As the year came to a close, people could be seen winding down as they wrapped up their work. Shops flushed out their old inventory, and kitchens cleaned out the back of their magic fridges as a way to create a fresh start to the new year.
Often, if these tasks were completed early, the non-essential businesses would just hang a ‘closed for the year’ sign and spend the remaining days off with their family.
Given that today was the last day, the marketplace was completely empty besides a lone chef gliding through, carrying boxes of merchandise.
“Man, why did I volunteer for this? It’s so freaking cold!”
I had been given the task of transporting the goods needed for businesses to start running again after the new year’s holiday. Reaching the door of a restaurant, I dropped off the boxes of fresh ingredients for the owner waiting inside. Half of them contained the chili peppers that I had used just a few days ago at the royal summon. It was a bit scary how quickly word got out about my cooking with it, but pouncing on an opportunity meant everything to merchants.
“Okay, that completes my delivery run. Finally.” I rubbed my arms that were tense from soreness.
The Faulkner trading company was no different, as Roland had been rushing to push out his final shipment of goods to the right places. Since Eryn had excused herself to her knightly duties, they had been short-handed. It only took a pleading look from her for me to cave in and take her place.
It didn’t end up so bad though, as I had been put in charge of making speedy deliveries on my levi-board. After a few, I started treating them as a series of timed side-quests where you had a limited amount of time to get from point A to B. Since the streets had been fairly empty, I freely took advantage of the environment to spice up my return trip. What other time would I be able to fulfill my trick boarding fantasies than now?
Having reached the trading company once again, my brief moment of fun was over. The building was dark and empty at this point, except for a single lamp. Roland had been the last staff member left behind, shelving documents in their correct places.
Hearing the sound of my footsteps on the wooden floor, Roland looked up towards me.
“Good.” Placing the last documents away, he waved his hand over the lamp to turn it off, extinguishing the artificial light in the room. The evening sun crept through the windows, giving just enough light to trace Roland’s large form.
“Good job for the year,” Roland said as he placed a hand on my shoulder. “Thanks for taking care of her.”
Without any other words, he shooed me outside before locking up. The doors would remain closed until the holidays ended.
“Well, guess I should check up on her now.”
Stepping on my board, I scooted off to the magic guild.
Stepping into the guild lobby, there was a distinctive lack of activity that was usually the norm. Even for guild requests, there were few adventurers that had the motivation to take upon more tasks, spending their hard-earned funds resting at the inns and taverns during this slow period instead.
Walking through the lonely echoes of my own footsteps, I slipped into the back area and paused at the door of one office. Having been occupied by a new person recently, there was a lack of decoration that would usually personify the room with the owner’s tastes.
Slumped at the desk was the head of a particular girl with long, platinum locks of hair covering her face. The signs of slow, rhythmic breath suggested that she had fallen asleep mid-task.
“There you go working too hard again.” I could only shake my head at the scene.
Understandably, it was difficult to manage her duties between that of a magic knight and successor to a merchant company. Seeing that, I felt guilty when I didn’t give it my all during the times she asked for help.
I walked over to take a closer look at her desk. There, a map had been spread out showing the Kingdom of Sistina and the surrounding countries. Purnesia lied to the north, which was known for its harsh winters. I had heard that Sistina had been at war with them long ago, but now, there were just some troops stationed to keep an eye on the border. Along the eastern border, a long mountain range stretched down, creating a natural boundary with Sanshiro to the east. Reading about that place in Eryn’s library, the texts contained hints of a culture similar to those of Asian descent, which naturally piqued my curiosity. Lastly, the southern isles dotted along the bottom of the map, a collection of islands closely knitted to form a country called Macali. Due to the natural geography of the southern edge of Sistina, there had been only one viable place to build a port town. Because of this, travel by ship in this kingdom operated solely through Gibraltar.
The current king had been ambitious enough to expand Sistina all the way to these boundaries, creating a powerful nation that other countries held in regard.
Strangely, the map had cut off the left side, giving no indication as to what lied in the west.
Looking elsewhere around the desk, stacks of reports had been haphazardly spread out, likely handed to her by her subordinates. Various scribbles on the map indicated where they had gone for requests.
This was a far cry from what we had been doing before, when we only had to worry about fulfilling and reporting the task as given. I had never held a position of authority, normally shying away from such bothersome tasks and letting someone else volunteer.
As my hand reached out to touch Eryn, two knocks sounded at the door. I looked up to see a familiar suave guy standing there.
“Thought I would find you two here,” Cornelius said with a smile.
“I literally just walked in on sleeping beauty here,” I said, quickly retracting my hand. “Are you catching up on work, too?”
“Hmm, not really. Just had a feeling that ‘Miss Little Hard Worker’ would still be here, when everyone else had long vacated their desks.”
“What reason would she have to work so hard?” I mumbled, more to myself than at Cornelius.
“What indeed?…” Cornelius stared at me with an inquisitive look.
“Don’t look at me. I can’t read a girl’s heart,” I reflexively said in defense.
“Well, that’s as plain as day. Anyways, do take care that you don’t burn yourselves out in your activities.” His tone strangely had a tinge of bite to it.
As Cornelius turned to leave, he suddenly looked back as if recalling something.
“By the way, you should come to the Festival of Ice that I host in my domain. It will be a good change of pace, and it’ll be your first time, correct?”
“Festival of Ice? What’s there to see?”
“It is an event featuring artistry crafted using ice magic. A time for families to relax and play in the snow. I do hope you’ll come by. I’ll have some interesting pieces to unveil.” Cornelius winked at me.
“Oh right, you did have a thing for making stuff pretty.” I recalled our tavern chat many months ago.
Cornelius’s excellent magic control had been due to his penchant of making magic aesthetically pleasing. No doubt that he had started the event using his position as Lord of Reichenstein.
“Sure. I’ll somehow drag her out for some fun.”
“Wonderful.” Cornelius’s voice trailed away as he left the room with a wave.
Turning back to the girl still sound asleep on her desk, I brought out my levi-board before stopping myself.
“Nah. I’ll be nice this time.” I shook my head to clear the mischievous thoughts before setting the board aside.
I gently tried to shake Eryn awake, but it seemed like she was dead to the world. With a sigh, I decided to lift her up into a princess carry.
“Geez, how can one sleep so soundly? You must be tired as heck,” I muttered, as it seemed like nothing could interrupt her dozing.
Awkwardly kicking my levi-board to the ground, I carefully glided my way out the door and back home with today’s final load of cargo in tow.
After reaching the Faulkner residence, I had regretted my decision to carry her back home. While the first ten minutes had been manageable, the remainder of the time was progressively more taxing on my forearms. How did people make this look easy?
Partway during the trip, I thought Eryn had woken up, as she had stirred in my arms. To my surprise, she instead wrapped her arms around my neck in her sleep, making a difficult situation even more awkward.
Pietro opened the door and greeted me with an upturned eyebrow.
“A little help here?” I begged.
“No. No. I think you’re doing a fine job. Might as well finish the task.” Pietro grinned at me.
“Huh? Finish? Finish what?” I was a bit confused. What did he want me to do?
Pietro simply pointed up the stairs.
Oh, I guess he wanted me to tuck her in. Wait! I couldn’t do that!
Before I could object, Pietro slapped me on the back.
“Get a move on.” He apparently wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
Trudging up the stairs carefully due to the extra weight, I opened the door to Eryn’s room. With a gentle sway of the bed, I laid her across the soft surface and started undoing the pieces of armor around her arms and legs.
At this point, it felt like nothing I could do to her would rouse her from dreamland. However, I had the feeling that if I did anything improper, Pietro would be hiding somewhere, waiting to smite the offender. I couldn’t sense him now, but quite often he just seemed to appear next to me. I wonder if he could even give Gerard a run for his money.
Gently laying her down, I pulled up the covers, all the while staring at her relaxed expression.
As I turned away, I briefly surveyed the room. A few sparse decorations dotted the room – dolls in the corner, shiny accessories on a dresser – nothing atypical of a teenage girl.
However, as I walked over to take a closer look, I noticed a distinct layer of dust that had settled on the objects. None of these had been shifted from their current position in quite some time. To me, this felt like a sign that Eryn had grown up too fast, leaving behind the relics of her childhood due to her busy daily life.
However, one object caught my eye, as there had been a lack of dust resting on top of it. A glass jar sat on the dresser, its contents shimmering as light reflected off the multi-colored objects. A small ring of dust positioned around the jar signified that this was one of the few objects that Eryn had disturbed recently.
Lifting the jar up, I uncorked it and let a pink, spiky ball roll out. Examining it carefully between my fingertips, I came to the realization that this was a candy I had seen before. I believed it was called ‘konpeito’.
“Interesting, I’ve never seen her eating it or heard anything about these.”
The jar had also been full, so either she had replenished it recently, or she hadn’t eaten any in a while. The latter case seemed more unlikely due to the absence of dust, so my guess was that she liked this particular candy.
“Guess I’ll ask Pietro about it.” I returned the objects to their original place, unable to recall seeing it sold anywhere in the capital.
I quietly turned out the light and exited the room, hoping that my master would be fully rested for tomorrow’s events.
Little did I know, this candy would somehow change our fates in the near future.