Saturday, January 15, 2022

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


Translator: Skythewood

Editor: Hiiro


【So, Princess-sama, what is your relationship with him?】

I asked Linaria who was seated at the counter, and she glared at me with an annoyed look.

【Say Princess-sama one more time, and I will give you a third nostril.】

【Hahaha, now, now.】


Linaria had a serious expression. My hands trembled as I poured in the warm milk.

I added two scoops of sugar and stirred. With only half of the beverage being Coffee, the colour turned gentle. It felt so long since I last made Café au lait for Linaria.

【Here, please enjoy.】

【Thank you.】

She accepted the cup and took a sip.

【It’s hot.】

She moved it away from her lips and blew on it. She took another sip.

【Hmm, delicious.】

Linaria’s expression softened as she held the cup with both hands.

【He came to receive me before my enrolment, or something like that?】


That was an unexpected term.

【More accurately speaking, he is from the Church. He came recently to tell me about the test’s content and how to handle the interview.】

Linaria was separated from her parents since she was young. She learned recently that her parents might be with the Church as Healing Mages. So Linaria set a goal of transferring to a school specialized for Healing Mages.

【Does everyone from the Church call you Princess?】

Linaria scrowled her face at that.

【Because I resemble my mother a lot.】

【And that means…】

【That’s right. He seems to know about my mother, and even met her.】

Linaria said with an anxious face.

【But he wouldn’t tell me the details. He only said that he will tell me after I passed the test.】

【I see. At least you found a clue now.】

That’s true, Linaria nodded. A moment later;

【Actually, I need to leave the city for the test.】

【Can’t you take the test here?】

【I can’t. The test includes a school orientation and experiencing classes, so I need to be there.】

【I heard it’s really far.】

【I probably won’t be back for a month.】

She told me a clear timeline. I already considered that possibility, but my heart still felt heavy.

【I see, it will be winter when you come back.】

【Yes. I heard it’s a snowy country, and gets even colder in winter.】

【Aren’t there magic to resist the cold?】

【There are, but you will get tired using it for the entire day.】

This was a peaceful conversation that didn’t cross any boundaries, and avoided the core of the matter.

Following the topic of the seasons, we talked about seasonal food, which made me nostalgic.

We finally fell silent, and Linaria brought up a topic.

【I will be setting off tomorrow.】

The air suddenly shook.

【That’s really rushed.】

【It had been decided for some time now, but I had been busy preparing for the test. I did came here last night though.】

Linaria looked up.

【So that wasn’t a dream. I was sure I heard your voice, Linaria.】

【I was shocked when I saw you lying on the floor groaning. You were burning up.】

【So you treated me? You’re a big help, and your coat too. I will get it for you.】

I went to the storeroom and picked up the coat on the cabinet. Something occurred to me when I touched the cold textile. If I didn’t return this, maybe Linaria would stay here. It would be getting colder, so she would be troubled without a coat.

I laughed, realizing how childish that was.

With the coat in my arms, I walked to Linaria, and she stood up.

【Thank you for this.】


I handed her the coat. She looked at me, and I looked back. We locked our gazes.

I wondered what I should say.

But I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure I had anything I wanted to say.

Linaria lowered her gaze and took the coat.

【I will be setting off from the academy tomorrow, at 6pm in the evening.】

【I see.】

Linaria slid her gaze from her coat to me.

【If you are free, can you come and see me off?】

【But I can’t go into the academy.】

Linaria frowned, then pouted with a slight blush.

【Can’t you use your indecent ideas at times like this? You still have the forged Letter of Engagement when you met the Songstress, right?】

My heart started to pound, and the words were stuck in my throat. It was a pity to throw it away, so I still kept it in a drawer.

【I still have it, but, is that really fine?】

If I used it, people might start spreading rumours. There weren’t many students at the party, just people not interested in both Linaria or me. But this would be a normal school day in the academy. I wouldn’t be affected, but who knows how it would affect Linaria who was studying there.

Linaria just nodded without a word.

【In that case, I will see you off.】

【Yes, I will be waiting.】

For a while after that, I couldn’t calm down. Linaria was the first to break the silence.

【It’s almost time for me to go.】

【Yes. Good luck on your test. If it’s you, Linaria, you will definitely pass.】

【Thank you, I will do my best.】

I walked Linaria to the door. We stopped when our hands were about to touch.

【— Hey, is there someone waiting for you?】

【Waiting for me?】

I asked her, not understanding the question. Linaria turned back. She looked confused, as if she was going to cry.

【It’s nothing. See you tomorrow.】

With a smile that made me think I was mistaken, Linaria left the shop, and I followed her. I could see Linaria’s back as she moved nimbly. Her bouncing red ponytail disappeared into the night.

She would be leaving this city tomorrow, and would be back after a month. When would she be back if she passed?

To fulfil her dream, Linaria was moving steadily forward. Was this everything this shop could do for her?

I was determined to make this a place Linaria could return to. But Linaria could realize her dreams of meeting her parents again. I believed that firmly and hoped it would come true.

Her home would then be her parent’s abode. That would be more natural, compared to my shop. In that case, then I…

Words suddenly flashed across the night. The moonlight was covered by the thick clouds. I heard someone say these words, but couldn’t remember who. It took solid form and hid deep within my heart.

— Everyone will leave you in the end.

Shut up, I muttered.

—Is the shop where you are alone the place you should return to?

Who knows. I returned to the shop with that.

I would just be troubled by that question. If not the shop, where else could I go?

This was a different world. I didn’t have anywhere I belonged to here, such a place never existed.

Chapter 6: Choice

Today was a rest day. Maybe Linaria chose this day with that in mind, but thanks to that, I could afford to send her off.

It was cold in the morning, but when the sun rose up high in the afternoon, the entire city was comfortably warm.

I was too lazy to walk outside in the cold, but the streets were as crowded as summer. The stall tenders were shouting energetically, seemingly to be chasing away the cold.

I felt warm sweeping the entrance to my shop in thick clothing, and took off my coat.

With my broom in hand, I greeted the people passing by. Some were regulars, others were familiar faces I often saw passing by. This was my daily life I had grown familiar with over time. I didn’t feel happy nor lonely anymore. This was a natural scene to me, and had grown used to this emotion.

When I stopped my work to take a break, I saw a high class carriage approaching from the city centre. The people moved aside to clear a path for the carriage. That seemed to be a carriage of a Noble.

There was just the labyrinth further down, which seemed out of place for a Noble’s carriage. This was a rare sight. I was wondering where it would go when the carriage slowed and stopped before me.

The coachman alighted and pulled out the folded steps under the carriage. He knocked the door three times before standing aside, and someone came out. It was a man.

I could feel a sharp gaze. He had carefully combed grey hair and a well groomed beard.

I had seen this man somewhere before. I thought for a moment, and my memories came rushing back. I saw him when I sneaked into the academy to meet Tize.

The man’s sharp gaze fell on me.

【—— You’re the 『Shopkeeper』, huh.】

【Yes, I am…】

He seemed to be implying something else, but I couldn’t feel any friendliness from him.

【I’m here for Alekhin’s Chess pieces.】

His words made me realize who this man was. He was definitely the client of 『Noble-sama』, whom I sparred with yesterday. Which means…

【Are you Aina’s father?】

I said softer than a whisper. The father looked obviously displeased.

【There’s no reason for you to call me that.】

That sounded like a fixed line, and I smiled wryly in my heart.

【Well than, how should I address you?】


【I understand, Caires-san】

What was he unhappy about? Caires-san looked at me with stern eyes.

【Erm… would you like to come in?】

I asked hesitantly, and Caires-san nodded.


Caires-san sat at his table, not sparing a glance at the Coffee I brewed, and glaring at me with his arms crossed.

I couldn’t relax like this, so I sat while making my body smaller. I tried drinking some Coffee, but I couldn’t tell the taste or aroma.

【I know that you have been tasked by my father to collect the Alekhin Chess pieces.】

I couldn’t understand what he was saying.

【… What?】

【Don’t play dumb, I have investigated you. There are no records of your birth in this city, you took over this shop suddenly one day, and ran a strange eatery. Your past is a mystery, but your Chess is top notch… That’s too suspicious.】

【Erm, I don’t understand what you mean.】

【It’s useless. I know my father had visited this shop.】

This might sound ridiculous, but the person before me— Caires-san, has a big misunderstanding.

【Please wait, I don’t recall that happening.】

【… I see. What price did my father offer you? Status, money, or woman? I can arrange for all that, so hand over the Alekhin Chess pieces.】

Why should I negotiate over something I had no recollection of? What a pain. How did it come to this?

No, the situation was obvious. Aina’s grandfather was collecting the Alekhin Chess pieces. I already knew that, and Doddo already asked me for a favor. So that information should be correct.

In the end, only the youth known as 『Noble-sama』 and me held the pieces. I thought that youth was working for Aina’s grandfather.

However, he was actually working for Caires-san, who was seated before me. There were only two people who wanted the pieces. One was Caires-san, so the other was definitely the grandfather.

Since the youth was acting at the behest of Caires-san, it would be strange if I wasn’t collecting the pieces for Aina’s grandfather.

It was understandable for Caires-san to suspect me. But the problem was, I had no clue about this.

Unable to explain, I nursed my temple troublingly. Even if I proclaim my ignorance, I couldn’t prove it. Even I was thinking that way, so it was natural for Caires-san to do so.

【I won’t go back if you don’t give me the Chess pieces.】

He said seriously. This person was probably a man of his words.

But wait, I suddenly realized something.

I was asked to not give the pieces to grandfather, but nothing about Caires-san. Why was Caires-san collecting the pieces?

【Erm, why are you collecting the Chess pieces?】

【None of your business.】

I asked directly, but didn’t get an answer. That was to be expected though. Then I couldn’t give it to him easily. Maybe Caires-san wanted Aina’s marriage to proceed.

Caires-san glared at me with his arms crossed. I could only look back at him. Unable to make any progress, we remained at an impasse. This was no different from an endurance competition.

After going through all that, I had no plans of handing the pieces over.

It was the same for Caires-san. Mistaking me as the goon hired by grandfather, he had no plans to tell me about the matters of his family.

There couldn’t be any progress unless one side gave up.

I thought this would take a long time when the door chime broke the balance.

【Dear Father!】

Aina cried. Her shoulders were heaving as she walked in with ragged breath. Doddo or someone probably told her about Caires-san coming here, so she rushed over in a hurry.

【W-Why are you here… Ughh.】

Caires-san answered Aina, completely unfazed.

【You don’t need to know. Stand down.】

【But this person has nothing to do with this.】

She said in a strong tone, and Caires-san looked her way.

【No matter what you think, he has half of Alekhin’s Chess pieces. There is no way he isn’t involved.】

【About that, I’m the one who requested him.】


【Yes.】 Aina replied. 【I heard grandfather is engrossed about collecting the Chess set.】

【I see. You think the marriage will be called off if he didn’t collect the all the pieces, right?】

Aina bit her lips and nodded lightly.

【You are a terrible judge of people. The people you use will become your strength. That’s how a Noble is. How can you not see the true nature of someone in your employ.】 He narrowed his eyes and stared at Aina. 【This man is moving on your grandfather’s orders. You trusted the wrong man.】

Aina looked at me with her eyes wide open. We locked gazes. Before I could deny that allegation, Aina said:

【That is a misunderstanding, Dear Father. He isn’t working for grandfather.】

【What are you basing that off? I will be disappointed if your decisions are swayed by your emotions.】

【That’s because, he is my friend.】

Her voice was loud and clear. Aina stood there stoically, her unwavering faith made me feel a little bad.


An icy response.

【There are people who betrays their friends everywhere. That is not a reason to believe him.】

【Someone you wouldn’t mind betraying you is a true friend, right?】

Caires-san snorted.

【This isn’t a line from a story. Listen, Ainaleila, stories are stories because they don’t exist in this world. If not, no one will be drawn to them.】

【I don’t think I can reach an agreement with you about stories, Dear Father. Speaking of which, why are you collecting Alekhin’s Chess pieces, Dear Father?】

For the first time since I met him, Caires-san's eyes wavered.

【… Personal interest.】

【No way.】

That excuse sounded really forced, and I interjected on reflex. Caires-san looked at me with a sharp gaze of a demon.

【I always wanted to get Alekhin’s Chess pieces, and was just using this chance to collect them. There is no other reason.】

【That sounds so fake……】

【What did you just say?】

【N-No, nothing.】

I felt like a frog in front of a snake. I averted my face. This person has a really intense glare.

【Could it be…】

Aina said softly.

【It’s for my marriage?】

【Nonsense. Me, collecting the pieces to cancel your marriage? Unbelievable.】

【I didn’t say that, Dear Father】

Aina looked speechless.

The panicking Caires-san was gritting his teeth.

【Dear Father, I thought you agree with grandfather’s marriage suggestion.】

【… There’s no way I will agree with something that came up on a whim. It must be some stupid reason anyway. I will decide your marriage partner, I won’t let others interfere.】

His tone was firm. He must be collecting the pieces to stop Aina’s marriage. But practically speaking, the only thing that changed was the timing and who she would marry, Aina still didn’t have any choice.

I looked at Aina. She was expressionless, and had already given up.

【Alright, hand it over. Or you want to have a match in Chess?】

Caires-san said while still staring at me.

【Before that, can I ask Aina something?】

I didn’t have any reason to interfere. This was a family matter. But I couldn’t stay silent.

【What do you want to ask? There’s nothing more to say.】

I looked at Aina. She was standing there with her head bowed, showing no intention of speaking.

【… Is this something that has to be done so fast? Withdrawing from school or getting married after graduating, is it that urgent?】

【That’s the happiness of a woman.】 Caires-san said firmly. 【I will find a groom worthy of Ainaleila.】

【Will she be happy just with that?】

【This is for Ainaleila’s sake.】

That pissed me off a little. But now wasn’t the time to get hung up over it.

【Isn’t pursuing your dream a way to achieve happiness?】

【Dream?】 Caires-san laughed. 【Only kids are allowed to dream. And writing stories is just nonsense.】

Why, I almost blurted out, but held it in.

【What’s the use of writing stories? Instead of facing life head on, escaping into an ideal world of your imagination, and hiding there until you die? Dreams are just excuses.】

I couldn’t say anything. Only someone who only had their eyes on reality could say that. The people in stories had souls too… I wanted to say that, but understood that it was too shallow.

【—— Yes, it might be escapism.】

Aina said.

【But that’s all. It’s true that I enjoy stories with that in mind. I thought about casting aside the chains of a Noble and go on an adventure. If I was braver, if I took action, and if I was stronger, maybe my life would be more vibrant. I always liked this kind of thing.】

Aina raised her head. This wasn’t the Noble Young Lady Aina, but Aina, the girl.

【I planned to live as a Noble lady. This is a given since my birth. I had never thought that I can change my way of life, and think that is only possible for the protagonist in stories.】

Aina continued. She clenched her fists tightly.

【This might be obvious, but a woman proved that isn’t true. A commoner attending a school for Nobles, working harder than anyone and not losing to any Nobles… She is the only one who did it. Her figure and her way of life made me realize. Maybe life has more freedom than I imagined. Maybe there are more choices.】

Oh I see, I get it now.

Aina was so obsessed with Linaria not just because of her preference, but also admiration. She chose her own path and walked it proudly, and Aina couldn’t help being drawn in by that. Linaria was like the personification of her ideal.

【Story might be escapism. But maybe that is something I want to do. A world where I can live freely, where I can make my own choices. So I won’t give up on stories just because you deem them as nonsense.】

Only Aina’s hard breathing could be heard in the quiet shop. Her deep passion made me grind my teeth.

【I see, then write it then.】 Caires-san said. 【You can write stories after you marry, do what you want.】

Aina didn’t say anything and just hung her jaw— the air lost its tension and she lowered her head. Her lips were trembling. I already expected this answer, so I answered before she could.

【As expected, it didn’t work, Aina. I already told you it’s impossible to convince him.】

Aina looked at me puzzledly.

Caires-san did the same. If possible, I wanted to see my own face right now too.


I spoke.

Actually, what?

Did I have something to say?

Nothing. I just made a sound.

I said something to stop Aina from answering. I didn’t have anything to say and turned things around.

Let’s make one up then. That was it. From the situation so far, let’s make something up.

That wasn’t a lie. A delusion of what I wished. A story.

Just like how the Chess pieces were linked with each move. I formed the core of the story in my mind. Before I could confirm it’s veracity, my mouth moved on its own.

【The marriage partner chosen by grandfather, is me.】

【… What did you say?】

Caires-san’s eyes turned even sharper. Aina’s mouth was agape in shock.

【After Aina marries me, she will help me run the shop and work on writing her novel. She will give up on being a Noble. After discussing this with grandfather, he said he will consider it if I collect all the Alekhin Chess pieces.】

I was seen as the person collecting the pieces on behalf of grandfather. I would make use of this fact, and push the responsibility to someone who wasn’t here.

【You mentioned that grandfather often visits this shop, right? It’s because he admires me.】

【Admire you? What’s there to admire?】

Well… Character wouldn’t do. Appearance wasn’t convincing. I was too average. But there definitely was something. A reason that grandfather would acknowledge this matrimony, something that Caires-san would believe— Got it.

【He admires my Chess skills.】

Caires-san furrowed his brows. He didn’t refute it. It might be possible if it was that person— that was the face he was making.

Aina’s grandfather was the Dragon Chess Saint. So he must have had a side concerning Chess that normal people couldn’t judge. If he wasn’t so crazy, he couldn’t have climbed to the top.

【Because grandfather admires my skills, he challenged me to collect Alekhin’s Chess pieces. And why I’m sitting before you right now.】

Caires groaned with a serious face.

He didn’t completely believe me, but couldn’t dismiss it as a lie either. It was a fact that I collected the pieces with my Chess skills. It was hard to gauge which part was a lie. And now, I could predict his actions.

【Ainaleila! Is what this man is saying the truth?】

He suppressed his emotions and turned to the side, and Aina’s shoulders twitched in surprise. Unsure what to say, her gaze met mine. I blinked clumsily to convey something, and Aina nodded, despite looking confused.

【I-It’s true, Dear Father】

A growl like a wolf came from his throat. Caires-san glared at me, his gaze so intense that my back was shivering. I wanted to flee in fear, but my mouth started moving on its own.

【However, Aina wants to tell you properly, Caires-san. She wants you to understand her dreams. And she doesn’t want to avoid the obligations of a Noble either. So last night, I discussed it with that youth and asked him for a favour. I asked him not to tell you the details, and to call you over. He readily agreed.】

I dragged that blonde youth in. With no way to determine the truth, he couldn’t tell if I was lying. If the lie couldn’t be exposed, it wasn’t really a lie.

Caires-san turned red immediately. He was obviously enraged. His blood pressure was rising and his face was flushed.

I set my fears aside after coming so far. My heart was pounding and my head was heating up. I didn’t stop choosing the words to say:

【Since Caires-san thinks so… and won’t acknowledge Aina’s dreams, and wants to force her to marry a partner you chose, then regretfully…】

I smiled and tried to agitate him as much as possible.

【—— I will take Aina then, Father.】


The air froze.

Caires-san’s emotionless face suddenly paled. As if all the blood in his face had been drained. My words had more impact than I thought.

I gulped in the tense air that pricked at my skin.

The sound was really clear.

【Very well then.】

Caires-san said with an even tone.

【Since times of old, there are times when commoners and Nobles, or Nobles and Nobles would duel. And now, I, a Noble challenge you, a commoner, to a duel.】

It was finally here. My hands trembled.

I had been waiting for this.

【Ainaleila. There’s a pouch with a Chess set in the carriage outside. Bring it here.】

【D-Dear Father】

Aina was troubled, she wasn’t expecting things to be heading in that direction.


Caires said with his eyes right on me. His lips didn’t move much at all. I didn’t avert my eyes too. I was worried about Aina who was peeking at me, but I couldn’t react.

After a sigh of resignation, her footsteps went into the distance, followed by the door chime. As if he was waiting for Aina to go out, Caires-san said:

【You get it right? If you lose, I won’t ask for your life, but you must disappear from my daughter’s face. Get out of this city.】

Really now… Why were Nobles and people with powers like this. Extreme, arrogant, and wanted everything to go as they wished.

Disappear from this City?

Fine by me.

【I understand. If you lose, please respect Aina’s choice and let her pursue her dream and choose her marriage partner. If she wants to go on an adventurer with a sword, let her go too.】

【What nonsense. That’s out of the question. Why should I stay silent if I know my child will face misfortune?】

【Well, that’s how it is.】

Caires-san turned silent at my firm voice, and his gaze grew more intense.

【You can’t win a match without the resolve of losing Chess pieces. It’s the same with life. If you don’t act out of fear of failure, then your dreams won’t be realized. Aina wants to make that choice. With the freedom to challenge themselves, she will stand to gain whether she succeeds or not.】

A scene suddenly flashed across my mind.

On that day in summer, I paid Aina for helping me out in the store because of the huge influx of tourists. The money was trivial to a Noble, but Aina was smiling really happily.

【I am her father.】 Caires-san said: 【Are you asking a father to abandon his child? We are not like birds who will kill their young.】

【Isn’t it normal for fledglings to leave their parent’s nest when their wings are developed?】

The door chimed again. Aina brought the pouch right to the table. Caires-san took it, and looked at Aina.

【… Alright then. Ainaleila, sit over there.】


【This is the moment where your life is decided. You can’t be a bystander. You have to watch carefully how your choices will affect the lives of others.】


Aina looked at me, asking me to explain. I shook my head. I had nothing more to add.

Caires-san opened the pouch and placed a Chess board on the table. He then set up the pieces, with empty spaces on both the black and white sides.

【Bring out the rest of the Alekhin pieces. This is the best place to use them.】


This was a beautiful scene. Each of the Chess pieces were a work of art. With all of them set up like this, there seemed to be magic that sucked in your soul.

After picking up two Pawns, Caires-san held them in his hands. He then reached out his right hand.

I looked at Aina. The seated Aina said hesitatingly.

【… White.】

Caires-san opened his palm. A white Pawn. Our side would be using White. After returning the Pawns back to their position, Caires-san stared at me. His face was turned slightly to the front, where Aina was seated.

【Is this really fine?】

She was implying that it would affect my life too.

【You said you don’t want to just be a bystander.】

【That’s true, but like what Father said, even if it’s just the opening, I will just get in your way…】

Aina said with unease.

【Aina, you think you can’t win, right?】

【M-My opponent is Dear Father after all. Grandfather taught him personally, and he is famous in the Noble circles—】

【Do you want to give up?】

Aina stopped talking.

【Will you give up if someone tells you it’s impossible? Then give up here. If you will give up on your dreams just from this much, then you are better off not putting in the effort in the first place.】

It’s meaningless if I just win against Caires-san. It would only mean something if Aina chose to fight on her own. She needed to tell her father who had decided her entire life and protected her dearly, that her wings were full. This was more important than the results.

Aina was confused. She didn’t know if her choice was correct. Maybe her dreams would be dashed mid way. She bit her lips hard.

Despite that, she still raised her head. She looked at me intensely, then nodded firmly. She faced the board and picked up a Pawn. Her first move was e4


Caires-san didn’t move, looking at Aina’s eyes to discern her intentions. Finally, he uncrossed his arms and moved his Knight to f6. Aina’s confusion was clear.

In this era that favours quick attacks, moving your Knight first was abnormal. Since the main trend was to push the Pawn as quickly as possible, this was clearly a slower move.


I looked over, and Caires-san looked back at me.

She seemed to be asking if I knew the meaning behind this move.

This move reminded me of a great Chess player. Known as the 【Poet of the Chessboard】, he was unmatched in the artistic realm of Chess, and favoured that move.

If Aina underestimated this move and proceeded without any defences, she would be put in a tough spot later.

Aina seemed troubled, but thinking it was still the opening, she continued pushing her Pawns.

The rhythm of the match had been set.

Caires-san moved without hesitation, while Aina fell into deep thought. When she made a move, Caires-san responded without any hesitation.

The time Aina spent thinking got longer. With each move, the board became more complicated. The fatigue in Aina’s eyes grew proportionately greater. Playing Chess was exhausting to your mind and body. The burden was even greater in this situation.

Caires-san pushed on calmly. Another strong move. Any mistake and the situation would become worst.

Aina knew that too, and had a serious look. She leaned forward and stared at the board, trying to find an answer. Aina’s forehead was covered in sweat.

【What’s wrong, Ainaleila. Make your move. But don’t make the wrong move. If you lose, that man beside you will disappear from this city.】

Aina looked at me in shock.

【If you win, I will give you the time to pursue your dreams. This has been decided. Do you understand, Ainaleila? Your choice will affect the life of another person. That’s the responsibility of those in power.】

Aina looked at me.

I nodded, and her face twisted. She glared at the board with tightly pursed lips and shook her head.

【I-I… Can’t. Things like dreams are just…】

【Aina. Make your move.】

Aina shook her head as she looked at me. She kept shaking like a stubborn child.

【I can’t. Your life will be changed. My dream isn’t worth that much.】

Her voice was hoarse. Her brows and eyes were drooping, and she was on the verge of tears.

I took a deep breath and tried my best to smile.

【Actually, there’s one thing that is pissing me off.】

I put my hand over Aina’s hand and held on tight. Her hand was ice cold.

【Aina asked me to not hand over the Knight. Doddo asked me to just buy time too. Just to stall for as much time as possible, instead of asking me to win.】

I looked deep into Aina’s eyes, and said to her:

【Before the match even starts, don’t decide that I will lose. That really pissed me off.】

Aina stared with her eyes wide open, then her face turned into a smile.

【You are right. That was rude of me.】

【Indeed. If you want to ask a boy for something, then ask them to win for you. You need to say that much. Isn’t it the same for stories? It wouldn’t be cool otherwise.】

Aina nodded in agreement. Her eyes were narrowing into a curve between her brows and cheeks. Her lips were trembling, and her face was unsightly. It wasn’t an elegant or strong willed look. It was the original face of a girl. I was here for her and her dreams. I could feel that clearly.

【Aina, choose. Make the next move to decide your life. You don’t have to think of the correct answer. Choose on your own, and make your next move with resolve. That’s the most important thing. Can you do that?】

Aina nodded.

【Just one move. It’s fine even if you make a mistake. Then leave the rest to me. I will win.】

Tears rolled down Aina’s cheeks.

She nodded with no regards for her tears, then reached to the board with trembling fingers. Unsure if she was right, she picked up a piece despite being troubled, and made a move of her own volition

【Well done.】

I wiped away Aina’s tear from her cheek, patted her beret, then sat on the chair.

【Leave the rest to me.】

【… Hmmp.】

Caires-san closed his eyes and grit his teeth. He then looked right at me.

【This is a duel, so I won’t hold back. This is my obligation as a Noble.】


Caires-san studied the Chessboard, staring at the move Aina made. I understood what he meant.

That move was a blunder. But so what? Aina chose that move on her own, and the result would be up to me.

【Do you still think you can win?】

I shook my head.

【I will win because I have to. Isn’t that all?】

【That’s just being cocky. You still don’t understand reality.】

Caires-san made a move. He punished that blunder mercilessly. It was heart wrenching. Normally, I would have lost all hope of winning. I would think about forcing a draw, and move to avoid losing.

But this time, I craved victory.

Not just for the girl beside me, but for myself too. I wanted to win, to give meaning to my existence in this world.

I checked the clock on the wall. It was almost time to send Linaria off. I closed my eyes.

【Given up?】

I heard that voice.

If I chose one side, then I had to give up on the other. That was what a choice was.

I opened my eyes and stared at Caires-san.

【That’s my line—— you are a hundred years too early to win against me.】

I picked up a Chess piece. I could think of countless choices in just this one game. I chose one move and made it. I discarded the other possibilities, and chose this move.


I was completely late. I knew I wouldn’t make it in time.

Despite that, I didn’t just sit on the stool, and started sprinting down the road.

Night had fallen. There was people everywhere, and I would bump into people when I make my way through the crowd. Leaving the grumbles behind me, I kept running.

I could finally see the Academy. The gate was shut. A middle aged man who seemed to be a guard looked at me in surprise as I ran with ragged breath.

I stood still, and my heart seemed to be screaming. I couldn’t steady my heavy breathing. I had so many things I wanted to say, but I couldn’t speak properly. My hands rested on my knees and I suppressed the urge to sit down on the spot.

【What’s wrong, are you alright?】

The guard walked over.

I couldn’t answer immediately, and kept breathing heavily. Finally, I raised my head.


My voice was hoarse. I tried to push down my sticky saliva.

【Has the carriage, left?】

【Carriage?】 The old man reached for his hat. 【Oh, the one headed for Fortuna, huh. You must be Yuu-kun.】

I looked at the middle aged man on reflex when he called out my name. Had I met him somewhere?

The middle aged man reached into his pocket and took out a quarter folded paper.

【A red haired girl left this with me. She said if a frail black haired boy ran over in a panic, I should hand it to him. She told me to punch him if he was calm and collected, but that seems unnecessary.】

My face cramped when I heard those words that sounded just like Linaria. I couldn’t brush this off like a joke, and took the paper timidly.

【That child waited a long time for you. Something must have cropped up for you, but you should still apologize to her.】

I could only nod.

I watched the guard walk away, and opened the paper.

It was Linaria’s handwriting. There was a big and simple word on it, followed by small words below.

Thinking back on what I had been studying, I confirmed the words. Linaria knew I couldn’t read, so she wrote in very simple terms.

—— Stupid. I’m going.

That was all.

I held the paper and looked up into the sky.

I sat down onto the ground as if I had gotten tired of standing.

That wasn’t all, I even spread my arms after lying down. I looked at the boundless night sky. It was cloudy, so I couldn’t see any stars. The cold pavement cooled my back that was wet from sweat.

I could hear footsteps. The guard was peeking at my face.

【You look really suspicious now. Well, I will pretend I didn’t see that for now.】

【… Thank you.】


Nortri, who was before the hearth, had a blissful sleeping face as if it was spring. Her body was relaxing against a giant cushion, and her tail would sway occasionally. She skipped school today too.

It had gotten really cold. All my regulars said that winter was coming. It seemed that autumn had already passed.

The shop was empty before evening. Only the Elf big sister was reading a book in a corner, and the two old men were playing Chess.

I approached the old men, and the narrow-faced old man smiled cheerfully.

【Yo, Shopkeeper, taking a break?】

I nodded.

The situation on the board was in the narrow-faced old man’s favour. I smiled.

【Oh, is it that interesting?】

【It’s strange that I didn’t realize all this time. You never moved that Rook, and is using that as a handicap.】


I continued with my eyes on him.

【Thinking back, you first came to this shop the day after I got Alekhin’s Knight. When you were playing Chess, the youth muttered softly after looking at your board. You asked me what I thought about that move. That was strange, but I know your strength now. You are intentionally looking weak, and it’s the same situation here. You also know that I can play Chess. Not many of my regulars know I play Chess. How did you know?】

Hoho, the narrow-faced old man laughed. He then clapped softly.

【I’m finally exposed.】

【You have been waiting all this time, huh.】

The round-faced old man said in a steady tone unlike before, then stood up. He bowed deeply my way before leaving the shop.

【He is actually my attendant. He joined a touring troupe in the past. His acting is great, isn’t it?】

His cheerful attitude had a hint of arrogance. Unlike a kind old man who had retired, he felt like someone used to others following his orders.

【You must be Aina’s grandfather.】

The old man squinted his eyes in a smile.

【That’s right, my granddaughter has been in your care. My son caused you trouble too, since he is a silly father.】

His calm demeanor made it hard for me to keep up. I was about to speak when…

【Anyway, please take a seat.】

He gestured at a chair.

I was a bit confused, but still sat down where the round-faced old man was just sitting.

【So, where should I start.】

The old man crossed his fingers on top of his belly, then slowly leaned back.

【… What’s your goal for planning something like this?】

【Oh ho, straight to the point. You have the right to know, of course.】

He narrowed his eyes.

【To be honest, my goal is to dote on my cute granddaughter.】

【By doting on her, you mean bringing up the fake marriage arrangements?】

【It’s not strange for things to turn out like this sometimes.】 He laughed cheerfully. 【I knew my son had been searching for a suitable partner for Ainaleila. He loves Ainaleila a lot, and would do anything for her.】

As I suspected. That was the thing that bothered me when I was speaking with Caires-san. He was too concerned about Aina, that was why he was so stern.

【Deciding the marriage partner of your children is something only done in the past. The status of Nobles and commoners would change with the times, he is too stubborn about this. However, Ainaleila still followed his words without complaints. That child grew up without thinking or choosing about her way of life. She had been given the correct answer one sidedly.】

The old man smiled.

【One day, that child changed and smiled a lot. She would chat with me every time she saw me. She became friends with a girl she admires, and tells me about a strange shop opened by a youth… that’s probably you. Some time ago, that child confessed to me that she wants to write stories.】

【How did that lead to her marriage?】

【This will need some explanation.】 The old man then raised his index finger. 【First, even if I bring up a marriage, Caires will oppose it. Which means, this marriage is impossible from the start.】


【But if I forced the issue, he had to agree on the surface. Caires is very stubborn and placed great importance on the customs of Nobles. I might have raised him to be too serious. So I added the element of the Alekhin Chess pieces, knowing he would make use of them.】

【As I thought, the Alekhin Chess pieces is your scheme, huh?】

【It’s really easy to lend them out. It works great during times like this.】

【The guy who came to my shop with the very first Alekhin’s Knight too?】

The old man smiled happily.

The answer was obvious from his face.

【If I told him I was engrossed in collecting the Alekhin pieces, Caires would definitely collect them and use them to negotiate with me. Ainaleila would need to face this reality with the limited time she had, and I want to know what kind of decision she would make. It was fine for her to pursue her dreams or live on as a Noble. In any case, the marriage would be canceled when Caires collects all the pieces… That was my plan.】

I couldn’t help sighing after hearing that.

I felt speechless that everything I did was meaningless.

【It went beyond my expectations. That’s right, you are a piece I added to the board to just buy time. No matter who Caires sends out, he would be a top level player, and could easily collect the pieces spread out amongst the commoners. So I needed people of a certain level to obstruct them. I often heard about you from Ainaleila, and an acquaintance also complimented your skills too. I thought this would be a good chance to get to know you… To think you’re really a hidden dragon.】

All this felt ridiculous, and more importantly, I was played like a fiddle. Everything was in the grasped of this old man. We were just pieces on a Chess board.

【But I never expected Caires to lose. He didn’t tell me the Chess Notation for it. How did the match go?】

The old man leaned forth with sparkling eyes.

I scratched my head, then reset the pieces on the board.

【All's well that ends well… That only works in tales. I simply don’t like the way you did things.】


【Aina was suffering in tears, and I was rushing around like a fool, but forget all that. This is just me venting. Because of your roundabout way of doing things, I didn’t make it in time to bid Linaria farewell.】

【What are you going to do about it?】

Seeing his expectant face, I gave the answer he wanted.

【Let’s decide it through Chess.】

The next day, Aina and Doddo came to the shop. Doddo was holding something very long. I asked Aina who was blushing and squirming.

【What is that?】

【Oh, this.】

In response to Aina’s gaze, Doddo setup the thing. By combining rods of various lengths, an object like a withered tree with protruding branches stood there. It looked weird.

【This is a coat hanger hand made by Alekhin.】

【Ohh… Alekhin, huh.】

This name only brought up bitter memories. My feelings must be showing on my face, since Aina suddenly shirked away.

【Well, my grandfather caused you a lot of trouble… I just learned the truth last night.】

【It’s fine, don’t mind it.】

There wasn’t any need to blame anyone, and it wouldn’t make anyone feel better. Laughing it off was the best solution.

Aina peeked at my face.

【My father is reflecting on it too. Erm, he’s sorry for having a duel because of a misunderstanding. So he took this out of his collection as a gift for you.】

【I see, then I will happily accept this. I wanted a coat hanger any way. This matches the style of this shop too.】

【Isn’t that right!? I chose it!】

Aina said with her chest puffed out. She then started to explain and gestured at what made it so valuable.

After things had calmed down, things were the same as always. Or rather, there never was an issue from the start. The incident that started with the Knight ended with me getting a weirdly shaped coat hanger and my life staying the same and unchanging.

【Are you listening, Yuu-san!?】

But I had no problems with that after seeing the energetic face of the girl before me.

【I’m listening. You are talking about the artistic style of this weird coat hanger, right?】

【No, look at this properly. This shape is planned perfectly by Alekhin.】

Behind Aina who was explaining passionately, Doddo was smiling faintly. This was rare for her. She straightened her posture after meeting my eyes, then bowed deeply. She then raised her head and said with a smile:

【The master would like to formally invite Yuu-sama to the mansion as a guest.】

Aina stopped speaking for a moment. Her face was a perfect shade of crimson, like a red leaf. I never thought I could see the last vestiges of autumn here.

I looked up at the ceiling, exhaled, then answered with a smile.

【I appreciate the thought, but no thanks.】

What do you mean by that, Aina yelled. I fudged it over vaguely. Aina had gotten really expressive. That was a good thing, but I would rather not visit the home of a Noble.

The door chimed at this moment. The one who entered was the Bird Tribe man who delivered Tize’s letter some time ago.

【Safe, sure and swift, we will accept any courier request. I’m a courier from the Eagle Wind Courier company. My apologies for taking so long before visiting again.】

The man who walked passed Doddo to the counter looked at Aina and me.

【Oh, my apologies. Am I interrupting something?】

【Not at all, you are a big help.】

【Big help? What do you mean by that, Yuu-san?】

Aina was glaring at me with her eyebrows raised.


I raised my hands in surrender, then turned to the Eagle Wind courier. My letter wasn’t ready yet. I didn’t make any progress because of the Chess incident, and I didn’t ask Aina to help me write a reply.

【I’m sorry, I haven’t written the letter yet. Can I give a verbal reply?】

The man smiled when he heard that, and nodded.

【Passing messages were our jobs in the past.】

【That’s great. Well then.】

I thought for a moment.

【The reply letter will take some time, but I will send one properly, so please wait for it. And also, I am looking forward to meeting again in Spring. Can I count on you?】

【I have received the message.】

With a nod, the man spreads his wings.

【It’s no problem, Spring will be coming soon.】

I nodded with a smile.

【Yes, winter will be a fine season too. It definitely will be.】

The Letter from Tize

Yuu-san, have you been well? I’m doing fine here. I hope I’m not bothering you with my letter. I apologize if I am. But I wanted to write to you no matter what.

I’m in the capital right now. It’s a noisy city with lots of people. Thinking there would be Indecent people gathered somewhere here, I slipped out at night, but got caught by Claire. What a shame.

I still remember that day when I sang with everyone in the Indecent Alliance at Yuu-san’s shop.

My grandmother smiles often now. We went to a garden yesterday, and watched the performance of a traveling troupe. I heard they are traveling around the world, that’s amazing. The drama they performed is great, and I almost cried. I hope Yuu-san can see it too.

Sorry for getting off track. I have so much to tell you, Yuu-san. If you don’t mind, can I continue to write you?

I will be getting on stage tomorrow. I want to muster my courage, so I wrote you this letter. Yuu-san is always helping me, so let me repay the favour. I can do anything within my means.

Erm, is there anything I can do for you? But it is wrong to ask it like this. My apologies.

But, if you think of anything, please don’t hold back and ask. I will work hard.

It is starting to get cold, please keep yourself warm. I want to visit your shop in Spring. I want to drink Coffee again. It’s a little far, but I will always remember singing inside Yuu-san’s shop.

I will write again. You don’t have to reply, but I will be very happy if you write me one…

That’s all for now, please take care of yourself.


Letter From Phyllis

Since Tize wrote this letter with a smile, I can’t stop her. There will be a return letter, right?

However, Tize is a honest child, so don’t tell her anything stupid.

If your reply is too slow… You know, right?


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