Saturday, December 25, 2021

Have a Cup of Coffee after School in the Fantasy World Café V5 (2 of 5)


Translator: Skythewood

Editor: Hiiro


【Plebeian-san, you attended some school before, right? Or you had a home tutor?】

Aina came in the evening, and said as she tapped on a laid out piece of paper. She started teaching me to read right away. Since there weren't any customers, that was just fine for me.

【Why do you think so?】

I asked to dodge this question.

【You are learning too fast.】 Aina concluded. 【People who have not been educated systematically can’t internalize the words they don’t know. You obviously have experience in learning something similar.】

Ughh, how perceptive. I did have the knowledge of learning things like English and Mathematics in school. Including elementary school, I received ten years of education. This was strange for this world. Unless you were a noble or wealthy, people didn’t have that much time to study.

【Well, just a little.】

I thought about it for a while, judged that I couldn’t fudge things over, and nodded.

【A little?】 Aina’s gaze seemed to bore through her spectacles, and she narrowed her eyes at me. 【I don’t think it’s just a little… Alright then. You might learn this faster than expected.】

After saying that, Aina pushed the paper to me. She wrote something like the Japanese alphabet before me. This world’s language looked similar to English. It had alphabets that looked like latin, and could be combined to form words with different meanings.

And I could communicate verbally when I came to this world. I was just speaking Japanese, but everyone could understand me. So it was weird that I couldn’t understand the written words.

Aina laid out a new piece of paper and wrote a few words. After doing that, she drew simple pictures under it. A bearded man with a crown, a dragon, a princess…

【Nice drawing.】

【I draw very often.】

After drawing that, Aina passed the paper to me.

【I see, this is easy to understand.】

【And also...】 Aina reached into her bag and took out a book. 【I will lend this to you.】

She said as she placed a picture book on the table.

【I read this when I was young. It’s just right for you to learn the words.】

【So this is the gateway that made Aina love stories.】

【… I can’t refute that.】 Aina’s cheeks were flushed, and she coughed. 【First, memorize this.】

【I need to memorize?】

I opened the picture book, which had realistic drawings not suited for children. Words that didn’t look friendly at all were lined up over there.

【Speaking of how to learn, it will be the fastest to start with memorizing. You can make sense of it later.】

【Just like an honor student…】

【Well, I’m also an honour student.】

Aina smiled mischievously.

【That’s right, you are ranked second in your school year.】

【I can’t really say I’m second with pride.】

She said with a wry smile, but I felt she could be proud of such a result. She couldn’t get second place without putting in extraordinary efforts.

【I’m honoured to be taught by the second top student in the school year.】

I joked, and Aina smiled.

【A home tutor costs a lot, you know? A lot of people tried to recruit me.】

【Recruit you as a home tutor?】

【It is common for nobles and merchants to recruit academy students to teach their children. This is a good paying side job for students. Well, most of the students are nobles, so not many people actually take the job.】

【I see.】 I said quietly, and looked at Aina. 【Actually, I can’t pay you much, so how would you like to be compensated?】

Aina stared at my face, then suddenly laughed.

【What’s so funny?】

【Nothing, because Plebeian-san said that so seriously. Oh right, it will be nice to receive something. I haven’t thought about it.】

Aina stopped smiling and put a finger on her jaw, looking to the top right. This was Aina’s habit when she was thinking.

【What should I ask for? Eating here for free doesn’t sound interesting.】

【That would be helpful for me though.】

I couldn’t reject her even if she asked for something troublesome.

【Let’s put this on hold for now. I just realized that this is a good chance to ask Plebeian-san for anything. I need to think about this seriously.】

【… Let me say this first, there are things I can’t do, okay?】

I reminded her, but Aina didn’t seem to have heard me, and crossed her arms in deep contemplation. This posture felt a little scary to me. I hope she wouldn’t ask for anything indecent.

While I waited for Aina’s proposal, I stared at the paper given to me. First, I needed to memorize these letters, and differentiate them. I would then memorize the words, followed by the passages in the picture book. That was the plan.

The road ahead of me was long. Would I read Tize’s letter and write a reply, or would Tize get tired of waiting and come complain to me first? As expected, I should make learning my long term project, and ask Aina to read and reply on my behalf first. I raised my head while I was thinking that, and the door chimed drowned out my voice.

It was a man in his thirties. He stroked his unkempt beard and surveyed the shop. When he saw me standing up, the man laughed heartily.

【Are you the shopkeeper?】

【That’s me……】

I answered, sensing he wasn’t a normal customer. I had met many customers as a cafe master, and this man had a dangerous aura about him.

The man stared at me and said:

【I heard you have Alekhin’s Knight.】

I frowned.

【From the look on your face, it seems I’m right.】

【No, someone asked me the same thing this morning.】

【Hmmp, I guess as much. Those with keen noses are asking around.】

【It’s fine for you guys to search, but I don’t have that thing here. This is a Café】

【Café……?】 The man raised his brows, then laughed. 【Well, it doesn’t matter what this shop is. I just need you to hand me the Knight.】

The man said as he sat down beside me, and leaned against the table.

【Well, why don’t you give it to me before others catch wind of it? I will pay you handsomely.】

Sigh, what a pain. I nursed my temple. Why were these people coming to my place? And saying things like that?

It’s troublesome to keep telling them I didn’t have it.

If what that man said was true, then word had leaked that this shop had a black Knight. Like that youth this morning and this guy here, other people would come to demand for the chess piece. Like that youth said, it might be wiser to let it go quickly.

My shirt was tugged from behind, and I looked back. Aina was looking at me with a serious face.

【Is there an Alekhin chess piece here?】

She was just loud enough for me to hear.

【Oh, Aina knows about this too?】

【I’m well, there are some reasons… I more or less understand. So you really have it?】

There was a seriousness in her eyes that was different than usual. I didn’t know why Aina was looking at me with such eyes, but there was no reason for me to lie to her. I nodded, and Aina closed her eyes, and her shoulders rose as she took a deep breath. She exhaled softly, then looked at me with an intense gaze.

【Plebeian-san, can you hold on to that Knight, and not hand it over to anyone?】

I opened my eyes wide and looked right at Aina. I didn’t know why she said that, and the people after the Knight would keep coming. To be honest, I wanted to get rid of it as fast as possible, but after seeing Aina’s face, I couldn’t do that easily.

【Is that the compensation you want?】

Aina looked at me in a daze at that.

【Like I said, is that fine as compensation for teaching me to read and write?】

I asked again, and she finally understood. Aina nodded three times with sparkling eyes.

【Yes, that’s fine. Please do so.】

【I don’t know what this is about though.】

I complained. That Knight was shrouded in mystery, but the plan had been set. I turned to the man and cleared my throat.

【Oh, are you ready?】

【Yeah, about the Alekhin’s Knight.】

I was planning to say I didn’t have it, but decided against it. The youth and this man were sure that I had it. And that information had been spread. In that case, denying will just be a tiring and futile option.

【I do have it, but I don’t want to give it away.】

I said with conviction, but that man just nodded sagely and said: 【I thought as much.】 He then reached into his shirt and took out a rectangular box. I could tell what it was at a glance.

【Since you won’t accept money, you want to do it this way? It’s the consensus among nobles to decide things with this elegantly.】

The man placed a foldable chessboard on the table.

【Let’s make a bet with chess. You’ll wager with your Alekhin’s Black Knight. As for me...】 the man opened his hand and placed something on the table. 【I will bet two of Alekhin’s White Pawns.】

I knew that was coming.

Why did the people in this world like gambling so much? I heard of nobles using chess to settle problems between their territories. But this was just fine by me. Since I promised Aina, I wouldn’t hand that Knight over. I couldn’t do anything about violence or other games, but I could do my best with chess.

【A Knight is worth more than two pawns though.】

I said as I walked to the table with the chessboard. The man raised an eyebrow.

【I’m betting two chess pieces though?】

I wasn’t talking about that, this was just a joke about the value of the chess pieces in a game. How strong a piece was determined it’s value. For example, a Knight was worth three pawns. However, this was a view determined after long years of research, and the idea of quantifying the values of chess pieces had not spread in this world yet.

I shook my head to tell him it was nothing, and sat down opposite that man. We took out the chess pieces kept inside the portable chessboard, and placed it on the board.

【Night or day?】


I didn’t understand what he was saying and asked.

【You don’t know about chess betting?】

【Yes, I don’t understand at all.】

【Day is one game, night is a set of three games. For draw games, we will play another one until the match is decided.】

I nodded, then decided on Day without much thought. The man grinned and stroked his beard.

【Choosing a single match with Alekhin’s pieces on the line. You’re confident.】

【No, that’s not the reason.】

I couldn’t spend too much time on chess since the shop was still open. I thought about it calmly, and felt that I wouldn’t lose if the opponent wasn’t Gramps Goru.

【I will take white then.】

He declared.

White would move first, and had an advantage over the black pieces. If both sides played perfectly, then White would win, and he seemed to know that. However, his obsession with going first showed that his study of chess was still shallow.

The man quickly moved a pawn. After thinking briefly, I moved my knight in front of my pawn. The man grinned.


A grinning man asked me whether I heard the rumours. I was washing the dishes and preparing to close up, and there were no other customers. It was dark outside, and he was talking about something that happened a few days ago.

【There was a commotion in the back alley.】

The man said with a squint. He was clean shaven, but his hair was a mess. His tone and demeanour was crude too. However, all that felt like an act, what a strange man.

【A commotion in the back alley sounds like the usual.】

【But it’s different this time. The commotion only involved those well educated people.】

【So the back alley have well educated people who will cause a commotion.】

After saying that, the man knocked the counter with a laugh.

【Well said. But it’s just a small minority involved in that commotion. The people there were engrossed with Chess. Substitute players, hustlers, and merchants are all involved.】

【Chess, huh?】

An unexpected term came up, which made me stop my hands. What kind of commotion could Chess cause in the back alley?

【Chess might be a game for nobles, but there are people in the alley who enjoy it. Well, they aren’t as graceful as the nobles, and use it to make a living.】

【So, they are professional chess players?】

【Professional? No such thing. Strong players will either get recruited by the nobles, gamble in the alley, or play on behalf of merchants.】

That went against my common sense. I had never heard of professional players before, and thought it’s just that I didn’t know. So there weren’t any professional Chess players.

【Well, even if you become a representative player for the nobles, it’s all for naught if you lose. There aren’t many commoners who play Chess seriously.】

The man tapped at his neck with his finger. Did that mean they would lose their job, or would they lose their head? It didn’t seem like the former though.

【Well, the world sure is a tough place.】

The man snorted.

【It’s better to not be too strong at Chess. If you got marked by a noble, you will have a harder time than pawns.】

Pawns were the least valuable piece in chess. Given how they were the first ones to be captured, their lives didn’t carry much weight.

【Well, in the back alley where weird things happen, there are people who make a living through Chess. So they might be your so called professional.】

The man stood up after emptying his cup.

【And what caused them to stir is Alekhin’s Chess set.】


If you mention Chess and that name in the same breath, there was only one person that came to mind. But I dismissed it, since it wasn’t possible. The man then continued:


【Alekhin is a great craftsman. He can work on wood, gems, and anything with his magic. And that Alekhin made a Chess set for a noble, which is then sold to the open market.】

The man said excitedly.

【It’s rare for such treasures to flow into the black market. Normally, it will be sold by nobles and merchants. And this time, the pieces have been separated. Do you get it? The black and white pieces, a total of 16 Pawns, 4 Rooks, 4 Bishops, 4 Knights, 2 Queens and 2 Kings. All these treasures are circulating in the market.】

【Oh, I see.】

It felt exciting when he put it that way. It was like a treasure hunt spread throughout the city.

【But, is it true?】

I asked with a smile, and the man suddenly showed a serious face and leaned in close.

【It’s actually true. It’s right here.】

The man rummaged through his waist, then placed a fist on the counter. He then opened his hand, drawing in my gaze.

In his hand was a black Knight. A dark horse glimmered faintly, reflecting the light from the ceiling light. It looked as if that horse was alive.

【You should understand after seeing this.】

I then realized that I was mesmerized by it. I had no talent for appraising gems and art, but I could feel the mysterious presence inside.

【That is, Alekhin’s...?】

The man nodded silently.

This was what so many people were searching for. I stared at the Knight in a daze. So it was true. Given how beautiful that Knight was, it was no surprise.

【In order to obtain this, Chess gambling is trending in the back alley.】

【Ehh, Chess gambling?】

【It would be tasteless to collect them through money or violence. Since they are Chess pieces, the winner of the Chess match should get them. That’s the rule.】

【I can’t tell whether it’s dangerous or peaceful.】

【Well, in the end, people who want to make a ruckus through Chess have gathered. It’s a Chess set after all, so Chess enthusiasts will want it. And they can accept it if the strongest player gets the pieces. That’s much better than a wealthy scion buying them as decoration on a cabinet.】

That sounded plausible. I could be categorized as someone who likes Chess, so I could empathize with their wish for the strongest player to possess such a wonderful Chess set.

【That is why the holder won’t sell it even if the merchants say a noble wants to purchase it. There is only one way to obtain one, and that is to defeat the holder through Chess. That’s all… Well, if they don’t hurry, maybe people blinded by money will appear sooner or later.】

The man raised the corner of his mouth with that.

【By the way, you seemed to be good at chess. How about a match?】


【And that’s how I got a Knight, then collected two more pawns this time.】

After I told her how I got the Alekhin Chess pieces, Aina crossed her arms and sighed deeply.

It was already late, and the bearded man left the shop after our match.

【I didn’t expect the match to be decided so quickly.】

【Well, that happens sometimes.】

I answered with a wry smile. I didn’t have a special talent for Chess, we just had very different foundations.

I was taught by my grandfather and his friends, and also learned the latest theories and set moves through the internet and books. I had accumulated plenty of match experience by playing with people all over the world through the internet.

Not just chess, such games had been studied by many people for their entire lives. This world would need centuries and hundreds of geniuses to figure out the strategy and set moves, while I have learned all that systematically.

After all, Chess was played by moving powerful pieces on a cramped board, so every move held much importance. I had memorized the games of many legendary players, and could reference their research. This came naturally to me, but the game was just developing in this world, so it would be difficult to understand.

I won easily, which showed how important the accumulated knowledge was. So I couldn’t take too much pride in this.

【So this is Alekhin's Chess pieces. I never thought I will see one here.】

Aina looked at the 2 Pawns on the table and said in awe.

【Is Alekhin that amazing?】

【He isn’t on the legendary level, but is still an amazing craftsman. I’m not too interested, but my grandfather and father likes to collect furniture and art pieces made by Alekhin.】

She picked up the Knight, and stared at it to inspect its design. Instead of appraising an artwork, Aina was thinking about something else.

【Want to bring it home as a gift?】

Aina looked my way at my question. She then smiled as if she had made her decision.

【Oh, no need. I’m not that keen on taking it away for my father or grandfather. Yes, right, this is for my personal reasons.】

【Personal reasons?】

Aina put the Knight back on the table, then toppled it by pressing her index finger against it.

【It’s strange that such a thing can change the life of a person.】

There seemed to be more to it. I was about to ask further when Aina stood up from her seat.

【Well then, I should get going. It’s already late. Plebeian-san, do your self study properly.】

She said with her usual tone and her usual expression. After I nodded, she said 【Very well】 and turned. She had kept everything in her bag. She picked up her coat on the chair, took her bag, and walked to the door. Aina suddenly turned back and said:

【If possible, I hope you can hold on to that Alekhin Chess piece. Just for a little while longer.】

【It’s the compensation for my home tutor, so I will do my best.】

After answering her cheerfully, Aina showed a faint smile before walking out of the shop. The cold night breeze gushed in.

I watched her go until the chime stopped, then picked up the fallen Knight on the table.

【How will things turn out in the future?】

Aina was acting strange, and more people would come in hope of getting these Chess pieces. I hope I won't get toyed around like the pieces on a board.

Chapter 2: Seasonal Cream Soup


The season was changing rapidly, and the chill on my skin became more prominent with each passing day.

When the wind was cold enough to make anyone pull in their shoulders outside, my shop’s menu would change a little. I cut down on cold food, and increased food that would make you warm, updating the menu.

The change in the seasons brought about a change in the shop’s menu. And with that, the words on the menu had to be changed.

I would explain the menu verbally to people who couldn’t read, such as [warm soup] or [cheap and good food.] Given the low literacy rate in this world, ordering food was a whimsical affair.

However, the literacy rate was higher in this city with an institute of higher education, and it felt bad not to properly describe the food that I knew of. But the problem was, I couldn’t write.

[Alright, I’m done writing.]

I looked at the menu Aina handed me, and aesthetically pleasing words were arranged on it. I couldn’t read it, but it looked very tidy.

[Thank you, you’re a big help.]

[It’s nothing, how did you cope before this?]

[I asked a lady living nearby for help at the start. Recently, Linaria has been helping me out.]

[… I think I did something thoughtless.]

Aina said quietly.

Linaria would probably turn me down if I asked, and she hadn’t visited recently, so it was difficult to even speak with her. It would be strange to wait for Linaria like this, so I asked Aina to help me.

[I will apologize to Linaria when she visits.]

[It’s probably not what you think… Never mind.]

It wasn’t to the extent of switching places with Linaria, but Aina had been showing up in the shop a lot. She wasn’t just teaching me to read and write either, she kept writing something in her corner seat. Today, she stayed here until school started, and since this was a good chance, I asked her to help me rewrite the menu.

Aina took off her glasses, and folded them carefully.

[Changing the menu with the seasons sound like something a restaurant serving nobles will do.]

[I’m not planning to move in that direction, this is just a habit of mine.]

[And your cooking skill is surprisingly good, why not change the Café into a restaurant? The signboard is beautiful too, right?]

[It’s a great drawing, right? I like it too. But I won’t turn this place into a restaurant.]

[Even if you say that.] Aina pointed at the menu [Salad, meat dish, fruits and desserts. There’s even a new soup dish in the updated menu. If you add in a fish dish, you can even outdo a restaurant.]

I couldn’t say anything about that.

When I first started out, the menu only had very simple dishes, but it had grown over time. I didn’t do so intentionally, this was just the result of me responding to the orders of my regulars.

[… There are customers who can only eat salad, or those who are carnivorous.]

Oh, but I was the one who added dessert into the menu, thinking more people might order Coffee because of that.

[And what is this seasonal cream soup?]

Aina pointed at the menu and asked. What a nostalgic dish. I puffed my chest out with my hands on my hips, implying that was a good question.

[There’s a deep reason for this. Last winter...]

[Can you not go into a flashback out of nowhere?]

[Why did you stopped me? My face was about to be overlapped with the scene from that time.]

[I don’t get what you’re saying at all.]

[I was happily recalling the past. I always wanted to try doing that.]

[Sorry, but can you just play with yourself? It’s about time for me to go to school.]

[… Let’s leave this for next time.]

I nodded reluctantly.

Aina sighed exasperatedly.

[Let’s talk about it at night. And I want to try that seasonal cream soup too.]

She left the shop with that.


While I was opening the wire hatch in the fireplace and adding more wood, the door chimed. Cat ears and a wooly hat appeared.

【Oh, welcome.】


Nortri answered with a snore.

She walked right to the round cushion, put it at the prime position before the fireplace, and curled up into a ball right on top of it.

【Fuwah… 】 I thought she would exhale in relaxation, but her eyes were struggling to stay open. 【…Yuu… Warmer…】

I told her alright, and added another firewood and three barks with a wry smile. The fire started burning intensely.

【What’s with you today?】

I squatted down beside Nortri and asked. She opened one eye slightly.

【…… Too cold…… I give up……】

She gave up on her way to school and came here.

【Even if you say it’s too cold, it’s still autumn. What will you do in winter?】

Nortri furrowed her brows and showed a stoic face.

【…… I will sleep.】

I couldn’t help laughing at her firm answer.

【That’s true, sleeping is important in winter. It’s very cold after all.】

【…… Yes.】

I patted Nortri’s head as she snoozed peacefully, then stood up. Suddenly, I saw movement, and Nortri was tugging at the pants.

【……Nortri, you sure move fast.】

【…… Occasionally.】

As expected of a feline. I was impressed.

【Can you let go? I need to do some work.】

It was morning, and my regulars would be here soon.

【…… Are you abandoning me…?】

【Sorry, Nortri. There are times when I have to go. Forgive me.】

【How mean… Are you just playing with me…?】

Where did she learn that? Was this the reason why girls mature earlier?

【You are important to me. However, there are other customers waiting for me too. Please understand.】

【…… The customers…… aren’t here……】

That was a critical hit that left me on the verge of death. I silently peeled off Nortri’s hand, and walked away.

【…… Tch.】

With Nortri cheering me on, I returned to the counter.

Well, it was true the customers weren’t here yet, but there were still things to do. I need to return the utensils for summer into the storeroom, then clean the utensils for winter and put them in the shelves. This was important work. Yup.

Customers didn’t want to move during the cold season in the first place. After they were done with their tasks, they would want to go home. If they wanted warmth, they would rather visit a tavern than a Cafe. There were few customers who would want to visit a shop that was a little weird in this season.

It was futile to worry about the lack of customers, and I could accept this with an open heart because of my experience from last year. After bracing myself mentally that customers wouldn’t come, I took less mental damage. I leisurely tidied the utensil shelves unfazed. This showed the magnanimity of me as a cafe master.

After I took the plates out of the shelves, the door chimed, signalling the arrival of guests. It was the two Chess players who visited last time, walking in while surrounded by the cold.

【Oh, welcome.】

We locked eyes, and the narrow-faced old man tipped his hat in greeting.

【We will be intruding on you today too.】

【Yes, please take your time.】

【Can you give me that thing, I think it’s called Coffee. Give me a warm cup.】 The round-faced old man said.

【I will have the same.】

The narrow-faced old man said to me too. The two of them sat down at a table, took out a foldable chess board, then swiftly set the pieces.

【I will win today.】

【Fufu. I wonder.】

The round-faced old man was spirited, while the narrow-faced old man had a relaxed smile.

I brewed the Coffee, happy that they were getting along well. I heated the beaker, and placed the Coffee beans onto a grinder. I ground the beans by turning the handle, and listened to the old man playing Chess.

【Alright, I will take white today, and start with e4.】

After the round-faced old man said that, I could hear the clear sound of a wooden piece knocking against the wooden board.

【Oh, in that case.】

After the narrow-faced old man said that quietly, I heard another click.

The wind was blowing steadily outside, but it couldn’t get in. The heat from the fireplace warmed the air. Crackling sound could be heard from the fireplace from time to time. All this while, the sound of the chess pieces moving could be heard. They were rapid at times, and stagnant for moments. While listening to these sounds, I observed the beautiful liquid being extracted with powder floating on top.

After the extraction was finished, I poured Coffee into two cups, and white steam rose slowly, like condensed bubbles of fragrance. The fragrance of the Coffee seemed thicker in the winter, even me who was brewing the Coffee was mesmerized.

I placed the cups on a saucer, then onto a tray, and served it to the two patrons. I glanced at the board, and the round-faced old man was at a disadvantage. He was crossing his arms, protruding his lower lips and glaring at the board.

【Excuse me.】

【Oh, thank you.】

After putting down the Coffee, the narrow-faced old man nodded slowly.

The round-faced old man grunted, then grabbed the cup handle to take a sip. 【It’s hot——】 he furrowed his brow, then stretched his neck to the cup. He closed his eyes as if to endure the heat passing through his throat, then said:

【Ah, delicious. This is great on cold days.】

【I prefer mine slightly colder.】

The narrowed-faced old man said as he blew at his beverage. I nodded and was about to leave when the round-faced old man chatted me up.

【You serve food here, right? I would like something warm.】

【Yes, I can prepare something for you. Here’s the menu.】

I handed him the menu that was written recently. The round-faced old man raised an eyebrow.

【There are dishes I have not seen before. What a curious shop.】

【Oh, which one?】 The narrow-faced old man leaned over and browsed the menu. 【The words are pretty.】

【Hmm, Is that so?】

【Oh, that’s a nice term. I will order this then.】 He pointed at a spot on the menu. 【I’m intrigued by the seasonal cream soup.】


The round-faced old man tilted his head, and the narrow-faced old man smiled.

【Isn’t seasonal a nice term? Shopkeep, please give me two of this?】 I affirmed immediately and went into the kitchen. I scooped up two portions of cream soup from a pot I prepared in the morning, poured it into a pan, and turned on the heat.

It started bubbling immediately, and the fragrance of the milk spread out. I used a lot of fresh milk, so the thick flavour was appetizing.

On the surface of the white creamy soup were prominent red carrots. There were also chunks of smooth potatoes. Bite-sized chicken and two types of mushrooms were scattered around too. This was a home made cream soup with simple ingredients.

I didn’t rush, and stirred slowly. The ingredients needed to be heated evenly, and I would turn off the heat when it started bubbling on the sides. I would then pull the ladle out from the pan. When the steam rose to my eye level, my vision would be blurred as if I was in a fog. The strong aroma from the soup reminded me of a certain day in the past.


[He told me that I wouldn’t know unless I give it a try, but he objected when I said I wanted to paint. He told me to not look down on life.]

Phil-san said while seated at a counter seat.

[It’s still no good?]

I placed a glass of water before him, and Phil-san drained it slowly, before returning the glass onto the counter.

[He doesn’t get it. Parents don’t believe their children, they always think they are right.]

[But he implicitly consented to you staying in this city, right? Isn’t that as good as supporting you?]

Phil-san looked up at me, his long hair flicked back.

[That’s hard to tell. He will get annoyed if I stayed at home and squabble with him. Nothing good will come from two men staying in one cramped home. And he never cheered me on even once.]

He grumbled, and I said nothing in return. Phil-san wasn’t expecting me to do that either. So I held my peace and poured him another glass of water>

Phil-san held the glass with both hands, and peered into it.

[… Sorry that you have to hear me rant. And I keep sitting here and drinking water.]

[It’s fine. As you can see, I’m free right now.]

I gestured to the shop, which had no customers except Phil-san.

I thought a Café was a good idea, but I was wrong. Everything up til the opening was smooth, but no customers visited for months.

Phil-san surveyed the shop.

[… It’s too naive to make a living with your dreams.]

[Should I be happy that I made you realized that?]

I laughed. After spending so many days like this, I had gotten tired of being depressed, and could only laugh.

[But, I think it’s amazing to keep challenging your dreams like this.] Phil-san’s eyes softened. [Actually, I understand that I can’t go on like this. I had been in this city for three years. But I’m still an unknown painter without any proper commissions. I have been thinking, maybe I don’t have the talent. But giving up will mean I acknowledge that view, and all my efforts would be for naught… Maybe I have been struggling all this time because I don’t want to face that fact.]

Phil-san laughed weakly as he caressed the edge of the glass.

[It’s really hard to give up.]

[After all, I had been hanging on, believing this is the only thing I had. The effort and time I spent would be wasted, and that would be the end of my potential.]

His weak voice faded into the cold air.

It was almost winter, and my hands would freeze if I felt the air outside. Maybe the cold weather contributed to the depressing thoughts. It would be difficult to go forward if both your body and mind got frozen.

[Phil-san, want to drink some warm soup?]

Phil-san was caught off guard by my sudden question.

[Soup, huh.]

[Yes, it has been getting cold recently. I think serving a warm dish aside from Coffee will be a good idea.]

[You have a point there… Shopkeep, you can cook?]

In response to Phil-san’s questioning gaze, I puffed my chest out.

[I can make homecookings.]

[Homecookings are plenty good.]

Phil-san said with his head tilted, and I agreed with him.

The culture and preference were different in this world, so I had doubts about people accepting my cooking. I thought about adding simple dishes to the menu, but without anyone to try it and give feedback, I left the plan on hold.

I asked Phil-san to give me some feedback so I could serve acceptable dishes, and he agreed on the spot.

[We are comrades pursuing our dreams, so I’m happy to help. Besides, I’m always famished, and will be happy to eat anything.]

He was implying that he didn’t expect much from the taste, but I should try it out anyway.

I took the ingredients out from the freezer and placed them in the kitchen. The world might be different, but if the ingredients looked and tasted similar, then I could recreate the same taste, even though the appearance might differ. There might be things I would see and taste for the first time, but it wouldn’t be inedible.

This city had an unfathomable thing known as the labyrinth, and you could get vegetables, spices, and all sorts of things from there, so the city’s resources were plentiful. Stalls would line the road in the centre of the city, and it was like a festival everyday. I seldom went out, but if I went exploring in search of treasure, I would get to know more ingredients.

For now, I had plenty of ingredients before me, enough for me to cook.

[What are you going to make?]

[I want to make cream soup.]

[Cream soup?]

From the way Phil-san was furrowing his brows, he had never heard it before. Maybe he knew it by a different name, but it would be hard to tell without the actual thing.

After thoroughly washing my hands, I picked up a knife. I peeled the vegetables properly. I could do it in a flash if I had a peeler, but I could only use a knife right now.

Potatoes, carrots, mushroom, onions… or rather, things that were similar. They didn’t taste too different, so let’s just go with that.

After peeling them, I diced them and pushed the ingredients to the side. After wiping the chopping board with a wet cloth, I took out the chicken. It was more tender than normal chicken, was cheap, and had a strong taste, and I didn’t know what kind of chicken this was. With the modern mindset that it would be fine if it tasted good, I happily used this ingredient. After cutting it into bite sized chunks, I added salt and pepper.

I turned on the heat after pouring oil into the thick pot. When it was sufficiently heated, I added chicken meat in. The sizzling sound was very soothing.

I looked up, and saw Phil-san leaning forward and staring at the pot. Sensing my gaze, he put a hand behind his head bashfully.

[Well, I haven’t eaten meat recently.]

[… What do you usually eat?]

[Cheap stale bread from the bakery, and stew made from vegetable scraps sold at the stalls.] He then added as if to explain [Brushes and painting tools are expensive… I would rather buy good quality tools than spend it on eating.]

Oh, I see, I nodded in agreement.

That was how people who pursue art were like.

I had never been so passionate about anything, and was envious of people who sacrifice so much in the pursuit of their interest. They were really bright.

The colour of the chicken in the pot had changed, the heat had seeped in completely. Next, the vegetables would be added in to be stir fried. Without burning the ingredients, it would be cooked until the onions completely soften. The oily vegetable had a vibrant colour.

At this moment, I added water, herbs to remove any odors, and solid soup stock. This was made for the adventurers exploring the labyrinth, so they could make soup easily. But it was more popular with the housewives than the adventurers. It was convenient to use and taste great, just like Bouillon cubes. You couldn’t go wrong if you used it to make western style stew.

After the water in the pot started gurgling, I turned the heat to the minimum. The taste of the chicken was important, so I needed to remove any odors properly.

I stared at the boiling pot as I placed a pan on the stove beside it, and turned on the heat. It melted the butter I added in no time, and I added in flour and stirred.

Just like the stock cube, it would be less of a hassle if the shops here sold cheese blocks, but that was asking for too much. There was no way I could make curry, but I could still make stew and cheese easily.

After stirring the butter and flour evenly, the yellow dough started bubbling. I then added chilled milk from the refrigerator onto it. I didn’t know if it was the milk of cows, goats, or some other creature, but it was fresh and delicious, and I didn’t get tired of it even if I drank it every morning.

I stirred it, careful not to leave any chunks of flour, and the white liquid was done. This was the base of the cream soup. I added it into the pot and turned down the heat, mixing everything together carefully.

The entire thing turned white, and I could smell the fragrance from my memories. I added some to a saucer for a taste test. After trying it, I thought for a moment before adding a pinch of salt and pepper. I then turned off the heat, filled a bowl, and served it to Phil-san with a spoon.

[This is cream soup, please enjoy. Please be careful, it’s hot.]

[Hah, cream soup, huh.]

Phil-san looked at the bowl and took in the aroma.

[It smells nice… how is this different from milk soup?]

[Well, it’s not too different. Instead of just drinking the soup, it would go better with bread or rice, and has a stronger taste.]

Phil-san acknowledged with a grunt, and picked up the spoon. The surface of the soup had been cooled by the cold air, forming a membrane. He stuck his spoon in to break the membrane, and started stirring.

[… The milk soup in my home doesn't have such a membrane.]

He said softly, then scooped the cream soup into his mouth.

[Hah, hah.]

He pursed his lips and blew out hot air. He furrowed his brows as if he was enduring the hot liquid, and moved his mouth. His chewing motion slowed, and he swallowed.

[This is an irresistible taste when it’s cold.]

He smiled, and his body stiff from the cold seemed to relax. Phil-san moved his spoon again. He cut off a corner of the potato, then continued:

[My mother died early, so my father cooked our meals. He seldom cooks, so his food tasted terrible. The soup would be over salted, and the burnt meat would taste bitter. We were poor, so the soup was not much different from water, and the ingredients were vegetable scraps and tasteless meat. Even milk soup was just murky water.]

Phil-san said with a smile as he chewed the potato carefully.

[How old was I back then. On the coldest day of the year, I fell into a pond. The surface was frozen, and when I played on it, the ice broke. The water chilled me to the bones, as if I was being stabbed. I could swim in the pond easily in the summer, and knew that it wasn’t deep, but it felt like a bottomless swamp. My frozen limbs wouldn’t move as I wanted.]

[That’s… I’m glad you were saved.]

Phil-san smiled awkwardly.

[Fortunately, my friends hanging out with me went everywhere and cried for help. And my father who came home from work was nearby. I still remember how panicked my father was as he charged over. Well, he punched me in the face when we got on dry land though.]

Phil-san touched his cheek with his left hand.

[When we reached home, my father cooked milk soup when he saw me shivering. The soup only had some yam and meat scraps. It was hot, as if I was being scalded, but the taste seemed to have spread from my stomach to my entire body… It was really delicious.] Phil-san stared into the distance. [I could see my father on the other side of the steam, asking quietly whether it tasted good. I nodded, and my father actually smiled in relief.]

Phil-san’s voice grew quiet. He stared at the soup in the plate, and stirred it slowly. He suddenly looked up, his face looked refreshed.

[Sorry for saying something weird.]

I shook my head, then took out a loaf of bread from the stove, then cut it into 3 slices. I served it on a plate, and Phil-san looked at me.

[Try dipping the bread in the soup. It’s a wonderful combination.]

Phil-san grunted a reply, then took the bread. He dipped a mouthful of cream soup and bit down.


He finished one piece in a blink of an eye.

He picked up a second piece, with pieces of chicken and potatoes on it this time. The potatoes were mashed easily with a spoon, and he folded the bread in half. He ate half of it with a big bite. Phil-san chewed with his cheeks puffed. Juices from the chicken and soup dripped from the rest of his bread.


He devoured the soup sandwich as if he was drinking it.

He then picked up a spoon, and scooped it into his mouth. He said it was hot while he swallowed with stuffed cheeks.

Phil-san reached for the last piece of bread to wipe the bowl. He enjoyed the dish til the very last drop.

[It’s delicious, thank you for the food.]

[It’s nothing much, don’t mention it.]

[This is great, you should add it to the menu. I want to eat it again.]

[Really? I will do that then.]

[Oh, but...] Phil-san added after realizing something. [How about serving it only when it’s cold? It tastes the best during this season.]

I nodded in agreement. Stew was a must for winter, and a seasonal dish sounded interesting.

[With such delicious soup, we can attract a lot of people in winter. It will be perfect if you have a better looking signboard. It’s difficult to attract attention as a shop with this small signboard.]

With the small sign board stating just the shop’s name, it was too plain. I wanted to make it look more formal, but couldn’t find the chance.

[This sign board won’t do huh. I feel the same way.]

[Shopkeep, if you don’t mind, can you leave the painting to me?]

[You mean, painting my sign board?]

Phil-san nodded to affirm.

[I still want to go back home. I have been planning to do so… I don’t know how long my father will live either.]

I didn’t say anything about Phil-san’s decision. It just felt a little lonely.

[But before going back, I want to do some work acceptable for me. I have decided to give my all to one last painting. So please, can you let me paint this shop’s sign board? I don’t need any payment in return.]

Phil-san’s eyes were sincere, and I couldn’t refuse him. I didn’t have any reason to reject him either.

[Very well then, I will be counting on you. But I will pay you properly. This is a job, right?]

Phil-san started work the next day. I didn’t know where he got a beautiful large and thick board from, and he placed it on a scaffold erected at the shop entrance. He had rags spread out by his feet, with colourful tools and brushes lined up there.

A few days passed. He didn’t stop even when it snowed, and Phil-san climbed the ladder with his brush every day. To top it off, he casted magic on the sign board, so it wouldn’t get degraded from the weather.

We looked up at the completed painting.

[It’s a nice painting.]

I wasn’t being nice, and really felt that way. It was a beautiful painting.

[… It is.]

Phil-san kept looking up at the signboard. His profile had a hint of reluctance.

He stared as if to imprint the image onto his retina, then closed his eyes. Phil-san then turned to me and reached out his hand.

[Thank you, Shopkeep. I have no regrets now.]

[I should be the one thanking you.]

I took his hand, and we smiled at each other. After letting go, Phil-san turned and slowly left. I kept watching his figure until he disappeared down the other end of the street.


[And this is that signboard?]

After finishing my tale, Aina who was listening intently sighed.

[I always thought it is pretty, but never thought there’s such a story behind it… So the painter left just like that?]

I nodded.

Aina put her hand on her breasts, and closed her eyes.

[That’s a moving story. Chasing his dreams, his talents, and the memories of his family… My chest feels tight.]

Aina said with a serious face, as if she was talking about herself, and tears were threatening to flow from her eyes.

Cough, someone cleared his throat. I also coughed in response, and said to Aina carefully:

[How about it, Aina? Want to try some cream soup?]

Aina looked up, her eyes more moist than usual, and nodded.

[Yes, I will try it. Let me reminiscence in Phil-san’s dream……]

Sensing how moved she was, I felt things were a little off.

[Erm, Aina.]

I scratch my sideburns with my index finger, then said:

[I’m sorry for saying this when you are so touched.]

I raised my hand to draw the attention of the dazed Aina, and pointed to a customer sitting at the other end of the counter.

「Let me introduce you. This is Phil-san, the painter.」

Phil-san, who was eating the cream soup with his spoon, let go in a panic, then turned to Aina and greeted her.

「Erm, hello.」

Aina who had turned stiff nodded in return, then slowly turned her eyes to me. She then asked me with a grave voice.

「Phil-san, as in, that Phil-san?」

I nodded.

「After going back, he was chased out by his father. His father lectured him to not make excuses to give up, and not to look back after deciding on his goal. So Phil-san came back, and is now an outstanding painter.」

「I was chased out though. Actually, people sought me out after seeing this shop’s signboard, asking me to paint one for them too.」

「That’s great, Phil-san.」

「It’s thanks to you too, Shopkeep.」

Oh it was nothing, I waved my hands. Phil-san shook his head, and we looked at each other and smiled.

Phil-san was a regular in my shop, and took a liking to the seasonal cream soup.

Aina looked at me and Phil-san, then slowly took off her school beret while staring at me. I looked back at her, and Aina said:


The cold season suited sorrowful tales, but for both soup and story, I prefer something warming. Even if the ending was a little funny and unexpected──

So, did that fool her?


Oh, it’s no good. Aina’s body was trembling.

I cupped my hands over my ears.

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