do you plan to get some guards as well?" she asked now, with a worried mien.Bookmark here

The merchant shook his head lightly. "No. I don't have the resources for that. Truthfully, it took me everything to get to here from Manzhouli, but I'm afraid, I have to grit my teeth and just go back. It's actually safer there, but of course, there's also a much stiffer competition as well." he said with an awkward chuckle.Bookmark here

Alliona looked at the rugged merchant, who's most likely in his early 50's, slightly crooked posture, but still walking on his own. She also gave a good glimpse at his wife, who looks pretty sturdy with her wide and somewhat muscular build and his daughter, about ten years of age, brimming with an aura of energy. She then was hit by an epiphany and instantly offered her services to the friendly merchant.Bookmark here

"Say, sir. How about you and your family trek with me? I also plan to go to Manzhouli myself." she whispered to the old man.Bookmark here

The old man, this time, gave an examining eye to Alliona. A young lady of Russian-Chinese mix, fair skin complexion with light tan marks on her nape and arms, a slim but proportional built, a kind visage, wearing men clothes, light velvet pupils and a neck-length of light hazel-colored hair. Every points translates to beautiful traits, but the old merchant had a disagreeable look on his face.Bookmark here

"Look, dear. You're a beautiful young lady. You're not meant for playing this dangerous bodyguard tasks. Please go with some caravan if you're planning to go to Manzhouli. It's safer that way."Bookmark here

Alliona pouted comically. "Geez, you don't trust me a bit, do you?"Bookmark here

"Well, the point is..."Bookmark here

"I see. Then, you don't have to pay me along the way to Manzhouli, I'll escort you safe and sound for free or more like, for this piece of char siu. How about that?"Bookmark here

"Umm, I appreciate the offer, but..."Bookmark here

"Listen, sir. I came from a village around 400km from here. I survived, I walked it all alone." she said acting smug, with inanimate smoke puffing out of her nostrils.Bookmark here

Even with the impressive fact that she indeed, travelled on her own, the old merchant still feels it's not right for a young maiden to do such a perilous job. He then patted Alliona's head gently and gave his appreciation.Bookmark here

"Thank you, kind miss. But I'd feel bad if I give you the burden of risking your life for someone who you doesn't know that much. Your kindness is enough for me, truly."Bookmark here

Alliona somewhat felt a fatherly affection and didn't respond further rebuttal. Instead, she apologized for her insistence and timidly bowed her head before heading towards the exit waving her farewells to the kind old merchant who quietly left the town on their own. It didn't take too long before they disappeared from her sight in the swirling sand breezes playing tag in the flat route. As aforementioned, the route was infamous for being hazardous, both by natural coincidences and bandit prowling. Alliona stayed put in the gate for ample moments, with her arms crossed looking blank, her eyes still fixed on the direction her acquaintance took earlier. In a matter of moments, someone called on her and gave her a light shake on her shoulders. It was a petite lady of slender figure, wearing unusual dressing slit on her legs, showing an ample amount of her thighs that made Alliona blushed from just the sight of it.Bookmark here

"Umm, would you be interested in a guarding job?" the unknown girl asked Alliona.Bookmark here

Alliona titled her head slightly, apparently wondering why all of a sudden, she was being offered such a deal. She sighed releasing tentativeness and then offered her response.Bookmark here

"Why me?"Bookmark here

The petite lady then took Alliona's hands and dragged her to the market. Soon enough, she sits on fancy tent with swirling scent of mixed incense candles enough to make her dizzy trying to figure what's gonna happen next. She was also offered sweets she have never seen before and a cup of sweet-scented beverage of reddish color. Ambivalent to try it, she just stared at the steam flowing upwards before she was graced by the presence of a merchant of foreign descent owning an overwhelming ambience to herself.Bookmark here

For a while, they just stared at each other, observing their individual traits and mannerisms. The petite lady who also sat alongside the merchant was the one who finally had enough of silence. She began proper salutations to Alliona then immediately addressed the topic in stoic fashion that surprised Alliona at how fast she can switch from her cutesy smile to a profound mien worthy of admiration. After getting the most significant facts about the business owned by the merchant, Alliona then again asked the question she posed earlier.Bookmark here

"Why me? I'm sure you're aware but I'm a girl." she said while being conscious of the fact she's wearing men's clothing. "I can't guarantee the safety of such a big gathering, both your lives and your means of livelihood. There's no way I can shoulder that hefty of a burden!" she exclaimed with noticeable fluster on her tone.Bookmark here

The party of three fell into utter silence since Alliona's words are indisputable. No matter how skilled a hunter she may be, in the end her preys were all animals. There's nothing comparable between her usual hunting to escorting a group of merchants plus the notion of fending them from bandit assault.Bookmark here

"Your name, child." the merchant herself asked. As aforementioned, her appearance are out of this world. Never in Alliona's experience has she seen a woman of such sheer beauty before.Bookmark here

"A-Alliona. Zhao Alliona's my name, milady." she said with a tone depicting her awe.Bookmark here

A contained chuckle emerged from the lips of the merchant. "Don't be so nervous, Alliona. I'm not going to bite your head off, so please relax."Bookmark here

Alliona tried her best to calm herself, but the aforementioned beauty of the merchant still overwhelms her sense. The prominent nose, the azure-hued irises, the long and curvy pale blonde eyelashes, her long silky hair, the small and thin lips of maple color and the pure white skin. On top of that, the tall stature and the fancy clothing also adds to the equation. Alliona was visibly tense as they conversed about mundane things before going back to their initial discussion.Bookmark here

"I've heard you came here all alone traversing far distances, is it not? Why are you alone? And pardon me, but where are your parents?" the merchant directly asked Alliona.Bookmark here

"Uh, yes, milady. I... I..." Alliona stuttered, feeling uncomfortable divulging the tragic happenings involving her parents.Bookmark here

The look on her face, albeit her trying her hardest not to show any pained expression was well telegraphed. The merchant who is a lot older than what she appeared then stood up and sat beside Alliona and embraced the child to her ample bosom. Alliona was startled but all she can do was flood her eyes from the sensation she felt. Feeling as if she was embraced by her late mother, Alliona was reduced to a crying mess. She shivered in the arms of a stranger, her fingers clutching the merchant's fancy dress with a tremendous grip that easily translates how vulnerable she is at the moment. The older woman gently caressed the girl's head, no words came from her mouth but it gave Alliona the comfort she needed to just let go the remaining sadness clinging in her heart.Bookmark here

After a lengthy lull, Alliona still sobbing lightly, rests with her head in the lap of the woman who introduced herself as Helen. Helen is humming a tune, a lullaby perhaps, trying to appease the child whose neverending tears continue to seep out from her swollen eyes.Bookmark here

"Forgive me, Alliona. I was wrong asking you such queries." Helen said with an apologetic grimace.Bookmark here

Alliona slowly wipe her tears and postured herself in a sitting position. "Don't be, milady. You didn't really do anything wrong."Bookmark here

Alliona sighed heavy, practically trying to get her emotions in check. Within a few tries, an awkward smile got printed on her face befitting her swollen eyes. All of a sudden, a playful but weak zephyr entered the tent, hit her face strong enough for her neck-length hazel-colored hair to lift wildly for a mere instant. After it passed, Alliona hurriedly fixed her hair like a proper maiden would do. But it seems the little wind left something else for Alliona, the push she needs to make a decision.Bookmark here

"Umm, I'll be direct. Moving with a large group will be arduous. Taking account your tents, your wares, your carriage. It will without a doubt pose a lot of risk getting notice by the bandits especially if we rest during nighttime." she stated with a stern look. "Besides me, how many have your recruited from earlier?"Bookmark here

Helen and her attendant looked at each other and giggled. Helen then gestured, resembling a half-clenched first with a visible cavity in the middle of her slender fingers. Alliona could pick it up but was nonetheless compelled to ask yet again.Bookmark here

"How many?" Alliona asked with her expecting a positive answer.Bookmark here

"Oh my, oh my. We have recruited none." said a playful Helen with a giggle.Bookmark here

"Surely you jest, milady. You were offering quite the sum and yet no one volunteered?"Bookmark here

"I know, right? But for some reason, nobody wants the money we were offering. Maybe it's not enough?" Helen put her index finger to her maple-colored lips in a very womanly manner that once again entranced a fellow woman in Alliona.Bookmark here

Contrast to her graceful appearance and overwhelming beauty, Helen can be a bit of a ditzy character. While she herself has firm assertiveness when times calls for it, her other half can't help but impose a nerfing trait to balance her overall personality. Alliona could be seen shaking her head in disbelief, from both hearing the fact nobody but her was being recruited and from learning her figure of admiration being a playful adult with a tendency to be a scatterbrain.Bookmark here

"So what's your plan now, milady? Surely you won't tell me that I'll be the only one to guard your entire caravan going to Manzhouli? There's no way that's doable!" Alliona protested now with a louder and imposing tone.Bookmark here

Helen then responded a stern mien of her own. She crossed her arms elegantly, but her impending answer was again opposite of what the ambience warrants the situation.Bookmark here

"The only one I want... is you." she said with an impish wink in the end that, as a matter of course, irked Alliona to oblivion. Helen was jolted by Alliona's sudden outburst that left her timidly retreating to her attendant's lacking bosom quivering. The petite attendant could only comfort her poor mistress with a wry simper.Bookmark here

"Umm, Alliona-san. It seems there's a vital misunderstanding. While it's true our boss has a large business, the only ones who you need to escort to Manzhouli are her and myself. Half of our troupe members will be staying here and the other half will head to Beiping to kickstart a new stabilized business headquarters." said the petite attendant whose again doing a good impression of a modern-day diligent secretary.Bookmark here

Alliona could only press her temples after hearing such revelations. While her load to the proposed trip has tremendously lightened, she obviously still has her worries. She squatted for a while, sorting her thoughts as she takes a lengthy gaze at Helen and her attendant. She deduced the attendant, owning a versatile demeanor, will not hinder or pose any problems in the journey, but on the other hand, Helen's mere appearance spells trouble from the get-go. Her untrained gait, her pale skin, her luxurious clothing and matching fashion attachments, she appears to be one who will faint from a kilometer walk under the scorching sun. Alliona's mind are already playing possible future skits in her head and she's already having none of it. The attendant noticed Alliona's troubled countenance, thus she immediately tried to remedied it as soon as possible.Bookmark here

"Umm, Alliona-san. Please rest assured that despite Helen-sama's appearance, she can be a bit tenacious for someone of her social status. Between just the two of us, she once carried a dehydrated version of myself on her back when our carriage broke down in the desert in Mongolia." the attendant shyly whispered to Alliona's ear, her obvious admiration for her employer can be heard in her tone.Bookmark here

Alliona then took another glimpse at Helen still burying her beautiful face in her attendant's developing chest. Despite some tentativeness in her system, Alliona then provided her answer.Bookmark here

"I understand. I will accept the task of escorting you both to Manzhouli." she said in a straight tone.Bookmark here

Helen instantly stood up the moment she heard Alliona's word and relocated herself behind the young girl and gave her a doting embrace. Like a mother cat, she rubbed her face to Alliona's showing her own unique way of expressing gratification. The attendant meanwhile, fetched a small pouch from a chest in the corner of apparels inside the tent.Bookmark here

"Here, Alliona-san. An upfront 100 gold coins then another 100 once we arrived at Manzhouli's vicinity." she casually handed it to Alliona's hand like it's nothing.Bookmark here

To Alliona's surprise, hearing such amount weakened her posture that cause her to fall with Helen on the carpet surface.Bookmark here

"What's the matter, Alliona?" Helen asked reaching for the girl's face, softly caressing her cheeks like it's the most normal thing to do.Bookmark here

Blushing awkwardly, Alliona instantly stood up and debated the amount. "This is too much!" she stated defiantly, pushing the pouch back to the attendant's small hands.Bookmark here

This time, it was Helen who stood up straight and sat formally. Her skittish smiles are gone, just an austere unsmiling face voided of frivolity.Bookmark here

"Alliona, that amount represents how I treat this journey seriously. Afterall, I am risking the life of somebody I just met today. To be frank, no amount of riches could possibly be enough for the trouble I am imposing on you, that's why I will never resort playing a niggardly miser." she declared her words stoicly.Bookmark here

Helen's words might have an aloof feel to them, but nevertheless her point was taken across by Alliona. The trip to Manzhouli might just be a party of three, but remain perilous all the same. A thought entered her mind, an irrelevant notion that inappropriately amazed her at such stage, she can't help but admire at how contrast the instant-changes of expression Helen and her attendant can do. But of course, she kept it all to herself while discussing the various notes of importance to her employers.Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

"Man, I vaguely pictured Alliona to be a looker, but with her features revealed, I feel like she's even more beautiful than I have ever imagined." the boy said, preparing to snag a mouthful of noodles from his ramen bowl.Bookmark here

Gourmet can be seen nodding his agreement. "You really do get it, don't ya, boy?" Then the two males bumped fist to showcase their comradeship.Bookmark here

"Geez, our males. From the many happenings in the story, all they wanna talk is about how beautiful the heroine is. I mean, of course she's beautiful, she's the heroine. That's how she is written as a setting." Bocchan retorted with obvious disgust on his heavily cosmetic-filled face.Bookmark here

"Hey, don't call it a setting!" countered the males in a unison.Bookmark here

Feeling menace from the males' hostile reaction, Bocchan dragged Eroi to side with him. "Say, Eroi. Can't you help me argue with these males? Put them in place as a fellow beautiful lady!"Bookmark here

Eroi clasped her hands, closed her eyes as if she's in a midst of prayer. "Everyone..."Bookmark here

A long paused played in between.Bookmark here

"...if you're going to fawn a character, it'd better be Helen! She's the boss! She's the most beautiful! She's number one!" she claimed with a goofy expression raising her two index fingers in the air.Bookmark here

"Geez, what's with you three?! They're only characters from a story... I can't believe you guys..." Bocchan utters after a dismissive sigh of sorts.Bookmark here

"What... did... you... just... say?"Bookmark here

An unknown voice resounded inside the ramen shop. Its monstrous sound vibrated and oozed malevolent intent that spooked Bocchan on his seat. Still, he can't help but wonder where did that particular voice came from thus he immediately reach for his closest company.Bookmark here

"Say, did you just hear an eerie voice? Pretty sure it didn't belong to any of the other regulars here..." he asked Eroi who is currently facing backwards to him.Bookmark here

The voice in question roared again. "I dare you to say that again, you square-faced crossdresser!"Bookmark here

"Noooooooooooooooo!"Bookmark here

The horror he felt that moment was enough for Bocchan to fall out of his seat. The seething eyes of his seatmates are relentlessly giving antagonistic shivers to his spine. In actuality, the unworldly voice in question was just the combination of the boy's, Gourmet's and Eroi's. They're furious as expected, raging on the notion the story characters are being scoffed at. One by one, they came to Bocchan to shower him their gripes. It was Eroi who ultimately destroyed Bocchan to oblivion.Bookmark here

"Besides, you're one to talk! Shave your beard properly before you throw diss at somebody's waifu, you shortlegged stub!"Bookmark here

And with that combo, Bocchan was KO'd. For a while, Bocchan's hit points flatlined to zero. His gigantic black-suited bodyguards comically took out a defibrillator out of nowhere and attempted to resuscitate their employer. The ramen shop lady shook her head from her spot listening to the ongoing ruckus in the counter. She steeled herself not to get involved in such a distressful farce to save herself from getting more wrinkles.Bookmark here

The "Operation: Revive Bocchan" still persists. The ongoing rowdy commotion is still peaking. The giant bodyguards are doing everything they could to address the focal matter. They appear following the proper procedure until they were put on hold from the boy's next words.Bookmark here

"Why not just administer CPR?" he bluntly said, with a grinning Eroi and Gourmet behind him.Bookmark here

"CPR! CPR! CPR! CPR!" Gourmet started a chant urging the other regulars to follow. Eroi was clapping her hands while laughing her hearts out. The ramen shop chef and his wife popped a vein or two in their temples, still trying to hold on their annoyance in the kitchen. The bodyguards are stoned in their positions, sweating profusely and gulping air in routine timings. The two of them looked at each other with eyes covered by dark-tinted lenses of their uniformed sunglasses. For a moment, it seemed like they have agreed to something in their staring exchange. They stood up and crackled joints all over their muscular built. Crunchy sounds reverberated and the tension building between them was akin to an underground fight with no holds barred. It was that intense. Soon, they took their respective stances. The spectating gallery feels like they're about to see something amazing with them holding their breaths, only gasping light ones. Then the action begins. A janken contest of transcendent speed, insanely fast reflexes that is almost unseeable to the naked eye. After a long sequence of trading their attacks, the janken was concluded. The bodyguard who earlier received the wrath of Bocchan from interrupting his self-introduction ends up raising his arms up high, teary-eyed, seemingly celebrating a victory of sorts. In response, all of the regulars and the boy clapped in unison, appreciating the spectacle they've just witnessed.Bookmark here

The other one meanwhile, can be seen having a dark cloud swirling around his shiny bald head. He sighed a heavy one before hesitantly loosening his collar after removing his necktie. The following moments involved total silence, the concentration of the audiences are peaking. The unfortunate loser unwillingly bends his knee beside Bocchan, appearing to be lying dormant on the cold floor. But in retrospect, Bocchan already recovered his consciousness from earlier when the loud chant of "CPR" resounded inside the establishment. His devious plan to craft a kissing scene is currently on the works. His desperation for his first time had him tossing away his standards.Bookmark here

Slowly, but surely, the bodyguard positioned himself adjacent to Bocchan. His head is lowering frame by frame, with his fingers reaching for Bocchan's square face. As his head plunged downward towards Bocchan's mouth, the bodyguard paused. He took his time to stand back up and breathed a sigh.Bookmark here

"Please spare me!" are his next words before exiting the establishment running with flappy legs that bursted the entire roster including the ramen shop owner and his wife into a laughing frenzy.Bookmark here

"Better luck next time, Bocchan!" Eroi teased Bocchan while poking his cheeks.Bookmark here

"Tch, so I was found out, huh?" Bocchan rose, shrugging off the dust from his blouse.Bookmark here

"Of course, you are. Your long nostril hairs gave your gimmick away!" Eroi said helping Bocchan remove the dirt from his back.Bookmark here

"Oh my? For real?" Bocchan took out his compact from his lady bag and headed to the shop's water closet space. There, he immediately plucked the aforementioned hair folicles leaking out from his nose with ease then returned to his seat with sparkling effects.Bookmark here

The rowdy bunch of regulars continued their laughing. Afterall, it was a memorable segment full of ridiculous skits. Bocchan took the banter well and is also having a laugh in his own seat. It didn't take too long for the runaway bodyguard to return to have a mouthful of his ramen. He depressingly slurped his soup with a dejected posture before receiving a chashu topping from his fellow bodyguard who in the end, gestured a thumbs up.Bookmark here

After recovering from the laughtrip, Eroi started to go on about Helen. She fervently displayed her fondness to the ditzy older lady. Some of the regulars also jumped to the bandwagon. Now they want to hear more of the story.Bookmark here

"But still, Alliona's trip gonna be riot for sure." the boy said with him brushing his hair upwards. "I'm actually worried about Helen, she might actually do something really silly along the way." he further added, eating his last piece of chashu toppings.Bookmark here

"Well, at least it's going to be more fun. Besides, you're in for a surprise if you think Helen's all about just being a scatterbrain." Eroi countered, now wearing a red headband with imprinted "Helen" word with a heart mark beside it.Bookmark here

Gourmet tinkered something in his mouth with a toothpick, before speaking. "Don't spoil it, Eroi. You're always going way too hyper when Helen's on the spotlight."Bookmark here

"That's right! Helen is an interesting character, but don't forget about her attendant as well. She's vital to the upcoming twist!" Bocchan said taking a snapshot of her soy-flavored egg being split in half by his chopsticks.Bookmark here

After taking a little time to rest, Gourmet surveyed the surroundings. His listeners were all eager discussing something relevant about the story. He then glanced at the boy, who is now totally absorbed hearing the rest.Bookmark here

"Well, well, well. I know you're anxious about what happens next, but let's not rush it."Bookmark here

"Mhmm, as long as Alliona gets safe to Manzhouli without incident, I'll be fine."Bookmark here

"Without incident? What are you talking nonsense? It'll be action-packed!"Bookmark here

The boy couldn't respond immediately. Perhaps his imagination have run amok hoping the worst will not fall down on Alliona's fate. Before Gourmet could restart his story, the boy fiddled with his phone for a while. After the deed, he urged his older companion. "Alright, please continue!"Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.