This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table
-Alistair Vermilion, 16 years old-
Arriving in Shibuya Station, I found myself relieved to be away from Redjuve. By now, support of the anti-monarchist faction had spread across the island with the help of the rumours, and Father found himself with few supporters. Whenever I returned to the castle from the hangar, I would walk the once-lively halls, now bare and silent. Only a handful of maids and butlers remained with the castle; the rest had gone into hiding in their homes on the basis of rumours of a coup in the future. I inhaled the muggy summer air; not as fresh as the seaside Redjuve breeze, but a breath of fresh air nonetheless.
Making my way to the Hachiko statue, I sat down on the bench, alone and feeling that something was off.
Ah… Fior isn’t here. He’s usually the first one to arrive.
So he’s really going through with what I said… Then it’ll just be me and Vell this year, I guess.
My eyesight blurred, rendering the Shibuya night scenery a smear of colorful lights, and I rubbed my eyes.
… Tears? I thought I had already let go of these feelings…
Vell arrived at the meeting spot several minutes later. With black circles under her eyes, and her usual poise absent again this year, replaced by a slow stagger that made her not unlike a zombie, I assumed misfortune had befallen her as well.
“... Are you okay?” I asked.
She returned a bleak smile, and sat down next to me on the bench. “You look like you’ve been through some stuff yourself. Save some concern for yourself, don’t use it on me.” Sighing deeply and leaning back, she continued, “Well, my sister has died, and the kingdom’s economy will probably collapse without intervention, but I can’t seem to convince my father to act, so there’s that. What about you?”
“... Some people are trying to overthrow the monarchy, so I’ve been stressed about whether I'll get executed or not.”
“I guess we both have it hard, then.”
Without Fior there to be the one to guide us, we sat on the bench for an uncomfortably long time. Awkwardly, I fiddled with a small contraption I had been using as a distraction, and Vell pinched the fabric of her coin purse, sliding her fingers back and forth. We were silent and somber against the cheerful backdrop of the festival.
Finally, after some time, Vell spoke. “... You’re not in any rush to go back home, are you?”
“No, I suppose not. Why?” I responded, putting away the gadget in my pocket.
“Let’s go to the festival, then. After all,” she hesitated, “... it might be our last festival. Do you have any money on you?”
Turning my pockets inside out, all I had was the gadget and my pocket watch. Holding the latter up, I told her I could pawn it. She shook her head, then sighed. “You’ll need that to get home on time tonight. I’ll pawn this instead,” she said, pulling out a necklace from underneath her dress that looked quite expensive.
“And that has no sentimental value?”
Staring at it for a moment, then clutching it tightly in her fist, she replied, “Not anymore.”
“Welcome!” shouted a feminine voice from above us as we entered the pawn shop. “I’ll be there with you in a sec!”
Moments later, Makoto came flying down the stairs to the counter, wiping away her sweat with a cloth from her waist. “Oh, it’s you again,” she said to me, before looking at Vell. “And who’s this?”
“She’s -” I hesitated, not wanting to bring up Fior, “a friend of mine.”
“Right, right. What do you have for me to appraise today?” She held her hand out expectantly as she turned on the magnifying lamp with the other. Vell took out the necklace, squeezed it tightly once, then dropped it into Makoto’s palm.
“Hmm… good quality quartz, sterling silver. Craftsmanship leaves something to be desired… Needs some polishing,” she said as she turned the trinket over in her hand.
“Excuse me, but is the owner okay?” I remembered that she had said last year that her grandfather had been hospitalized. “He isn’t… you know, dead, is he?”
“Nah, he’s fit as a fiddle. Just off visiting my parents in the country. Anyway, how’s forty-five thousand yen sound?”
Vell quickly nodded, and Makoto turned to the cash register, working it more efficiently than she had last year. The shopkeeper’s bell rang once more as we left the pawn shop with cash in hand.
Wading through the crowd at the scramble crossing, we made our way to the entrance of the festival grounds, where Vell stopped to split the money. I noticed that she had split unevenly with me receiving noticeably more, but when I motioned to point it out, she simply shushed me with a finger.
As I wandered aimlessly between the stalls, stopping to get a snack midway, I realized I lacked interest in the festivities. Though I hadn’t had okonomiyaki in two years, it didn’t taste as good as it had previously. The goldfish scooping and katanuki stalls had lost their allure, and the heat emanating from the paper lanterns above felt closer than ever.
I sat down on a bench at the back of the grounds, wondering why the festival experience had lost its charm. After all, with all the stress that I had accumulated over the past year, I had expected that it would be a reprieve from the rebellion uproar back home.
Perhaps the stress itself is what’s keeping me from enjoying my time here? I thought as I took another bite of the okonomiyaki.
Finishing the savory pancake, I blankly watched the crowds shuffle by. In the masses of people, I could spot couples openly flirting and yet-to-be-formed couples blushing, performing an awkward dance with their hands before grasping tightly. The adults wore wide smiles on their faces, and the children frolicked with plastic masks around their heads and candy apples in their grasps.
I wonder if I’ll be able to be happy like that again. I don’t really have a choice but to return to Redjuve, so... Maybe if the rebellion faction dissolves, but that’s too much to ask of fate… If I’m lucky, perhaps all they will do is exile Father and I? Living in the countryside would be a pain, since I wouldn’t really have access to materials, though I suppose I could settle down with some rural girl. Fior did say it was weird that I didn’t have a fiancee…
Before I realized it, the fireworks show started and ended without me leaving my seat, and I still didn’t have an answer as to why I couldn’t enjoy the festival.
Sitting in a nearby 8-Eleven convenience store, I flipped through an old issue of Great Mechanics, a magazine about the mecha featured in Japan’s animated series. Almost all of the money Vell had given me was unused, still in my pocket. I didn’t know what to spend it on; the Vassar had already been completed, so I didn’t have anything I wanted to buy to augment it, and, as pessimistic of a thought as it was, I probably wouldn’t be in the royal castle for much longer, so I wouldn’t be able to finish any new projects.
Nothing I bought here would be able to quell the flames of the rebellious faction… and the remaining forty-four thousand yen would buy more soft drinks than I could handle. Still, it would be a waste to not spend as much of it as I could before I returned home. Gazing around the store, I spotted the vats by the counter: “Oden”. I had always wanted to try it, and with the festival stalls having packed up for the day, I figured I might as well get a quick snack here before I walked the streets of Shibuya until midnight.
“Welcome! What would you like this evening?” chirped the cashier.
“Ah… I’d like to try the ‘oden’.”
“Sure thing!” The cashier took a plastic cup from underneath the counter as well as a pair of tongs, and stood behind the vat of broth.
“I’d like the…” Unsure of what the names of each item were, I opted to point at them. First was the hard-boiled egg, then the thick slice of radish, then what looked like a brown pocket, and to finish, a skewer of meat.
Ladling the broth into the plastic cup and sealing it with a plastic lid, the cashier rang me up. “That’ll be four hundred and twenty yen.”
I returned to the seat at the window and uncapped the piping-hot snack. Stabbing into the brown pocket with a fork, I bit in, surprised that inside it was the glutinous rice cake, mochi, that I had previously thought was a dessert food only.
“Did you really abandon me at the festival?” came Vell’s voice from behind me.
“I figured that we would be going our separate ways after the festival, as usual.” Without turning around to face her, I bit into the meat skewer - it was chicken.
She left for just a moment, and returned to sit at my side, holding a snack of her own: a cup of french fries. “... So, what’s your plan?”
“Well, are you going to just let the rebellion leaders execute you?”
“... I don’t know.”
Vell went silent, unsure of what to say in response to my apathy. Having finished all the items in my cup of oden, I tilted my head back and swigged the broth in one go.
“What about you?” I asked. “You said your kingdom’s economy will collapse, right?”
“Ah… about that. I can’t convince my father to decree farming reforms, so all the farms might get wiped out,” she sighed. “My parents forced me to go along with them on a mourning pilgrimage for most of the year, so a lot of time was wasted.”
“And do you have a solution to that?”
“I don’t suppose you would be willing to trade to me machines that can somehow kill off the wind, or revive topsoil?” she asked, in a joking tone that I could tell was forced.
“Even if something existed in Redjuve, I wouldn’t be able to produce it for you. The factories are out of my control right now.”
“Oh.” Abruptly, she stood up, turned on her heel, and exited the convenience store, leaving me alone again.
… So I guess that’s it.
That bond’s been severed, too.
I wish I never agreed to interworld trade.
Staring blankly into the flow of passerby outside the window, I caught a glimpse of light blue hair before it vanished as quickly as it came.