We had barely taken five steps forward before my stomach gave off a ferocious cry. Whiffs of cinnamon, fruit, and caramelized sugar bombarded my senses, sending me into ‘Chef Mode’. The scent of freshly-baked goods called forth a curiosity that compelled my legs forward.
Stepping into the bakery, the refreshing sight of something modern greeted me. Waitresses immediately called out to the entering guests with a hearty “Welcome!” They wore plaid aprons of various soft colors, from light blue to pink, over a simple button-up shirt and skirt. Such outfits were uncommon for the conservatively dressed citizens of Sanshiro, but they no doubt enhanced the inviting atmosphere.
The cuteness of this modern look had an obvious impact on the customers’ expressions. Guys and girls alike kept stealing glances at the attire, albeit for different reasons.
“Oh? Should I fetch a tailor to make one for myself? While you won’t see me in the kitchen much, I get the feeling that your mind is on a different kind of ‘service’.”
“I, uh… That’s not exactly why I’m staring. I mean, they are nice, and you would look amazing in one. But I was just not expecting an outfit that so closely resembles that in Japan.”
At least, it looked like those uniforms seen in anime and such. I had no idea if that was what people actually wore in Japanese bakeries, so I would have to ask Saki or Koujiro about it. Regardless, the style and layout of the bakery looked distinctly like a shop in my old world, so the parallels couldn’t have been a coincidence.
The clear cases in the front displayed the shop’s creations, while the open kitchen carried deliciousness upon a passing breeze to the dining tables. Even these points were standard fare compared to a centerpiece that no other shop could match.
“The dough is ready to knead!”
“Air Hammer Flurry!”
Two young voices worked in the middle of the kitchen, in clear view of an audience. A girl with blond hair and pointy ears hurled a giant glob of dough towards a boy with glasses chanting a magic spell. As soon as the dough landed on the table in front of him, a series of invisible blows smashed and rolled it up repeatedly. For those attuned to the feeling of mana, it was like giant arms had sprouted from the boy, displaying strength far greater than one would expect from his thin and bookish appearance.
I gave the two a smile as I had grown used to the style of cooking Chrys and Yi Long created for themselves. One that turned into a magical show that drew the eyes of customers back every time.
Yi Long had a gift of learned magic, able to use spells like an extension of his body. I watched as he pounded and formed the dough with Wind upon his Earth-built workstation. After shaping them into bite-sized treats, a blast of Fire engulfed them, pinpoint baking that didn’t require an oven as the flames were completely contained.
Once they were done, it was Chrys’s turn to sprinkle on the magic. Grabbing piping bags, she unleashed a stream of icing that splashed upon the surface of the treats, able to make it all land in the correct spots even from a distance. Like a fairy, she then tossed out a handful of blessings in the form of sprinkles. That cloud of rainbow decorations that normally would have scattered everywhere instead broke all laws of entropy, landing perfectly atop the treats.
Chrys’s maxed-out Luck stat made such a feat possible. She never missed, not unless it was purposeful or lacked the proper intent. But as a result of her abilities, the cheerful customers treated her like some kind of fantastic miracle.
The baking shows of Chrys and Yi Long were the star attraction of this bakery, the big crowd-puller that left them hungry for more and willing to spend lavishly. Apparently, someone had picked up some tips from Dengel during her stay in Sistina…
“Brother Claude, you made it!”
The cheerful, singsong voice of Chrys broke through the crowd that formed around the counters, as the girl herself dashed through the hole that her admirers made for her. I could feel hints of jealousy aimed at me as her head collided into my stomach and her arms wrapped around me in a big hug.
But then, someone pointed at me in surprise and yelled, “Wait, that’s the King and Queen of Sistina!”
More than half of the people immediately bowed in respect before I put up my hand to stop them.
“Hold it! I’m on vacation right now. I’m here to check out a wonderful shop, just like you all are doing.” I looked down to see sparkling emerald eyes that were every bit as beautiful as her creations. “And to check on my apprentices.”
Yi Long came forward and gave us a cordial bow. He had much to owe us for looking after him. Now he was back home, proudly displaying the skills that he was born with. There was no one around that would admonish him for focusing on magic over physical prowess.
This bakery was a dream that they built together, a mutual interest between two people that were worlds apart. At this time, people didn’t need a pair of adventurers that glided around and took down fierce monsters. They had already completed that part of the training. Now, they simply wanted to provide a place of happiness and warmth back where their journey started. They were children allowed to dream.
“Getting a bit into it now, aren’t you? Should you be doing so much today? Don’t you have to get ready for the concert?” I asked Chrys.
“Doing this much is a cinch. You know that. And plus, the happiness I see in the eyes of the people that shop here trickles into my song and gives it strength. There is no other way to prepare for such a feeling.”
I nodded and tousled her hair a bit. The real reason that we came to Sanshiro was because Chrys was planning to hold a concert later tonight. After she belted out songs during the great battle against demons, the country fell in love with her. She had become their miniature Madonna. And that was on top of being a baker and a holy priestess also.
“Well, since we’re here, how about a few of those pastries you just made? That and some mango tea would make for a great day opener.”
“Sure, coming right up!”
Chrys disappeared back into the crowd and headed to the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with a tray of treats and drinks, more than what we could consume. But as she linked arms with Yi Long and dragged him toward the tables, we understood that they were taking a break along with us.
“Maybe we should find a better place to have a private chat?” Katalina suggested, looking at the crowd of people that were seemingly hanging onto our every action.
It was not every day that renowned people came to visit the random shops in town. That was not yet a normal thing in Sanshiro, unlike how I strolled through various locales in Sistina. But then again, Sanshiro’s important people didn’t start off as a commoner, familiar with the average townsperson. I would have to make an effort to rid such stiff traditions, but for today, it was best to attract less attention.
“I’m willing to duck out on royal obligations of being in the public’s eyes. We’re off the clock, after all.”
Chrys signaled to the other workers of her leave, with them waving back to their owner with a smile. The four of us exited the shop and made our way to the market square, which was busy with people moving about. With it being crowded, the random passersby would find little reason to stare at a few more leaves hiding in a forest.
While indulging in our tasty brunch, we talked about various things that had happened since we last saw each other, which was Katalina and my wedding. They were the ring bearers for the ceremony, and Chrys even sang a bunch of songs during the reception. But since that time, we became engrossed with our own projects, Katalina and I were rebuilding and improving Sistina, while Chrys and Yi Long created a home to call their own. Much had passed by in only a few months’ time, so like old, nosy people, I couldn’t resist but question when they would have a wedding of their own.
Of course, the two of them blushed and looked away from each other in innocence. They were wise beyond their years and more accomplished than adults twice their age, so it was easy to forget that they were only twelve.
“A-Anyways! There’s something else that I rather ask you, Your Majesty.” Yi Long said, dodging the question.
“Hmm? No one here by that title. You best check back after the weekend,” I teased.
“Then, Brother Claude, I have something to ask. Do you know much about the Samyang or Nissin clans?”
“I know a bit of them, particularly this Hochi guy from the Samyang. He was actually able to beat me in terms of spiciness, despite my mana-enhancing abilities. Pretty amazing guy right there. I introduced Roderick to him as a guinea pig, and now, Hochi swings by the castle on occasion to deliver the goods.”
“T-Then, do you think I should join the Samyang Clan?”
I cocked my head at him from the unexpected question. After his previous experiences with the Thunder Phoenix Clan, it seemed like he would want to steer clear of any others.
“Perhaps, young Yi Long is being scouted. After all, opening a trendy bakery and using magic to deliver quite the spectacle. That sounds like the cooking-based clans are eyeing those with potential.” Katalina pulled out her mana analyzer out of nowhere and examined Yi Long. “Your magic capabilities alone would grant you a nobility title in Sistina. Having talent such as yours under their wing would give them a better foothold in the competition.”
“Ugh, politics. The worst part of ruling.”
Even now, I still balked at having to deal with the power struggles that nobility put themselves into. Their feigned acts of gratitude and foot kissing made me want to facepalm at how blatant their intentions were. But it was difficult to completely uproot tradition. The roots reached very deep, so I would have to slowly dig out each part of it until it could no longer survive.
“Wait, why don’t you just form your own clan? The two of you are skilled enough, and you’re already laying the groundwork for it. By the time you become adults, there are bound to be adoring fans willing to join you. Between your magic slinging and Chrys’s singing, you’re this place’s ‘Golden Duo’.”
“That’s the thing… it seems like they want to pull me away from Chrys, and I don’t want that. They can’t touch her because of her priestess status. But I’m fair game. And even if I make my own clan, she can’t technically join-”
Chrys reached up and pinched Yi Long in the cheek, puffing her face up adorably.
“Then I’ll quit being a priestess! It’s that simple! And until you do, I’ll use my position as leverage to keep the clans off your back!”
I laughed at the situation. “Looks like you have your answer there.”
The rest joined in the laughter. It looked like this pairing would last for quite some time. And regardless of what they found themselves involved in, they would share the burden and joys that came from it.
“Just let us know. You’ve got our full sup-”
I stood up from the bench suddenly. The others stared at me in wonder as I had cut myself off. That was because I sensed a fierce intent trained upon us. My eyes darted through the crowd, and then, I saw a large man making a beeline straight for us. His stride meant business. His eyes told me that it wasn’t a coincidence. He had us purposefully in his sights.
“Hey there, I’m here for someone named Lau Yi Long. Studious looking, large mana signature, like that kid right behind you.”
His voice sounded calm and collected, but I could feel a dam of power ready to burst forth from him. From his thick build and indomitable stance, he was likely the muscle of some clan.
“Are you from the Samyang Clan or the Nissan Clan?” I asked, based on what Yi Long had mentioned earlier.
“Neither. I have my own.”
Before I could question him further, I felt a tug on my sleeve. Looking back, I saw Yi Long’s teeth chattering as he panicked.
“Th-Th-That’s Oni-ma, the Demon Dragon of Mangan!”