This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table
-Fior Deniev, 16 years old-
“Hey, there you are!” Vell waved at me from one of the benches by the statue, where she sat alone.
“Where’s Alistair?” I asked, sitting beside her.
From her coin purse, she pulled out a small metal cylinder - definitely another one of Alistair’s devices. “He said he would go browse the bookstores and to call him with this thing.” Vell pressed the button on top, but nothing happened immediately. No noise, no lights, and, thankfully, no explosions.
A couple of minutes later, Alistair skidded to a halt in front of us, clutching a bag of books tightly. “Haah… Fior... You’re here… haah… I’m sorry I’m late…” he panted.
“No, it’s totally fine. We won’t be visiting the festival this year, so we’ll have plenty of time to talk about trade terms.”
The two of them turned to me, surprised. “Wait, we’re not going to the festival this year?!” they said in unison.
“Due to… circumstances, I came here without anything to sell at the pawn shop, so we have no spending money this year. Besides, this is our first time talking about trade. It would be a good idea to forgo the festival entirely so we can judge how much time it’ll take.”
Surprisingly, the two of them took it quite well. I had expected that Alistair would complain, but instead, he readily accepted it, not protesting the issue. Though, judging by Alistair’s purchase of books, they had likely saved up some money from past years, so they could have gone to the festival on their own.
“Ah! What are you wearing?” Finally noticing that I was wearing a feminine robe, Alistair began to giggle uncontrollably.
“... I didn’t know you were into that kind of stuff,” said Vell, hiding her smirk behind her hand.
Although it flustered me, I tried to steer the discussion back on track. “L-let’s get back to the topic at hand, and head to the rooftop park. There are tables where we can hold our discussion there.”
-Alistair Vermilion, 14 years old-
As we sat down at one of the tables in the rooftop park, I noticed something peculiar.
“Hey… uh, Fior? Why are we sitting here at the round tables, where there are so many people around us that could overhear what we’re saying? Shouldn’t we sit further away, so the fact that we’re from other worlds doesn't get exposed?” I asked him, trying to understand his rationale. After all, he had pulled us away from the rectangular tables, insisting that we sit where it was crowded.
“Ah - we need to sit at a round table so that there is equal distance between the three of us. You wouldn’t want someone to get an unfair advantage or disadvantage in the negotiations because they sat directly across from someone, affecting their psychology, would you?” Fior refuted my doubts confidently.
“N-no, I guess not. Though, what about the people surrounding us?”
“You don’t need to worry about that - because we’re young, they’ll probably just assume that we’re playing some sort of game. After all, nobody would expect three royals having trade talks on the rooftop of the Shibuya Barco, would they?”
“... Is that so?”
The fact that Fior had thought so far ahead reassured me that the negotiations would go smoothly. He had the foresight to even decide what shape of table we would be sitting at, so I assumed he had some experience already in his native world, and the talks here would go smoothly.
Yet, at the same time, I felt uneasy. I hadn’t thought that hard about today at all, and hadn’t gone over the articles of trade more than once. If Fior had put so much effort into thinking about today’s trade talks, would Vell and I be devoured by him, unable to properly negotiate a fair deal? Or had Vell, who was silent as I questioned Fior’s table choice, also prepared well for the negotiations? Had I been left behind as the only one unable to properly handle my duties?
I shook at the thought of being the only late bloomer out of us three. If the two of them ran ahead together, negotiating trade without me, I would be alone again. There had to be something I could do to assert that I had thought about trading thoroughly. Then, I remembered Father’s words.
“If we can’t deliver finished products, then all we can do is give them the instructions on how to construct the products, as well as operation manuals,” he had said. That was it - if I mentioned the issue of transporting goods, they would have no choice but to see me as someone who had prepared for tonight!
“Ahem - may I have the first word before we begin?” I asked, trying my best to speak in a formal manner.
“... Sure?” Fior answered, cocking his head to one side.
Is the formal speech a bit too much? I thought. “About the issue of transporting goods between our worlds… how will we be facilitating that? My door is in the Shibuya Station, and Vell’s door is the back door of an abandoned restaurant, right?” Vell nodded. “But yours is in the Shibuya 108. While ferrying crates of goods between Vell’s and my door is quite far, at least we can disguise it. With your door, not only will it be difficult to get the goods up efficiently through the escalators and elevators, but it will look suspicious for crates to be going into a small janitor’s closet. Do we have a solution for that?”
I expected Fior to be stumped, as I couldn’t think of any possible way out of the conundrum, but Fior’s calm composure remained unshattered.
“I was planning to get to that topic later, but I suppose we could talk about it now.” He took his neatly-written notes and flipped them around, revealing hastily scribbled writing on the back. “I found a place where we can transport the goods between our worlds, but it’ll take your cooperation to secure the doors on your end.”
What? There were other doors between our worlds and Japan besides the ones in our castles? A cheat code like this shouldn’t exist - how did he find them?
“So, where is this place?” Vell asked the question before I could.
“It’s an abandoned building in Ebisu-”
“Isn’t Ebisu kind of far from here? It would take quite a while to transport the goods from our doors to your door in that building,” I interrupted Fior, trying to secure my place in the conversation back from Vell.
“As I was going to say before I was interrupted, there are multiple doors in one room - and I suspect that we can use that room as a hub for moving our goods, without having to cross the city streets of Shibuya.” Fior pushed the papers to my side of the table. “I went through several of the doors, although there were three I didn’t have the time to go to - and there could be more doors in the building.”
“... And what do you want me to do with these notes?”
“I was able to confirm that the third door opened into Redjuve - just not where in Redjuve. This is where you come in; I need you to identify, from my notes, where the door is… and secure it, since it’s in a place with a lot of people.”
A place on Redjuve with a lot of people? There aren’t many crowded places on the island… The town square… One of the Four Great Factories… The Royal Castle… Or… No, it can’t be…
Number three… Brick walls, that’s most of the buildings in Redjuve… Giant metal dragon, held up by black ropes? It must be a factory, then… Clock noises? There’s only one building on the island whose clock’s ticks reverberate for miles.
My heart began to race as I realized that the door Fior had crossed through could only be in one building in all of Redjuve: the Clockwork Palace. If I had to visit it to secure the door for trade purposes, I now had a legitimate reason to enter its halls. Even better, he had written as a footnote that the door could possibly open out into the sky, crossing it out as if he had decided it was too ridiculous. To investigate that claim, I would have to go up each of the floors, and with each floor I went up, the complexity and secrecy of the project would increase. This would be an opportunity to see the deepest, most secret inner workings of the Palace - a treat for my engineer’s soul.
“Yeah, I know where this is. I can use my royal authority to secure it… probably.” I said, trying to hide my excitement.
“Good. I’ll leave it up to you.” Fior slid the papers rightwards to Vell. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to confirm if one of the doors led to Chartreuse or not, and all I can give are general descriptions of the area since there weren’t any landmarks. Still, if you can recognize any one of these places, please work to secure it when you return to your world.”
She picked up the papers and began going down the list. Moments later, her eyes widened, and her upright posture drooped for a second before returning.
“... I think the fifth door might be in Chartreuse,” she said, and though I had only known her for seven days total over seven years, I knew she was holding in some sort of emotion. “I’ll ask Mother and Father to send a search party out for it, though the area is quite large so I can’t guarantee we’ll have found it by next year.”
Evidently, Fior couldn’t read Vell’s body language, because he was beaming as he took his notes back. “Perfect! If all three of our worlds are accessible through the building in Ebisu, then we’ll be using it to ship products between our worlds. Whatever terms we agree on today, have the shipments ready to pass through the door on your side,” he paused for a moment before scribbling something down on his notes, “and appoint someone you trust to oversee the exchange of products. After all, we won’t be there to watch it for ourselves - we’ll be here discussing trade again.”
Someone I trust, huh?
“Anyways, let’s begin talking about trade-” Fior was interrupted by both Vell and I taking our stacks of paper out and placing them on the table with two dull thumps. We sat there in silence, unsure of what to do next.
“Ahaha, I guess none of us have any idea of how this is going to work, huh?” I forced myself to laugh to try and break the tension.
Thankfully, Fior smiled. “I guess so, heh. I thought the two of you might have more experience in this than me; my father doesn’t give me opportunities to get used to things like this, after all.”
“No, not at all… My father's a workaholic, so he doesn’t really let me have my hands on these kinds of duties either…” Vell seemed to have recovered from whatever shock she had experienced earlier, and she now joined the conversation with a small laugh.
“Why don’t we just drop the formal talk? We won’t be able to keep it up for the whole night, probably, and I think it would be better if we talked just as friends.” I proposed, hoping that it would alleviate some of the tension that would come with doing something we weren’t used to.
“Sure, why not? And about how we’ll set the terms - how about we just say what we want from each others’ worlds, then work from there to figure out the quantity and whatnot?” said Fior, making a proposal of his own. Vell and I nodded, and he took a clean sheet of paper out from within his notes, ripped it into three parts, giving one to each of us. “Let’s write our demands on these slips of paper so we can reveal ours at the same time and none of us change after hearing each other's.”
Right… Father said he wanted metal, and Fior said last year that he would go over the specifics this year, so I should assume I can request specific metals. Let’s see… Aluminium, iron, copper, zinc… What else… Nickel, too… and maybe platinum, if he has it. As for Vell… she told us earlier on our walk here that her kingdom produces food. Father didn’t say anything about food, but Redjuve’s a small island, I know that much. In that case, wheat flour… and beef. That should be good enough.
Finishing writing on my slip of paper, I turned it over and slid it towards the middle of the table, being the first to do so. Moments later, Vell did the same, and all that was left was Fior’s. He sat there, furiously scrawling on the slip of paper.
He looked up for a moment and noticed that we were done. “Ah, give me a second, I’m putting the finishing touches on mine,” he said right before turning his slip over.
“Alright, let’s see what we all wrote.” I turned my slip over, and Fior and Vell bent over the table to read it.
“... Wow, your handwriting is messy. I can’t read this at all. Did your parents not make you take penmanship classes?” Vell remarked, much to my embarrassment.
“It says ‘Aluminium, iron, copper, zinc, platinum from Fior, and wheat and beef from Vell’”, read Fior. Vell gave him a surprised look, and he responded “I’ve seen handwriting a lot worse than this before.”
Vell was the next to turn her slip over. Hers read “Technology for farming from Alistair and iron from Fior.”
Just iron? Surely that’s not enough for experimentation with engineering - are they not familiar with the field? Or are they going to use it for something else?
Lastly, Fior turned his slip over. “From Vell: rice, corn, potatoes, and wheat flour, at least thirty tonnes of each; egg-laying hens and cows, at least two hundred of each; and onions, carrots, tomatoes, and cabbage, at least ten tonnes of each. From Alistair: airship technology, if possible two airships, one thousand voice cannons, one thousand of whatever he used to receive notice from Vell, and twenty of some sort of vehicle that can climb through rugged mountain roads,” his read.
Vell looked at Fior dumbfounded. “This is… more specific than I thought we were supposed to do.”
“And these quantities - they’re quite high, are they not?” I chimed in.
This time it was Fior’s turn to be confused. “If anything, these are small quantities - just about enough to feed the Empire for a couple of weeks, probably. Besides, I figured small quantities like this would give us some room to judge how much product we can exchange in the room; the doors close at midnight after all, which gives us six hours to move large quantities of goods.”
“R-right. That seems like a good idea.” Evidently, my sense of scale was off - the quantities of food he was asking for certainly seemed like they couldn’t be distributed and consumed before they spoiled… though perhaps it was a difference in our climates.
“Anyways, I guess we’ll start negotiating quantities taking turns, though I’ve already stated mine, so I’ll go first.” Fior began flipping through his notes and making marks, presumably on the items that we had requested. “I suppose, for what I am requesting from Vell, I can offer sixty tonnes of iron. And for Alistair, I can offer forty tonnes of each metal.”
“W-wait, forty tonnes of each metal, including platinum?” I stuttered. Platinum was a super-rare metal; surely, he had made an error… right?
However, Fior looked unfazed. “Yes, that’s right. Forty tonnes of aluminium, iron, copper, zinc, and platinum. That is okay with you, correct?”
Forty tonnes of platinum - that is a monstrous amount, it would take our entire budget as a country to afford that much… Even if we had that much platinum, how would we use it all?
“Ah… would it be possible for the amount of platinum to be reduced to ten tonnes, and the amount of the other metals raised by five tonnes?”
One look at his face told me he didn’t understand what platinum was used for. “Alright. That finalizes my quantities, I suppose?” Vell quickly nodded; I suspected that she didn’t really think too much about the quantity of iron she had been offered, nor did she understand it.
“I suppose I’ll go next.” Looking down at the slips in the middle of the table, I began to think.
Fior’s request is easy enough since he laid out the quantities. He did show interest in the airships last year, so I guess that makes sense… voice cannons and the binary transmitter I whipped up the night before the festival? Those are my own creations… though it probably wouldn’t be hard for me to use royal authority to order the factories to create them. Why would Fior want the binary transmitters? Surely, for conveying messages, the voice cannon alone should be fine, since they have the same range...
The issue is the “mountain vehicles” he’s requesting. Redjuve doesn’t have a need to travel over mountains, nor do any of the countries we have trade relations with, so none of the patents in my list can fulfill that designation…
“Are you okay, Alistair? You’re taking quite a long time,” said Fior.
“Ah… It’s just that none of the patents I can trade to you can travel over mountains, so I’m stuck on how to -” As I replied to Fior, a lightbulb went off in my head. “- nevermind, it’s all good. I can use my royal authority to request that the engineers in that building you visited create something.” The truth was, I wanted to do it myself, but I would have my hands full with the Vassar, studying governance, and helping the factories rework their production lines to produce the voice cannons and binary transmitters.
“So… you can handle my requests, correct?”
“Yeah. As for Vell… how do I say this… because of Redjuve’s size, we have certain techniques for farming that I’m afraid your kingdom may not be able to use properly because it requires advanced technical understanding - but it’s the only farming technology we have. Are you sure you still want it?” I asked her, unsure if she properly understood the implications of learning to adopt complicated technology like the hydroponics Redjuve relied on.
“I mean, I guess so… after all, Father did request farming technology, so I have to bring something back…” she replied.
So she doesn’t understand, then? Hopefully, her naivety doesn’t end up getting her in trouble for this…
“Anyways, I’m the last one… so, if Fior said those quantities are small…” Vell flipped through her notes for a moment, “I guess since Fior’s already laid out his desired quantities, there’s that done… as for Alistair, how does thirty tonnes of wheat flour and ten tonnes of beef sound?”
The quantities were certainly less than what Fior had requested, but I supposed it was a fine deal. After all, chances were that her kingdom would be unable to properly utilize hydroponics, so I deserved less anyways. Besides, though Fior said that quantity was small, it would be enough to feed the island of Redjuve for a good while - it would probably be even necessary to turn some of the wheat flour into hardtack, since it could go bad before we consumed it all.
“That sounds fine to me,” I answered.
Right as our discussion wrapped up, the first firecracker shot past us and burst in the sky as if to commemorate this first event of interworld diplomacy. Now that we had no need for our notes, we put them away.
“Ah - I have some money left over from the last festival, I’ll go buy something for us at one of the convenience stores real quick,” Vell said, scuttling away and leaving me alone with Fior - the most quiet of the three of us.
Man, this is going to be awkward, isn’t it? Watching the fireworks in silence without anything to eat, in the wake of something as serious as trade discussions… Where's the fun in that?
For a while, it seemed like my prediction held true, and Fior and I sat there, observing the spectacle without a word between us. I began to be agitated; what was taking Vell so long? Did she get lost in the sea of offerings that the convenience stores had? Or had she gotten distracted by an advertisement in the window of a bookstore?
Then, as the firework show reached its climax and the sky was filled with a bouquet of sparks, Fior spoke.
“You know, I’m glad that I met you and Vell.”
“Huh?” That’s rare… Fior’s going to talk about his personal life?
“I was never allowed to go to festivals back in the Empire, so on holidays I was always alone in the castle…” he continued.
So I wasn’t the only one who was lonely…
“Yeah… I know how you feel…”
As the lights in the sky fizzled out, Vell returned with a plastic bag full of food. “Argh, I’m late, aren’t I?”
“You’re definitely late for the fireworks -”
Grrrowl went Fior’s stomach, and he blushed in embarrassment.
“- But not for dinner, I suppose,” I finished my remark.
Laughing, eating, and chatting, the night came to an end. We said our goodbyes and went our own ways an hour before midnight. However, as I prepared to go through the door back into Redjuve, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what had transpired today would lead to something ominous, something that would turn all of our lives upside down.