Chapter 6:

Family Restaurant

This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table

As the fireworks began to dwindle alongside our piles of festival food, the worries in my heart began to bubble up again. At the end of the fireworks show every year, we typically split up to do our own shopping. Not knowing where they typically shopped, I would certainly end up returning empty-handed to the Empire.Bookmark here

Alistair yawned, standing up to stretch once the last firework’s light fizzled away in the winds above. “Well, that was fun, although this year’s pyrotechnician doesn’t know how to properly color-coordinate… I could probably do better than them.”Bookmark here

Vell stood up as well, taking out a paper slip from her purse - presumably, a shopping list. “It’s 9 right now… I wonder if I can cover all that ground in three hours…” she said under her breath.Bookmark here

I have to say something now… This is my last chance.Bookmark here

The two of them took their first steps away from me, and I suddenly felt a wide chasm of uncertainty open up between me and them. If they were to take another step, would I be able to call them back? If this chasm were to grow any wider, and I were to chase them only to fall in… how would I climb out? Would there be any bottom to my troubles? Surely, at this distance, I still could make an effort…Bookmark here

And yet, I remained glued to my seat, unable to move. Indecision meant death to the hands of the nobles back home - and yet, at the worst time possible, I found myself unable to act. I raised my hand towards them weakly, as if to try and take hold of their figures and bring them back to me.Bookmark here

Move, my legs! Tremble, my vocal cords! Please! Just do something!Bookmark here

“GackkkkhhHHey,” I managed to choke out.Bookmark here

For a moment, time felt as if it had stopped. A bead of sweat rolled down my face as I anticipated the worst - that they might not have heard me, or dismissed the strange sound that had taken so much effort for me to produce as background noise.Bookmark here

Was this it? After fifteen years of living, enduring the understanding that my younger brother was superior to me, having nobody in my family to cordially converse with after Mother died, would I die due to cowardice and indecision?Bookmark here

Then the two turned to me.Bookmark here

“Fior, did you say something just now?” Alistair asked, tilting his head slightly.Bookmark here

The chasm in front of me began to shrink - but as long as it remained, my life would be in danger. Mustering courage from sources unknown even to me, I attempted to speak once more.Bookmark here

“Ah… I was just wondering… if you two would like to go to the family restaurant down the street after this…?”Bookmark here

“What for?” Vell was the next to ask.Bookmark here

“... I have something to ask of you two,” I answered, trying my best to not let my dread seep through.Bookmark here

The two of them looked at each other for a moment, then back at me.Bookmark here

“Sure, I don’t mind, but can we keep it somewhat short? I’ve got things to buy for family and friends,” replied Vell.Bookmark here

“I don’t have anything to do after this other than browse the electronics stores, so I’ll hear you out, I guess,” said Alistair.Bookmark here

The chasm shrank once more - but I would have to take a leap of faith across and hope they were willing to accept my proposal when we got to the family restaurant. Despite the potential for my downfall that remained, I sighed in relief. At least I had made it through the first step of the process.Bookmark here

-----------------------Bookmark here

Ding!Bookmark here

“Welcome! Please take a seat over there!” chirped the waitress, pointing at a booth in the back of the store.Bookmark here

“So that’s the fabled drink bar… I wonder what kinds of flavors I can concoct.” smiled Alistair mischievously, eyeing a machine near the restaurant counters.Bookmark here

As we got seated at the booth, the waitress gestured that we should press the button to order when we were ready. Alistair picked up the menu and began browsing as Vell fidgeted with her shopping list.Bookmark here

“Excuse me, we’d like to order!” Alistair said, pressing the button.Bookmark here

As the waitress approached us, Vell pouted. “Didn’t you say that you would make this short? Why are you ordering food?”Bookmark here

“It’s our first time at one of these, so why not?” Alistair replied, turning to the waitress. “Yes, I’d like the ‘spaghetti’ and the ‘drink bar’.”Bookmark here

Seizing the opportunity that Alistair had presented to me, I decided to order something as well. Perhaps eating something as we talked could calm my nerves. “I’d like the ‘pizza with bacon’.”Bookmark here

“And you, miss?” asked the waitress, turning to Vell.Bookmark here

Vell sighed, giving in to the chance to eat new food. Putting away her shopping list, she opened the menu to browse for a second. “I’d like the ‘arrabbiata’, please.”Bookmark here

As the waitress left to give our orders to the kitchen, Vell turned back to me. “So, what were you going to ask us?”Bookmark here

“Right. I was going to ask…” I started to speak, but I was unable to finish the sentence. Yet again, I choked on my words when they were most important.Bookmark here

“You were going to ask what?” Vell prodded.Bookmark here

“I was going to ask if…”Bookmark here

I can do it… It’s just a couple of words… I have to get it over with now… I managed to get to this point and I’ve frozen up again? What a cruel joke…Bookmark here

The tension between the three of us began to grow thick as we sat there in silence. Vell and Alistair stared holes in me expectantly, waiting for my request, yet I couldn’t utter it. The chasm reappeared in front of me yet again, the width increasing every second I was unable to speak. I could see Vell becoming more impatient - would this hurt my chances of success?Bookmark here

As I struggled to verbalize my thoughts, the waitress brought Alistair’s cup to the table. Noticing it, he hopped out of the seat to fill it up with his experimental blend, startling me.Bookmark here

“...I’ll wait until he’s back,” I smiled weakly at Vell. However, Alistair returned quickly with a murky brown drink, giving me little time to collect my composure.Bookmark here

If it’s come to this…Bookmark here

Being paralyzed and unable to speak in fear was not something I was new to. As a method to coax my thoughts out, Irette had developed a solution she used often in our childhood - but it would require Vell and Alistair’s cooperation.Bookmark here

“Slap me,” I ordered.Bookmark here

“... Why?” Alistair asked, confused and rightfully so.Bookmark here

Smack!Bookmark here

Before I could tell Alistair to just do it, I received a forceful backhand from Vell which rang through the store. The customers and staff around us turned to look, murmuring. Perhaps they thought it was a lovers’ quarrel or childish dispute; regardless of what they thought it was, it certainly shook my brain - and cleared my thoughts.Bookmark here

“Right. I wanted to ask you two… if you would be willing to represent your kingdoms in making trade agreements with mine.”Bookmark here

The two of them looked at me for a moment, dumbfounded. I couldn’t see any gears turning in their heads; did they never consider the possibility of such a thing?Bookmark here

“You two are royalty… right?” I asked, nervous that I had wrongly assumed that they were royalty too.Bookmark here

“No… we are, just give me some time to process this…” Vell replied, putting her hand to her head as if to nurse a headache.Bookmark here

On the other hand, Alistair was quick to make up his mind. “I’ll have to ask my father about it - he’s the one who negotiates trade, so I’d have to ask his permission to do such a thing.”Bookmark here

“... I guess I’ll do the same when I return to Chartreuse,” Vell sighed.Bookmark here

Not a full acceptance or refusal as I had expected, but now things were up in the air. This meant that formal negotiations would possibly have to begin in two years unless we were all to find a way to transport products within the year. If not, we would have to meet up next year, I would have to acquire their acceptance or refusal of the proposal, and then we would have to discuss how to transport products between our worlds; after all, to our knowledge, our kingdoms did not exist on the same Earth, let alone the same universe. Would there be a reliable way of getting our Empire’s metal through the 108 and to their doors? Could I negotiate something with the owner of the department store - would he even believe me if I said I was from another world?Bookmark here

But it certainly was progress. Sighing in relief, I leaned back in the booth chair as the tension began to leave my body. With perfect timing, the waitress brought our orders to us.Bookmark here

As I lifted a slice of the piping-hot pizza and watched the cheese stretch, I thought about my next step. What did I have to ascertain again? Surely, I had something next on the checklist to complete tonight before we returned home at midnight… but in my worries, I had put it in the back of my mind.Bookmark here

Ah - that’s right. I have to learn about their kingdoms.Bookmark here

“So, can we first begin with a quick introduction of our kingdoms?” I asked. “Do you have any specialties or surplus products?”Bookmark here

After taking a big swig of his mystery drink to wash down his mouthful of noodles (and gagging in horror at the taste), Alistair was the first to speak.Bookmark here

“Right. I’m from the Kingdom of Redjuve - we’re a small island nation that exports technology… although I’m not exactly sure what kind of technology we sell.”Bookmark here

“What kind of technology do you have on your island?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Well… we have steam-mail, robots we use for simple manual labor and security, airships-”Bookmark here

My head whipped upwards from my meal as I heard the last item on the list - airships? Surely not what I think they are… The sky is the domain of the birds, not humans…Bookmark here

“Ahem - could you explain what those ‘airships’ are?”Bookmark here

“They’re vehicles that can be flown in the sky through the power of steam engines. Do you not have technology that can fly in your kingdom?”Bookmark here

I shook my head - this was earth-shattering. If we could get our hands on the ability to fly through the air… who knows what the Empire could do? Technology like that didn’t exist in my world - we could pass over hostile countries to acquire products from faraway kingdoms, we could survey our land and make more accurate maps, and we could transport goods quicker within the kingdom without the need to travel the winding mountain paths.Bookmark here

A sour thought crossed my mind - airships could also be used to drop projectiles on our enemies as a new, invincible method of fighting. My father would be unlikely to view such an acquisition in the light of economics or logistics; with how much of a war hawk he was, surely that would be his first thought. There was no way I could guarantee he would use it for purposes that enriched our subjects.Bookmark here

The two of us then turned to Vell, who had been silently eating her meal as Alistair and I spoke.Bookmark here

“And you? What’s your kingdom like?” Alistair asked before I could.Bookmark here

“I’m… not exactly sure. Mine is named the Chartreuse Kingdom… I’m not sure about the geography, but I don’t think it’s close to any oceans or mountain ranges. I’m not sure what our kingdom is known for producing either…”Bookmark here

Ugh. Vell’s situation is the complete opposite of Alistair’s - she doesn’t know anything about her own kingdom.Bookmark here

Alistair turned to her, confused. “Don’t you read a lot of books? Surely, your kingdom has books on its affairs.”Bookmark here

“I… read mostly fiction books. Not historic or scientific.” Vell hesitated, for reasons unknown to me.Bookmark here

“How about this - by the time we meet up again next year, can you two prepare reports on your kingdoms?” I proposed.Bookmark here

A year would certainly be enough for them to acquire the information necessary to understand their kingdoms’ needs and specialties, I hoped. As long as they had access to their royal libraries, which they should have, all the information they needed was likely to be there. While in the libraries, perhaps they would find some solution to my product-transporting woes.Bookmark here

“Sure,” Alistair replied, with Vell beside him nodding in agreement, “but don’t you have to give us an introduction of your kingdom too?”Bookmark here

“Oh, right. Of course. Well, I’m from the Deniev Empire - we’re a cold, mountainous country whose main resource is metals. We mine many types of metal - but I think the specifics can wait until next time we meet.”Bookmark here

The three of us sat there for a moment, unsure of what to do next. I racked my brain, trying to remember if there was anything else I had to say, but my train of thought was soon derailed by a yelp from Vell.Bookmark here

Ah- It’s already 10:30… I have to go, I need to buy some things.” In a hurry, she stood up and pushed Alistair aside to leave the booth. As she dashed towards the exit, she shouted, “Take care of the bill for me!”Bookmark here

Almost immediately, Alistair pounced on Vell’s leftover food, having finished his. “Dibs!” he exclaimed. Scarfing it down with reckless abandon, he too left the restaurant in a hurry, but not before leaving some money for payment on the table.Bookmark here

I sighed, realizing that I had forgotten to ask them to look for a way to transport goods between our countries, a detail I had left out in my request despite thinking of it. But it was too late - there was technically an hour and a half left for me to find them, but subtracting the time it would take me to get to the otherworld entrance in the 108 and the time it would take to find the two of them, it was an impossible feat.Bookmark here

As I left the restaurant to browse the nearby bookstores in the hour I had left to shop before midnight struck, I felt a grain of black pepper unlodge itself from between my back teeth. The spice seemed to be extremely accessible here in Japan, but it was of utmost luxury back home.Bookmark here

Pepper, huh… Maybe with the trade deals I get with Alistair and Vell, everyone in the Empire can afford to experience this taste...
Real Aire
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