Projection Magic

[>> Aimless Vacationing - NetSquare.]

As the Net-world parallel to Electown's famous Style Boulevard, the area that they were dropped into was teeming with a vibrant display of Navi-centric fashion. Sleek minimalistic armored Navis crossed paths with fantasy dresses packed to the nines with bells and whistles galore. Strangely enough, even with the vast amount of thematic clash, none of them looked like they didn't belong in the area. This was mostly due to the level of detail poured into each and every one of the Navi designs that passed by them, proclaiming their status as high-class outfits, crafted by those masters of the art that made their living on this road. Indeed, this perpetual battle of fashion mirrored itself perfectly in the real world version of Style Boulevard as well. All of its inhabitants, human and Navi, were constantly fighting to become the next Big Thing on the "Magnificators" -- two massive screens overlooking the entire area, showcasing the latest in the Boulevard's trends.

Among the displays of extravagance walking about the area, Eternalis stuck out like a sore thumb, looking more like a pile of refuse than anything that could be called a Navi. As he and Aurora stepped out of the transit area, he could feel curious gazes in his direction, whether brief or otherwise. "Okay, I know I said that it was a really silly thing to be self-conscious about earlier, but it's getting really pretty difficult not to feel self-conscious here," he commented.

"That's what we're fixing here. Come on, let's have a look around," she said, pulling on his arm to drag him forward through the crowd.

Despite being a parallel to the real Style Boulevard in terms of flamboyant fashion displays, the similarity ended when it came to the shops themselves. While brick and mortar shops were limited to physical displays of their latest designs, Electown Net's version had the freedom of being able to showcase their artistic flair through interactive holographic displays, as well as not being limited by physical space. As a result, the shops advertised themselves with huge standing holograms that flashed between their offerings, accompanying a transport pad to the actual shop. For a while, the two simply walked down the street at a leisurely pace, surveying the area.

"Crazy outfits aside, these shop names sure are something else. Access Atelier? Extra Execution? Stitch Shop? Did someone with a kink for alliteration start these?" commented Eternalis, chuckling as he passed the third shop with what seemed to be the same naming pattern.

Aurora cradled her chin with her hand as she thought. "Hmm, it's probably some old trend. From what I've heard, the people on Style Boulevard are always gunning to be on top. Some of them try to race to invent the newest trade, some hang on to old trends in case they ever comes back."

"I see..." muttered Eternalis in response. Moments later, however, he blinked as he repeated a phrase that somehow stuck in his mind. "Hm? From what you've heard? From who? Someone you've met here?"

"No, no, I've never been here! I was in Sharo for all my life until I got put into hibernation. I've heard about it from Serena, though, so I've always wanted to see what it's like for myself," replied Aurora hurriedly, waving her hands about.

"Oh! Ulterior motives!" laughed Eternalis, playfully jabbing her shoulder and eliciting the same response from her. From the way his arm felt like it was going to drop off, however, Aurora's definition of a playful jab involved a bit of static shock. Healing it off was no burden on him, however, and soon they were walking again.

Eventually, both of them stopped in front of a modest display, depicting a hologram of a pair of male and female Navis, shown in different styles and designs. What made them stop, however, was the fact that the showcase had started with both of them transforming from grotesque monsters that clearly did not look like any of the standard NormalNavi base designs that the other hologram showcases always started out with. The male half of the display started from what looked like a floating brain propping itself up with its brainstem, and the female half from a grotesque amalgamation of limbs attached to a razor-toothed shark monster. Above the display, the sign proclaimed itself as "The Human Connection".

"Those are some impressive before and after pics," joked Eternalis. "I think I'll check this one out. What do you think?"
"No objections here. Let's go," replied Aurora.
Atop a small transport pad, two figures shimmered to life as they were revealed to be Eternalis and Aurora, who stepped forward into the area they had found themselves in. The transport pad they exited appeared to be in a small entrance hall with an endlessly high ceiling. At the end of the short entranceway, a large set of heavy wooden double doors imposed upon any visitors with a majestic-looking set of carvings set into them. The carvings depicted a group of men on one door, and a ramshackle set of animals and beasts on the other door. From one of the double door's handles, a quaint little sign hung from it, with a crude message of "OPEN" written on it.

The two looked at the magnificent-looking door and each other for a moment, before Eternalis stepped forward to push one of the doors open, causing the gold-plated hinges to creak loudly. What waited beyond the doors was a nondescript-looking reception area with a doorway behind it, obscured by a curtain. To their left and right, sets of blank, undressed marionettes were lined up in rows, and a small pair of doors towards the end on the right led the way to dressing rooms. The area was empty, its reception desk lacking in any kind of occupant. The whole shop seemed to be themed after some kind of wooden beachside shack, as the sound of waves and seagulls played from somewhere and the smell of sea salt drifted past Aurora's nose.

Suddenly, everything changed. The area's background phased in and out between different settings, from a rustic beachside shack, to a cavernous mountaintop temple, to a trendy city mall outlet, to a musty run-down forest hut. Every time it changed, the world itself crackled with static and melted into the next set of appearances. However, as it reached the last setting, they could hear the sound of something being smashed, accompanied by a brief ear-splitting static noise, after which the background image instantly stabilized, and the empty marionettes were immediately clad in the beautiful designs they had seen on the entrance advertisement screen. Eternalis and Aurora were instantly drawn to the source of the noise. Behind the reception desk, a small data sphere flickered in and out of existence, with a tiny figure beside it raising its fist.

"Sorry about that, this thing is so finicky sometimes."

Fluttering into view, the diminutive fellow revealed itself as a fairy about a couple of inches high, dressed in a flowing robe made of leaves and silk. From her petite arms, long trailing cloth strips floated down to about twice her height. The sight would have looked quite majestic if it weren't for the extremely clashing oversized top hat she was wearing, as she clapped her hands and hovered over to the two visitors. Stopping in front of Eternalis, the top hat slumped over her eyes momentarily before she pushed it back up.

"My! We haven't had customers in a while. Please, come in, come in -- and oh, you look quite interesting," said the fairy, in a lilting voice that sounded both like an otherworldly young lady and an crotchety old grandmother. She spun about Eternalis with a sparkle in her eye, dizzying him with her cloth trails as she did. "Did you have a human form before, pudding? It looks like you have, if you don't mind my prying."

"Wha-- Pudding? Well, no, I've always been this... blue, I guess," said Eternalis, looking down at his slimy form. Raising his right arm with his gauntlet still intact, he continued. "I used to have more armor than this, but some things happened, and now she's wearing it. The bits of armor that I still have is because I didn't really want to be 100% amorphous blob."

"Well then! Doesn't your armor look fetching on her. Hm! I think I can start drafting a design for you two, it'll be perfectly matching and everything!"

Both of them were taken aback at the fairy's offer. "H-Huh? No, we were just here to look at outfits for now, I don't need anything ye--" started Eternalis, before being cut off.

"No, no, hush. Your girlfriend can have one too. Actually, you must have one too. I insist! It'll match so nicely and you two will look perfect, I guarantee it! Don't worry too much about what it'll cost, you two just look so peachy, oh, I'll throw in a bundle discount. Don't you worry your pretty little buttons."

"Well..." muttered Aurora briefly. She stole a glance at Eternalis, who could only offer a look of bewilderment and confusion. "We'll leave it to you then."


"Glad we have that settled! Well, like I said, I have a design in mind already, you two just sit tight over there. I don't have any cookies or whatnot to serve you right now, but you're quite welcome to look around if you want. Don't worry, I won't be long, it'll be just a jiffy before I start on the detailing and it won't even take a few minutes, so don't you two run off or anything! Be back in a bit--!"

The whimsical shopkeeper twirled around in glee before disappearing in a beam of light. Eternalis stared dumbfoundedly at the curtained doorway where the fairy proprietor had vanished into, while Aurora had an amused smile as she saw Eternalis's reaction. "I don't think I've seen anyone quite that energetic before," commented Aurora.

"What the heck was that?" said Eternalis, staring at the empty counter where the strange pixie had just been. He turned to Aurora once more with a questioning look on his face. "Did you just set me up or something?"

"I told you, I've never been here before. Must be a really whimsical person," giggled Aurora. Never said anything about not doing my research before, though, she thought, taking the initiative to stroll around the shop to examine some of the outfits made. Each of the GMOs seemed to have been meticulously made with little details here and there. Numerous dolls at the side of an elaborate marionette master's outfit each had their own individual details, appearing to be individual costumes in their own right. Another one that appeared to be a patissier's outfit seemed to be a simple white chef's jacket and pants, except a closer look revealed faint patterns woven into the edges that only revealed themselves from specific lighting angles, intertwining together to form a depiction of a complete set of pastries. Even when they were living in a world where these works of art no longer required a physical effort of slaving over looms and needles, they still had to have taken long hours of work to design and integrate.

Looking to her side, Eternalis had also broken out of his stupor and was looking at the same outfit as she was. Though he looked similarly impressed by the displays, he had a look of worry on his face. "These look great, but how are we supposed to pay for it? From the looks of it, this place is some super high end place, and I think Harke's got most of the zenny with him," he said.

"Oh, don't worry about that. This place is special. She doesn't do any outfits for anyone she doesn't find interesting. It's just a hobby for her, but I'll make sure she gets something for her troubles."

"What, so you have been here before!"

"I didn't lie; I actually have never been here before. She's an old friend of mine back in Sharo when I needed something to disguise myself with on a mission, though, so I caught back up with her again. She insisted that I come and visit, I didn't ask anything from her," explained Aurora, sticking out her tongue mischievously.

Eternalis sighed in resignation. "More of that mysterious past, huh. Being a Sharo assassin seems to have a lot of benefits," he joked.

"The way you put it makes me sound like some cold-blooded killer--but yeah, just a few. Helps keep your mind off of work sometimes, you know? That's all in the past now, though."

With the last heavy statement, an awkward silence lasted for some indeterminate time, before something came to Eternalis's mind. "... You know, that's something I've been wondering; wouldn't you be technically considered some kind of internal asset? It doesn't sound like you should be walking around with Sharoan government secrets or something."

With the question raised, Aurora's brow furrowed slightly. When it looked like she was about to say something, she was preempted by a loud exclamation. "Okaaaaaay, I'm done!" the voice said, followed by the proprietor of the shop rushing through the curtained doorway, scarcely five minutes after she had left earlier. Directly behind the little sprite were two data spheres, which quickly found their way towards the remaining occupants of the shop.

"All right, there you go, there you go. Hurry along now, I want to see what you think of them! Come on, come on!" urged the shopkeeper, waving her arms in a frenzy and giving little shoves to the two from behind. Of course, with the huge discrepancy in weight, all she managed to do was a slight poke rather than any meaningful kind of force.

"Okay, okay, Tail, we're going, no need to push," said Aurora, walking towards the changing room at her own pace.

The fairy's face seemed to light up at the mention of the name, stopping her urging briefly to clap. "Oh! You said it! You said my name! Does that mean I don't have to be all hush-hush anymore? Whatever, anyway, come on, dressing room, hurry up, hurry up! Both of you, come on!"

"Not that you were any kind of subtle in the first place..." muttered Eternalis as he did the same and disappeared into the room next to Aurora's.
"This doesn't look too bad," said Eternalis to himself as he spun around to examine the override that he had just activated. The entirety of his usual blue slimy body had vanished. Staring him back in the mirror was the face of a man in his early twenties with long, flowing blue-colored hair. Below that, a full set of shining armor with blue trim presented itself in all of its glory, with cream-colored underclothes and a large shoulder cape obscuring his left arm. Underneath the cape, it still had the blue-colored countenance of his old malleable form, while his visible right arm, while covered by an armored gauntlet, was now human flesh and bones. At his side, a sword sat in an ornate sheath affixed by a belt, though its blade was not made of steel, but his own slime as well.

The armor clanked noisily as he adjusted his pose, turning around in the dressing room. The room was actually quite spacious compared to real world dressing rooms, with especially large doors to accommodate bigger people, as it seemed. Of course, the room didn't serve much of a purpose in the "changing" aspect, considering that Navis could simply shift into their other forms without having to take off their current outfit or anything similar -- it only gave the shop's patrons a place to examine their new outfits in relative privacy. Of course, there was no real reason to hide outfits like the knight's armor outfit he had on now.

"Slime Summer--I'm almost afraid to see what kind of outfit this one is."

Holding a small note he had found in the data sphere, he read off what was written on it. Try this one on for size too, but don't tell Aurora yet! Save it for a special occasion, and tell me how it goes with you two. ;) -Tail the note said. His eyes narrowed at the last emoticon as they flitted between the note and the data sphere, the second half of which he hadn't accessed yet, before he sighed. "Well, here goes," said Eternalis to himself, as he reached out towards the orb and allowed the second of the model overrides to modify his appearance.

The pale skin that was covered by the knight's armor disappeared at once, replaced once more by his original monstrous visage. This time, however, instead of the disheveled, half-melted slime body he'd gained after the Momograve incident, his body was now mostly reverted to what it was before the glitching, though with some extra... embellishment. His body now defaulted to a chiseled muscular build, instead of the smooth but bulky appearance he had before. In addition, he was no longer wearing his original armor, but instead gained a few beach-related apparel, consisting of a pair of swimming trunks with a fruit-themed pattern on them, a translucent visor, and a pair of swimming armbands, all bearing a bright orange color.

Eternalis couldn't help but chuckle; it was certainly a well-received contrast from the somewhat serious-looking armor outfit. He began posing dramatically in the dressing room mirror for a moment, laughing all the while, before a voice came from the other side of the door. "Hey! Are you two done in there? C'mon, come out here so I can see how you look in them!" the squeaky fairy's voice piped up. "A-All right, hang on!" he blurted out, shifting back into the "Knight of Infinity" outfit and walking back through the door.

At the same time, Aurora exited from the room next to him. Both of them turned to see what the other had been given. Aurora's "Sage of Infinity" had reduced her bodysuit to a leotard, and given her a capelet over her shoulders. Brilliant colors and arcane symbols raced across the translucent kaleidoscopic material of the sashes wrapped around her arms, as well as the skirt that went down to her knees. Underneath the skirt, a pair of high kneesocks covered three-quarters of her thigh, with solid boots covering below her knees. Her ensemble was mostly cream-colored, with orange trim and golden fittings giving an appropriate level of detail. Paired with her pale skin, white hair and bright orange eyes, the outfit ostensibly appeared to radiate light from itself.

"So, I take it you're satisfied!"

Realizing that they had both been caught staring at each other, the two were brought back to the real world by Tear's shrill declaration. Eternalis hazarded the first reply. "Oh, yes, thank you. They're really well made. Um, so how much do these cost? How did you make these so fast?"

"Oh, you can worry about that later, don't you worry. I had a fun time playing with your outfits, so it didn't take that much time at all! I'm really quick with my hands. Your armor was really fun, since you had an absolute mess of a physical shell. Do you like the arm? I wanted it to be like some kind of hidden move that you'd pull out in a fight against an evil overlord, like--'you thought I was only one-armed!' kind of thing. Doesn't that sound amazing? Oh! Aurora's costume was really fun, too. Using that rainbow material is such a guilty pleasure of mine, it looks so sparkly and I just want to use it on an entire outfit sometimes! But of course then there's the suit itself, and then the--"

"A-Ahem, Tear," Aurora cleared her throat, interrupting the unrelenting waterfall of words. "I really appreciate your help, let's catch up later on the BBS. We'll be quite busy today, after all."

At the last sentence, the fairy's eyes lit up with excitement. "Oh! Oh! You mean--ooooh! I can't wait! I mean, um, okay! I'll see you later then, Aurora. Hee hee hee!" giggled Tear, while Aurora pulled Eternalis's hand to drag him towards the door. She turned back towards the fairy shopkeeper, and made a small wave.

"Thanks for visiting, come again! Bye byeeee!" the fairy said, her arms waving at such a speed that they began to blur out of sight, while the two stepped into the shop's entrance transport pad and vanished.
Reappearing within the transport pad, Eternalis and Aurora stepped out from it, and turned back to look at the sign above the telepad before exhaling in near-perfect sync with each other. This further elicited some amused laughter. "Well, that was something," said Eternalis.

"Yeah, Tear can be a little hard to handle sometimes. All that energy in such a tiny body, she has to let it out somehow," laughed Aurora. "So how do you like it? Nice surprise, isn't it?"

"Sure is. Thanks again, Aurora," answered Eternalis, standing akimbo before the entrance sign, regaining his breath after laughing his heart out. Thankfully, the shop was in a slightly less-trafficked area of Style Boulevard, though he couldn't care less about one or two glances in his direction now. Compared to what had been just scarcely half an hour ago, when he felt more than a dozen wayward looks in his direction, he fit in quite well with the crowd with his humanoid appearance now.

"No problem! I'm glad you like it," said Aurora, leisurely strolling ahead with her hands behind her back. With a beaming smile on her face, the radiant self she showed then was a stark contrast the usual serious look she had in battle. The blue Navi found himself unable to move from his spot, only staring ahead at the brilliant sight before him. For a few moments, he was unable to hear the voice calling out to him before he snapped out of his fugue.

"Eternalis? Eternalis! What's wrong? You spaced out for a bit there," said Aurora, who had stopped walking, slightly ahead of him.

He quickly shook his head and waved his arms about in denial. Trying to come up with an excuse, he stammered something out. "A-A-Ah, no, nothing! I-It's just, uh, I was thinking. There's uh, something weird about it too, like even though I know this skin is actually on my body now, it still feels like a costume, you know?"

Aurora's eyebrows raised up, as if she realized something. "Oooh, is that it. Yeah, I know the feeling. No matter how well-made the override is, you can't really help but feel used to your original base model, since all it does is project a new appearance onto your own. Still, I can vouch for Tail's skills. Even though it's just a fake, it's about as close to the real thing as you can get. It's different for mine since under this, my base appearance hasn't changed, so I forgot to tell you about that," said Aurora, looking down at her own elaborate outfit. The floating sashes that were wrapped around her arms billowed gently in little streams around her.

Nodding in understanding, Eternalis went silent as he tried to think of something to avoid catching himself staring again. Then, something popped into his head. "Aurora. Want to take a break for now? You've dragged me everywhere today, so let me have a turn too. This place is seriously crammed with people, I feel like I'm suffocating just staying here. Want to go to Yoka?"

The girl looked back up, with a questioning expression on her face as she tilted her head. "Hm? Sure, but... why Yoka?"

"Yeah, I was just recalling the last time we were there. There were some really good hot springs, so I wanted to see if we could find some place to eat and rest there. Like the hot spring inns they have in the real world! I mean, I've always wanted to try eating, even though we don't really need to."

A sparkle lit up in Aurora's eyes, and she nodded. "Oh! That sounds great. I'm all for that idea. Let's get back to the NetSquare and then we can try looking through the Yoka section."

The path towards the NetSquare was to Eternalis's back, and so he slowly led the way, while Aurora hopped over to his side. As they walked together to the transport pad that led them to the Boulevard, the locale's varied populace passed them by, showing off all of their eye-catching styles in turn. Despite that, Eternalis only found himself stealing glances at the resplendent figure walking next to him all the way to the entrance.

[>> Aimless Vacationing - NetSquare.]