Saturday, February 12, 2022

Have a Cup of Coffee after School in the Fantasy World Café V6 (4 of 7)


Translator: Skythewood

Editor: Hiiro


I decided to close in the morning. I needed to shop for ingredients in the market for Linaria’s party. I could ask Falluba-san to watch the shop for me, but decided not to rely on others too much. Besides, he didn’t come back either. Where did he go?

Snow was piling on the streets today too, but I could see the pavement on the sidewalks. The snow near the streets had been dyed in a mix of brown and black, giving off a lively vibe.

The crowd density grew as I got closer to the market. They called this place the heart of the city, and you could find anything you wanted here.

The stalls along the streets were prominent. They came in all sorts of color, shape and sizes, since the race and culture of the stall owners were different. There were stalls squeezed between those stalls, with just a carpet or board laid out. They could keep their wares in case of rain or snow, but there were people with piles of merchandise. I felt worried just looking at them.

I couldn’t spare the effort to worry about others when I went in further. The streets were filled with customers shopping for goods, and I could only squeeze past the crowd.

There was something big bulging ahead, a roof that could cover the plaza. I went closer, and could see that the structure was held up by planks and bamboo. The top was covered with brown cloth, but it had been mended or modified many times. The colorful patches made the roof really prominent.

It was surprisingly dark under the roof. It covered too wide an area, so the light couldn’t shine in.

The cloth didn’t completely keep out the light, but it wasn’t enough since I had grown used to the light outside. After my eyes got used to it, it wasn’t so bad. There were lights everywhere, not just from mana stones, but also a bonfire made with a large iron basin and logs.

I was surrounded by people right after walking in. A four legged creature was skewered and grilled on top of the fire. It was larger than a cow, and had a tail as long as a lizard. There were handles at the end of the stick skewering the creature, and two beefy beastmen were turning it. Their torsos were bare despite it being winter, and they were even sweating.

【Have a look, have a look! An entire roasted Tipo! You can’t eat this in any other shops! This is just the right thing to welcome the new year! We are having a bargain sale! Just one silver coin for one plate! One silver coin!】

【That’s the same price as usual!】

【That’s right!】

When the small sized man said that, the crowd that gathered started booing. The man rubbed his thinning hair, and showed a troubled face.

【Even if you say that, one silver coin is a very thin margin already.】

【It will be worst if you can’t sell any!】

【If it’s one silver coin per plate, it’s tough for us too! Isn’t that right?】

That voice from earlier seeked out others to agree with him. The people around him backed him up, saying 【that’s right.】

【Alright, alright. What do you suggest then?】

【At least two plates for one silver coin!】

【Two plates for one silver coin!】

The Shopkeeper opened his eyes wide.

【We can’t bring food to our tables with that!】

【But we will get to eat a good meal!】

Laughter erupted after that.

Shopkeeper looked at the gathered crowd, then raised his hands up:

【One silver coin for a large serving of meat! This is my best offer!】

【Can’t be helped, I will let you off this time! Give me a plate! Make it a big one, of course!】

The customers then loudly placed their orders. A woman holding a knife approached the meat and shaved it onto a plate.

【Pisker will make more money if he joins a troupe. He even inserted a ringer into the crowd.】

【He doesn't get tired of this skit. I can respect that, but I won’t buy though.】

【Of course, it’s dubious whether it’s really Tipo in the first place.】

I heard that conversation behind me. They were suspecting that scene to be scripted.

I crooked my neck to search for the shop owner. He was standing by the side, seeing the sales come in with a smile.

Hmm, the people behind me might be speaking the truth. How dangerous.

I kept the wallet I took out and mixed into the crowd.

This wasn’t a place I visit often, so everything looked new to me. I didn’t need to worry about the weather with the roof, so all the stalls laid out their wares, with a large quantity and variety of merchandise.

In the fried food specialty shop, soup in pots were lined up in a row, along with plates piled with salad and fruits. I could see food wherever I looked. Eating was the biggest entertainment in this world. I forgot about my goal of finding ingredients, and browsed the stalls to buy food.


A cry came from somewhere. I immediately pressed against the wallet in the breast pocket of my coat. I felt relieved since it was still there. I bought more money than usual in order to purchase the ingredients. There were a lot of people too, so I had to be wary of pickpockets.

【Ah, sorry.】

I bumped into a woman walking my way because I was lost in my thoughts. She immediately moved past me. I patted my chest.

【I fell for it…!】

The wallet was moving. I turned back quickly, and could only see that woman’s back in the distance. I wanted to give chase, but couldn’t move because there were too many people. I could only bite my lips weakly.

At this moment, I saw a familiar face in front of that woman. That person tapped the woman’s shoulder, then walked towards me as if the crowd wasn’t in the way.

【Let’s go to the side.】

【Oh, okay.】

Granny Bonnie gestured with her chin and walked over. Her back grew further away. She was really good at meandering through the crowd. I was thinking I would lose her when she stopped. It was the alley behind the line of stalls, with crates piled up along the walls. There were much fewer people here, and I felt relieved.

When I reached Granny Bonnie’s side, she tossed a small pouch over. I caught it, and realized it was my wallet.

【That yell made you check your wallet, right? Pickpockets look for their prey that way.】

【You got it back for me? Thank you.】

That was a big help. Granny Bonnie showed a feral smile, which didn’t match her graceful outfit.

【Because this is my job.】


【In places with crowds, there will be pickpockets looking to earn some change. And I will return the money they picked.】

【I thought you were an indecent…】

I never thought she would help others.

【Well, when the owner is unknown, the money will line my pocket.】

Oh, that wasn’t a decent way of living. That’s good.

【Normally, I will keep 30% as commission, but I will waive it since we are both Indecents.】

She then pointed to a stall.

【Just treat me to lunch.】

【I thought you will tell me to not mind it.】

【Calling it even with a meal, or owing me one, which one do you prefer?】

【Please let me treat you to lunch, you can eat anything you wish.】

【You are too kind. Let’s go then.】

I followed the back of the lady walking with sure steps. There wasn’t any hesitation in her steps, so she must have had a place in mind.

She returned my wallet, so giving 30% to her as a reward was reasonable. However, if we went to a high class restaurant, the bill might end up more than 30% of my wallet. I needed to brace myself.

Granny Bonnie was swift, but would check back occasionally to make sure I was keeping up. After going around a corner, then another, the number of people decreased greatly. Even the light was getting weaker as we went down a dim and narrow alley. We were far from the bustle, and it didn’t feel safe.

【Granny Bonnie, this place is.】

I ran up and asked. Granny Bonnie glanced at me sideways, but she didn’t slow her pace.

【It’s a dark alley. When you want to find something, you should come here. But you shouldn’t come alone.】

【… Is it dangerous?】

I asked seriously, and Granny Bonnie smiled happily.

【I’m kidding, just kidding. In the past, dangerous wasn't enough of a descriptor. You won’t last five minutes.】

【In the past?】

【It’s safe now. It might look dirty and dark from the outside, but if you go in, you will find it more clear and orderly than outside, and the people there are more considerate too. It’s a comfortable place for those who had fallen through the cracks.】

【I see, it’s like a zone for the Indecents, huh.】

Even so, I shouldn't relax, and looked around me unconsciously.

【After Corleone took control, even children can play here. Although that made it less interesting for me.】

【Oh, Corleone-san, huh…】

I recalled the figure of the white hare in a black suit. He might look peaceful in the shop, but he was actually an incredible person. I realized that once again.

【Okay, we have reached, this is the place.】

There was a stall set up against the wall in an alley. This seemed to be where Granny Bonnie was headed. If possible, I wished she would tell me we were at the wrong place.

【Is it that place?】

【It has been opened for a long time, so it couldn’t be helped if it looked a little worn out.】

It was box shaped with wheels on either side, and handles in the front. However, if the cart was pulled, instead of moving, it would probably fall apart.

【Despite how it looks, the taste is the real thing.】

Granny Bonnie walked over naturally, but my steps were a little heavy. After getting closer, I could clearly see how worn down the stall was. It was made of wood, and signs of rot could be seen everywhere. The wheels were oval, and the entire stall looked slanted. A light push from the top might break the entire thing.

【Are you here? You have guests.】

Granny Bonnie didn’t get an answer. There wasn’t anyone at the stall. Tools like ladles and spatulas were hanging from the roof, there were also dried mushrooms, herbs and something like dried salamander. If there was a cauldron with dark oil inside, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a stall manned by a witch.

In this environment where the concept of hygiene didn’t seem to exist, I felt like asking to go back. I didn’t put that into action not because I changed my mind, but because the stallowner answered.

【… Welcome.】

There was a hoarse voice from the dark. A face suddenly appeared, and I stepped back in surprise.

【Anyone would be surprised by that on their first visit.】

Granny Bonnie laughed.

The stallowner grinned when he saw me.

【What a cute guy. I want to eat him.】

Croaking sound came from his throat: 【Just kidding.】

He seemed to be laughing. I was thinking about how to respond, then smiled vaguely.

The person before me had a big mouth and small eyes, just like a toad. His pudgy body had an apron so dirty that the original color was a mystery.

【Two portions please. I came out of the way to bring you a customer, so make it more delicious.】

【It’s been a long time since a young human visited. I will do my best even if you didn’t ask.】

With a croaking smile, the stallowner bent down. When he stood up, he had a piece of red meat in his hand. It seemed like the leg of some animal.

He placed the meat on the chopping board with smooth movements, then effortlessly swung his heavy chopper.

The meat was cut into large chunks with a thumping sound. The stall swayed. Another thump, and that was followed by a creaking sound.

【How uneasy…】

【You are still saying that? You’ll understand when you eat it.】

No, that wasn’t it. I was worried about the taste too, but the stall was on the verge of collapsing…

The stallowner picked up the meat with both hands and dropped them into the wok. The sizzling sound was loud. The oil seemed rather fresh, which made me feel a little better.

The stallowner stared at the oil without moving.

Granny Bonnie also stared inside the pot without a word. So I followed her lead.

Inside the dark and murky oil, the large chunks of meat were wobbling. The area near the bones were still red, but the surface was fried nicely, which stimulated my appetite.

The stallowner reached slowly for the spatula. He slowly turned the meat in the oil. The oil started sizzling again.

The stallowner put the spatula aside and bent down. He reached out his hand and pulled out two wooden plates. It was soaking wet, obviously unwiped.

He put the plates down, picked up one plate, and held the spatula in the other. He pushed both items near the wok, then nimbly flipped a piece of meat onto the plate. After doing the same with the other plate, he took the hanging ladle and removed the lid of a pot. A salty and sweet fragrance spread out. The stallowner stirred with his ladle, then scooped from the bottom of the pot and poured it on the meat.

【It’s done.】

He brought the plates over slowly. Granny Bonnie’s hands moved suddenly to take them.

The meat was fried into a nice golden brown, and was covered by a thick red sauce. I could see diced ingredients mixed inside.

After Granny Bonnie took the plates, she took out a fork from a holder hanging by the stall.

I stuck the fork into the meat, and juice spilled out easily. I tore a piece off and dipped it in the sauce. I then locked gaze with the stallowner. I couldn’t read his emotions from his non-human eyes.

【Erm, I’m digging in.】

The stallowner slowly nodded.

The first bite took a bit of courage. It was made in this environment after all, so I would naturally hesitate to put it in my mouth.

Even so, the aroma from the plate before me was too appetizing. I worked up my courage and opened my mouth, then took a small bite from the corner so I wouldn’t get burned. It was amazingly chewy, and the hot juices gushed out as my teeth sunk in. The outside was crispy and the inside was tender. I could feel the kick with every bite.

The sauce was in a league of its own too. It was probably made with a large variety of vegetables. The mixture left a deep impression, built around an enriching sweetness. My tongue turned numb because of the spice, but the sweetness of the sauce spread again. As the meat rolled in my mouth, the taste kept changing.

【… It’s delicious.】

【I told you so.】

Granny Bonnie said cockily.

【The city keeps changing, and high class restaurants and top rate shops are opening. They might boast about their food all day, but they can’t surpass this taste.】

【Hmm… That’s true.】

In the past, Corleone-san brought me to dine at various high class restaurants. They were delicious, but it didn’t have such a simple taste. This was a delicacy that was right in the strike zone, after removing all the frials.

【Erm, what meat is this?】

I asked the stallowner.



【That’s obviously a joke.】

This was the first time I heard a joke I couldn’t laugh at.

【It’s a bird called Beltoh from the Labyrinth. It is easily available in the dark alley, but a rare sight outside.】

I never heard that before.

I took another bite. It was really delicious, and I wanted to swallow it immediately and take another. This was the most delicious food I had eaten at a stall since I came to this world.

【This guy had been doing this for decades. The sauce and oil have a complex taste he inherited. It’s a simple dish, but no one can replicate this taste.】

Granny Bonnie said to me.

【First is the ingredient, second is heat control, third is seasoning, that’s all. Well, the sauce and oil are special though.】

The stallowner said with a croak.

【You haven’t changed ever since I first came here, how long can you live?】

【Who knows, but I will survive longer than you who have turned wrinkly.】

【Hah, what would you do if I died? You don’t have many customers, right?】

【I have a young customer here, so it’s fine.】

The stallowner said while pointing at me.

【I will want to frequent a place like this.】

It was finished in a blink of an eye. My stomach was bloated, but I still feel the urge to eat more. It took a lot of work to restrain myself.

Granny Bonnie was about done too. I returned the empty plate and took out my wallet.

【The bill hasn’t been paid yet, right? How much is it?】

【One gold coin.】


I couldn’t help wailing. The stallowner grinned and croaked in laughter.

【That’s a joke, of course. One silver coin for two plates.】

With this quantity and taste, it was a bargain.

【I have received the payment. Please come again.】

The stallowner slowly went back into the shade of the stall.

【… What an incredible stall.】

Be it the owner, the stall or the taste, all of that was incredible.

【Isn’t it interesting?】

Granny Bonnie started walking. I followed her, and turned back to check the stall before turning the corner. I thought to myself that I would come again.

We took a different way out. The surroundings got brighter, and I could hear the noise from the market. It felt like I just returned to a familiar world.

After turning another corner, the road turned bright. I could see the faces of the passersby. We had returned to the main road. Stopping here, Granny Bonnie turned back.

【You can go back from here, right? Thanks for the meal, I need to get back to work.】

【That’s my line, thank you very much for getting my wallet back.】

【With the bustling of the Nightless day, the pickpockets are getting ready to strike. Be careful.】

At this moment, I saw a familiar face passing by.


I found a person who said she would be camping out in the Labyrinth, and greeted her. Arbel-san turned back and looked at me, but didn’t stop.


【What’s wrong.】

【Nothing, I greeted a regular, but she just walked away.】

I could only quietly watch her disappear into the crowd.

【Maybe she didn’t notice.】

【I think our gazes met…】

【That means she hates you.】

【That’s not funny, so can you not say that?】

I wouldn’t be able to get over the heartache if that was true. I wanted to invite Arbel-san to the Nightless day party too… Sigh.

【Granny Bonnie, the Nightless day party you mention is on. Can you come?】

Granny Bonnie looked at me, impressed.

【You are decisive, kid. Even though there are people you need to invite before an old woman like me.】

【Don’t say that. I’m inviting someone older than you too, Granny Bonnie.】

【Who’s old? I’m still plenty young!】

【You said it first yourself?】

That’s enough with the jokes. I took out that piece of paper from my pocket. I kept it on me so I could invite any regular I ran into.

【Can you sign here to indicate your intent to participate?】

【Signature, huh. This is my first time doing this.】

She smiled troublingly, then signed smoothly.

【Thank you very much, please look forward to it.】

Granny Bonnie waved in response, and went into the crowd, and soon disappeared.

I perked myself up.

Paying attention to my wallet, I returned to the crowd too. I needed to prepare the ingredients for Linaria.

I walked with the crowd, but my mind was still on Arbel-san. She looked at me like I was a stranger. Did she really not notice me?

Chapter 5: Hypocritical Smile, Hypocritical End


After buying the ingredients at the market, I returned to the shop in the evening and found Falluba-san waiting with a couple. It was Aluff-san and Sophia-san. They were facing each other at the seat, and weren’t speaking. When the couple saw me enter, they seemed relieved.

【Erm… Welcome. Are you discussing something?】

【No, we are waiting for you. If I listen to the issue alone, they will need to repeat it another time to you.】

【Sorry for making you wait, I will get ready right now.】

I swiftly put the ingredients away into the fridge, and started the heater for the Coffee maker. I brewed Coffee and Cocoa. Aluff-san probably didn’t like bitter things.

After preparing beverages for the three of them, I sat down beside Falluba-san. Our conversation was cut short last time because I felt unwell from the signs of a Labyrinth Shift. So I should start the conversation this time.

【Well, you two would like to meet a dragon, right?】

Aluff-san leaned closer.

【That’s right. Please help us pass along the message.】

【Is it because, she is a Dragon bride?】

Speaking of which, the root of the problem was this issue that Falluba-san was troubled about.

Sophia-san picked up her cup with both hands, then put it down. She had long silver locks and delicate features. Her purple pupils, proof that she was a Dragon bride, shimmered in the light.

【Yes. Just like what my eyes represent, I’m a dragon shrine maiden that serves in Kalajiya. I came here because I have been selected as a Dragon bride.】

A gasp came from the side.

【It’s still ongoing, huh.】

Sensing my gaze, Falluba-san covered his mouth with his palm.

【No, so, erm, you came here to become a Dragon bride?】

Sophia-san shook her head.

【The bride heading to the village of the Dragons is a thing of the past, I only heard that such a custom used to exist. It has nothing to do with dragons now, Dragon bride is just a tradition in name. We still worship dragons and manage the dragon shrine, and hold festivities.】

【As the next generation bride, she will be entering the dragon shrine soon.】 Aluff-san said. 【Sophia is already engaged to me. But once she officially becomes a Dragon bride, I can’t even speak with her before she complete her duty in twenty years.】

The next Dragon bride needed to stay in the dragon shrine for twenty years? That’s different from what Falluba-san said.

【So, why did you come to this city?】

Falluba-san asked.

【Because of a rumor.】


【Yes.】 Sophia nodded. 【The people in this city saw a black dragon come here from the silver crown peak, and that the black dragon has yet to abandon humanity.】

I looked at Falluba-san beside me. He still looked troubled while covering his mouth.

【We came to this city to meet that dragon, if that rumor is true.】

That was an amazing determination. Traveling across the sea over a rumor couldn’t be done with half-assed will.

【Well, if you meet a real dragon, what are you planning to do?】

【We want to tell him that there is no need for Dragon brides.】

That was unexpected.

【The Dragons have left for centuries. Guarding the mountain and worshiping the dragons, our clan had lived while keeping the ancient tradition. The people managing the dragon shrine are called shrine maidens, and a Dragon bride will be chosen every two decades. They can’t go outside, and is only permitted to speak with their kins during the annual festival.】

【Hah… That’s…】

I stopped myself midway. How stale and insufferable. It was hard to believe that they continued this tradition so naturally.

【In our village, this was treated as something natural. Because of tradition, because of the dragon’s blessing, they think it is obvious that Sophia should become a bride and give up on her way of life. But I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t want to lose the woman I love.】

Aluff-san’s voice was strong and firm.

【I convinced Sophia by saying we will ask the black dragon if he is really here. With the support of the dragon, I think we can change the tradition of the village.】

He said with his eyes on Falluba-san.

【If the black dragon is in this city or on that mountain, and if you are a priest that serves the black dragon, can you let us meet him?】

With that, Aluff-san and Sophia-san waited sincerely for our answer. Their eyes were so serious that I was too embarrassed to say 【You are mistaken.】 I was fine, since I could just refute them. However, the real black dragon was beside me. How would Falluba-san respond?

I glanced at him sideways.

He crossed his arms and lowered his head with pursed lips. Falluba-san was deep in thought. He was in human form, and would chat naturally with me, so I didn’t pay it much mind. However, he was a legendary existence that had been worshiped for centuries. His thought process was different from ours, and I couldn’t imagine how Falluba-san would respond.

【I understand.】

Falluba-san looked up.

【The two of you like each other, right?】

Aluff-san and Sophia-san looked at each other for a moment. The two lovers confirmed each other's feelings with that gaze, and nodded at the same time.

【What do you plan to do after meeting the black dragon?】

【We plan to go on a journey right after that. The two of us will search for a place where no one knows us, and live peacefully.】

Aluff-san said without any hesitation. This must be something they decided after much discussion. This proved how much they thought for each other, and even resolved to abandon their home town and come to this city.

I see, Falluba-san said before falling silent.

There was a tension like a wire on the verge of breaking between the two people before me. When the wire was about to snap, Falluba-san said:

【I will try to relay your message.】


【Yes. However, don’t expect an immediate answer.】

【Yes, that’s only natural.】

【You should get some kind of answer before Nightless day.】

The conversation stopped here. The two of them kept thanking Falluba-san and me, then walked out into the city that had grown dark.

【What are you planning to do?】

Silence lingered in the shop, and Falluba-san was in deep thought with his arms crossed. He didn’t answer me.

I didn’t press for an answer, and looked out the window. The snow that had been falling since evening started showed no signs of abating. It kept falling quietly, as if there wasn’t any wind. When I drew the curtains and averted my face, Falluba-san spoke.

【This is a debt we owed.】


【We dragons don’t have much of a link with the other races. We don’t think it’s necessary. One day, that person known as a hero came to our village, and my father, who is an elder, decided to help him. I don’t know whether that decision is right or wrong.】

He sounded like he was talking to me, and also like he was muttering to himself, or maybe he was telling someone in his memory.

【Before we realized it, the humans started worshiping us, and prayed for our protection, and even offered tribute in the form of brides. This is an unhealthy relationship. So my father decided to move the village away. He believes that if the dragons they believed in were gone, things will improve.】

However, Falluba-san then said that his father’s judgment was wrong.

【Even after centuries passed, there are still sacrifices as people worship the dragons that have vanished. Their tribute, or confining someone in the shrine for an illusion, none of that changed.】

He looked into the distance, his eyes lost their focus.

【Everything changed since that day. We are the only ones who still want to revive the past, and pretend nothing happened. It seems that is impossible.】

Falluba-san was silent again.

I was wondering whether I should answer, then decided to hold my peace. Falluba-san would tell me if he wanted to converse.

After adding some firewood into the hearth, I stood in the kitchen. I was bothered about Falluba-san, but I couldn’t ignore Linaria’s party tomorrow either. I needed to make some preparations for tomorrow’s cooking. I took out the ingredients and took up a knife.

Falluba-san sat there quietly late into the night.


Naturally, I didn’t open the shop today. Yesterday, I was just planning to close for just the morning, but Granny Bonnie brought me to the hidden stall, and after the conversation with that couple, I ended up taking the whole day off.

It had been a while since I rested for two days in a row. It felt good doing so occasionally.

The most time consuming part of cooking, the prep work, had been done yesterday. Even so, I stood in the kitchen early in the morning as always. I did so to perk myself up for the prep work, but the main reason was a force of habit.

It was almost noon, but Falluba-san wasn’t in the shop. He left after saying he wanted to shop around the city. His attitude was no different than usual, but he was probably troubled by yesterday’s events. It would be great if I could help in some way or offer advice, but I couldn’t think of anything.

Setting the problem aside for now, I needed to focus on the food for Linaria’s party.

It wasn’t much since there weren't many participants. There was me, Linaria, Aina, and Doddo. The members who helped out in my shop during the summer.

I didn’t need to make too much, or make tedious dishes found in restaurants.

Even so, the preparation still took a lot of time because I wanted to busy myself with something, so I wouldn’t think about the problem of me returning to my old world.

I knew I should think about it seriously.

With the Labyrinth Shift looming closer, the day of my return also drew nearer. I would disappear from this world really soon. Should I tell someone or just keep quiet, I needed to make a decision.

But I didn’t want to think about it. Time was pressing, but it still didn’t feel real to me.

Should I discuss this with someone, or let this uneasiness persist, I focused my attention on that as I peeled an apple. This was something I found in the market yesterday. A fruit that grew in the snow, and would grow sweeter the colder it got. According to the lady in the market, it had a good harvest this year. She let me try one whole apple, and I was surprised by the sweetness when I bit down. It tasted like an apple, but it had a savory and thick sweetness. My hands were sticky just from peeling the skin.

This apple would be used for desserts, an apple pie. I recalled the apple pie my mother made. Whenever she encountered something detestable, my mother would bake an apple pie. And an extra large one at that.

She said she felt much better after making one, so she was making it for the sake of making one, and didn’t eat it at all. She just liked the process of making it, and achieved her goal after baking it.

So me, my father and grandfather would take care of that extra large apple pie. It was good, but all things should be taken in moderation. The one thing I remembered about my childhood was the apple pie that I couldn’t finish.

I could feel myself smiling nostalgically. That was a feeling I couldn’t recall. My body was immersed in that memory. A strong emotion made me waver. I put down the apple and knife, and closed my eyes. I gritted my teeth and slowly steadied my breathing.

I could go back there soon.

Go back to my home, my hometown, and my family.

This was what I wanted all this time.

After coming to this world suddenly, I had been hoping for this every day.

But, why did I find it so hard to accept? I couldn’t accept it. I couldn’t be sincerely happy about returning to my old world.

I gave up and covered my face with both hands. My hands were sticky from apple juice. I was seriously troubled, but was bothered by my sticky hands. It seemed I wasn’t too depressed after all. I laughed. And washed my hands with water.

Water in winter had a prickly chill, which made me feel comfortable. I washed my hands carefully, as if I was washing away the mud stuck to my heart. After putting my hands in running water until my fingertips were almost numb, the door chimed. It was Linaria.

【Am I too early?】

She dusted off the thin layer of snow on her shoulders, and said cheerfully.

【I’m free after settling things in the academy. Anything I can help with?】

【I can’t let the main guest work.】

I closed the tap and dried my hands with a hand towel. Blood flowed through my cold fingers, and there was a prickly numbness.

Linaria stopped dusting off the snow and looked at my face.

【… What’s wrong?】

How keen. No, it was too late for that. I immediately smiled. This wasn’t a conscious action, my face reacted on its own. My mouth also reacted the same way. I didn’t even know where my voice was coming from.

【Nothing, just a lack of sleep.】

【Hey, don’t do that again.】

She sounded unhappy.

【What do you mean?】

【That face. Forcing a smile. Don’t show that expression to me.】

I touched my face with my hands. This expression became a habit before I knew it. This was the first time someone pointed out my fake smile.

【… It’s not working?】

【Not at all. It’s disgusting.】

【That’s too much.】

I was a little hurt. She was so forthright that my tears almost came out.

【Fake crying is no good either.】


Linaria came to the counter and sat in her usual seat.

【You don’t have to push yourself in front of me. We go way back, right?】

Her tone was kind, as if she was talking to an immature younger brother.

【You can talk to me if there is anything troubling you. I might not be able to help you think of a good solution though.】 Linaria pouted. 【I hate it when you make that face over something that I don’t know. I want to know, and if possible, I want to help you too.】

Linaria looked up at me, and we locked gazes. Her face turned red like a boiling kettle, and she averted her eyes.

【Linaria, you are really kind.】

I sighed deeply. I couldn’t express my feelings any better. I hated my meager vocabulary since I could only describe her as kind.

Linaria supported her cheek with her hand. Her lips moved gently.

【— Oh.】

【Sorry, I didn’t catch that…】

She glared at me with sharp eyes.

【I’m not gentle like that to just anyone. That’s what I said.】

She threw a fast ball with a blushed face, which struck me right in the heart.

I wasn’t dense enough to miss what she was implying. Linaria likes me. I used to think that it would be great if that was true. And now, she showed it clearly.

My feelings were weird. As if my soul had separated from my body, and I was looking at myself from the ceiling. I was separated from everything. I didn’t understand my feelings. It was an issue about myself, but it felt like the problem of someone else.

I must be too happy. Probably, because I felt the same way as her.

I, towards her——

Was it true?

I looked down at myself.

Why was I forcing a smile?

I quickly covered my mouth, but it made that shape by itself. Linaria saw my fake smile.

【— Sorry. Pretend I didn’t say that.】

Linaria smiled. It was really beautiful, without a hint of gloom. The feelings I had when I saw that face made me understand.

【Sorry, just now was…】

【Enough. I get it.】

Linaria stood up.

【Sorry, can we do the party on another day?】

Linaria said with the mask-like smile as she walked to the entrance.

【Wait, I have something I want to tell you.】

She turned back at my words.

【What? What’s wrong?】

【Actually, there’s something that’s really troubling to me, so…】

【Yes, I’m troubling you, huh. Sorry.】

There was a misunderstanding before I could calm her down. It might be a wall or a membrane, we were separated by something. And I was helpless given how thick it was.

Linaria’s hand was almost touching the door, and I understood that I couldn’t let her go. My instinct became a conviction. The things built up between us all this time would undergo an irreversible change at this moment. The line of no return was before us.

【I!】 I raised my voice. 【Came from another world!】

I said it out loud. I told the thing I had been hiding in my heart to the person I most wanted to.

【I’m not from this world. And I might disappear from this world soon. So…】

【— I see. It can’t be helped then.】

She cut me off.

【You are not from this world, and there are people waiting for you, so it can’t be helped. I love the way you lie. And many people are helped by that.】

Linaria turned back. She was smiling, but tears rolled down from her eyes.

【But I don’t want to listen to such lies. I hope you will tell me the truth at least.】

The door opened, and the snow flew in. Linaria vanished into the veil of snow. Only the chime could be heard, followed by silence.

I didn’t move as I watched Linaria’s back. The strange sensation continued. I was still looking down at myself, and my emotions must have left my body too. If not, I wouldn’t feel so empty.

I had no doubt in my mind that I should chase her. But I couldn’t move. Chase her, and call out to her, but I didn’t know how to continue the conversation.

【A lie, huh.】

Of course that would happen, I muttered. I was either lying or insane.

So I thought to myself. This couldn’t be helped.

I wasn’t from this world. Normal people living here wouldn’t believe my words.

In the truest sense, there wasn’t any place where I belonged, I wasn’t connected to anywhere. I would disappear after the Labyrinth Shift. This was a given.

In the first place, it was strange for me to be here. I was just someone who was out of place. No one would be troubled if I was gone, everything would just go back to the way it used to be. And it ends.

My heart was calm without any ripple.

It was over.

The warmth I cherished in my heart, was warm no more. And I couldn’t do anything about that.

Suddenly, the ground started shaking. The lights hanging from the ceiling started swaying, and the utensils on the cupboard were ringing out in chorus.

Oh, the sign of a Labyrinth Shift. My cooled mind observed. Suddenly, I felt a chill in my body. I felt a sense of vertigo as if I was free falling. As if I was falling somewhere, a sensation that felt familiar to me. This was how I felt when I came to this world.

It was difficult to keep standing, and I fell on my butt. The utensils on the cupboard fell layer by layer, hitting my head, shoulders and back. It didn’t hurt. I closed my eyes as if I had given up. This was fine.

How much time passed? The feelings in my body returned.

I slowly opened my eyes. Broken plates and glasses were scattered on the floor everywhere.

It seemed that I was still in this world. I didn’t know what meaning there was in that.


No one would care if I treated myself like the main character of a tragedy, but it was more constructive to make apple pie than to wallow in self pity. Even if the person who would eat it was gone.

I cleaned up the broken shards, and stood in the kitchen again. Only for this moment, I didn’t think about anything. It was fine as long as I could move my body. I could clean, shovel snow, or even sprint a lap outside.

I lit the fire under the pot and melted butter. I poured in an astonishing amount of sugar and stirred it, then added in sliced apples. There was a sweetness that felt tangible, but I didn’t have any appetite. I just stared at the juice bubbling out of the apple.

My mind was blank. I wasn’t troubled about what to do, and didn’t feel regret about my actions. I was completely still, and stared dazedly at the apples in the pot.

I added in honey mead and lemon juice, then covered the lid. I kept it simmering until the apples softened.

Even if I explained desperately and reached an understanding, I would still disappear after the Labyrinth Shift. What was the point in that. It was obvious that the end was near. I couldn’t do anything about it. It didn’t matter how hard I tried or how far I got, in the end, it doesn’t even matter.

I shook the pot from time to time to keep it from burning. The fragrance of the apple condensed, and I could feel it getting sweeter. I removed the lid and turned up the fire.

I then turned off the fire. While waiting for the apple to cool, I took out dough from the fridge. I used a rolling pin to spread the dough, then used a fork to poke out holes in a neat row. I then placed the apples glimmering in a thick yellow liquid on top.

The excess dough was cut into thin strips, and laid on top of the apple in a criss cross manner. I folded the edges up, made the pie round. Finally, I coated it with beaten eggs, and put it into a heated oven. After that I just needed to wait.

Only a feeling of dejectedness was left. I wasted time just to distract myself.

I leaned my face against the window. It was white outside. The pedestrians walking in the snow were all smiling for some reason. They were probably sharing a funny joke, since a group of adventurers were all laughing out loud.

A kid then sprung out of an alley and passed through them. One more kid, then another chased each other on the streets.

The streets were the same as always. My state of mind didn’t matter, the world wasn’t cloudy nor gloomy. This much was obvious. Even without me, this street wouldn’t change.

I stayed like this for a while.

The door chimed, and I snapped back to reality.

【Oh, are you on break?】

The man dusting off the snow on his hat was Skipper.

【Yes, I’m closed for today.】 After saying that, I realized the reason to close the shop was gone.

【I guess I should open for business. Want to drink something?】

The Skipper shook his head.

【It’s fine. I came here to tell you something.】

The Skipper looked serious. I realized it wasn’t good news.

【The matter with the Coffee beans are no good, huh?】

All the Coffee beans in my shop were shipped over by Skipper from across the sea. Even in this city where you could supposedly buy anything, Coffee beans weren’t sold here.

【I have asked around, but the responses aren’t good. This is the only place that sells it, and they don’t even know what Coffee beans are.】

【… That’s true.】

From the other end of the ocean— where Sophia-san came from. Coffee was beloved there, but unknown in this region. I was the only one buying it, so it was a hassle for the importers, and wasn’t very profitable either.

【I only managed to continue this thanks to your help, Skipper. So please don’t mind it.】

【But your shop would be troubled without the beans, right?】

Skipper stroked his chin.

If a Cafe didn’t have Coffee, it wasn’t a matter of just being troubled. It would be like a bakery without bread.

【Well, there will be a way somehow.】

I said cheerfully. I realized that I was smiling naturally. It was the business smile that Linaria said she hated.

【Even if you say that…】

I could guess what the Skipper was thinking.

There would be a way? No, there wasn’t any. Coffee beans weren’t available on the market, so I couldn’t even buy them. This wasn’t an era where you could import things easily on a personal basis. Well, that didn’t matter already.

【I’m thinking about shutting the shop down.】


【It’s not because of you, Skipper. Even with the beans, I’m still planning to shut it down.】

The Skipper scratched his cheek.

【That’s really sudden, what happened? You were working so happily when I visited some time earlier.】

【Something came up, and I have all sorts of circumstances.】 I replied with a smile. 【Let’s say it’s for personal reasons.】

The cupboard broke, and the things on it fell down. Was it karma because I put things off all this while? Once the Labyrinth Shift happens, I couldn’t stay here anymore. This shop was finished. That was all.

The Skipper looked at me quietly, then said softly “I see.” He then put on his hat.

【Well, that’s life. All sorts of things can happen.】

But he continued:

【Won’t you regret it if you decided on the ending ahead of time? Isn’t this shop important to you?】

Well, it used to be important to me. I didn’t understand. My feelings were a mess, and I didn’t know how to sort it out. This shop was filled with everything I had in this world, as well as my memories.

I didn’t want to shut down the shop, it just turned out this way.

【It can’t be helped.】

In any case, there was nothing I could do.

【There’s no way, huh.】

The Skipper looked around the shop and stuck out his tongue. He licked his lips before sighing.

【There is no spirit in this place, and the air has grown bleak. Young one, is your keel broken too?】

I tilted my head, wondering what he meant.

【For a ship, the keel that runs from the front to the end of the ship is the most important structure. Torn sails, broken masts and holes in the ship’s body can be mended. But that isn’t so for the keel. If it’s broken, the ship is finished.】

The Skipper looked at me with serious eyes I had never seen before.

【You and me, both of us have broken keels. So the ship will sink. That’s what I’m planning. But not for you. Don’t make that face as if nothing matters, and say that it can’t be helped.】

The Skipper then left without saying anything. Was he discouraged, or just trying to cheer me up? I couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter anyway.

I sat on a seat at the counter, and stared at the ceiling.

Important things, keel, give up. The Skipper’s words started spinning in my mind.

I suddenly remembered something and went back to the kitchen. I had completely forgotten about the apple pie. How long had I put it in?

I wore mittens and opened the oven, then used tongs to pull the steel tray out.

It was perfectly and completely burnt. The sweetness overlapped with the burnt smell, and wasn’t appetizing at all. It was clear at a glance that I failed it grandly.

I set the apple pie aside, and tossed away my mittens. Well, it was fine. There wasn’t anyone to eat it anyway.

But the shop was filled with a mixture of sweet and bitterness, which was unbearable. I picked up my coat and left the shop. The cold made me shirk my neck. The snow blew into my face.

I turned up my collar and walked out. The destination didn’t matter. I just wanted to go back. If possible, I want to go back right now.

No comments:

Post a Comment