I yawned as I watched the passing scenery fly by. I had been staring outside for quite a long time at this point, but it was better than trying to face the awkwardness that was next to me.
A few days ago, we received a very important request to help slay a dragon that had appeared on the eastern part of the kingdom. The request had been made directly by the Chancellor, so Eryn immediately became excited upon hearing this. A request straight from a highly ranked person would give us a lot of prestige, but in my mind, dragons were ferocious monsters that required a team of heroes to defeat. This was hardly something that would be asked of by just the two of us.
I soon learned that we would be joined by another participant, Saki the Destroyer, who was the Chancellor’s familiar. As we walked into his office to inquire more about the request, she had been standing there, giving the both of us a penetrating stare. I wondered if she was also skeptical about our skills.
However, she looked away and turned her attention to her master as he started explaining the circumstances around that job.
Apparently, the dragon had made its nest in the mountains overlooking the province of Akigawa. I cocked my head in confusion at the foreign-sounding name, but I learned later that its inhabitants had been descendants of those that traversed the eastern mountain range, having left the country of Sanshiro. Although the kingdom of Sistina had annexed that territory, the inhabitants of Akigawa were still primarily oriental, both in looks and culture. However, some of the younger people did move out and reside in other parts of the kingdom, contributing to the mixing of cultures and goods. Given that I used to live in a mixed community in my previous world, it hadn’t occurred to me before how readily the people here had accepted those with features like Saki and me.
Leaving that bit of history aside, the presence of the dragon had created a disturbance in the local area. Though it did not directly attack the residents, they soon noticed that their crops’ growth became stunted and yield was poor. Investigating the soil, it carried a peculiar stench which they were able to trace up the mountain. Apparently, the dragon’s body was releasing something that contaminated the rainwater, which trickled down the mountain to their fields.
Efforts to drive the dragon away were in vain. While it ignored the presence of a few people climbing the mountain, it appeared to sense a larger group approaching, treating it as a hostile threat. Because of this, it was decided that a small team of strong combatants would be given the task to drive it away.
While I could understand sending in an Electi with a cheat-like attack stat and a powerful magic knight who had just won a tournament, it seemed strange for me to be added too. Despite being known as the ‘Demon Carver’, my success had been the culmination of many people supporting me, just so that I could unleash a critical blow. I was hardly suited for slaying something that I had never encountered before.
“You have a duty to protect your Master, do you not?” The Chancellor asked.
Of course, I did, but my mind was telling me that there were likely many better-suited candidates given the limited number to be deployed. On my own, I’d probably just get in the way.
“No, I think you three will be enough for the task.”
The Chancellor certainly had a high opinion of us. Eryn had never stopped grinning with eagerness to accept the job, ready to deploy immediately. Maybe she was eager to impress the man who sat near the top of the kingdom.
Back to the current moment, I had been stuck in a fancy carriage for the past few days, clinging to the window to avoid the icy mood that had been present between the two girls for nearly the entire way. I was not sure what was going on and why the two were locked in a staring contest. My only guess was that they had remembered their fight months ago.
Eryn’s eyes gave off the same look as she normally had when locked in battle. Knowing her, she was probably dwelling on her defeat and thinking of ways to beat her. I could only groan as I wondered how long it would be until we stopped next so that I could get away from this tense atmosphere.
Suddenly, the sound of a stomach growling interrupted the silence. I turned my head, seeing a tinge of red on Saki’s cheeks. Judging by the position of the sun, it was well past noon.
We had been taking breaks and spending the night in the towns along the way, but civilization became sparser as we traveled east.
“Don’t mind me. We should arrive in Akigawa in another hour or two.”
However, Saki’s pained expression as her stomach continued its cries of neglect belied this declaration. She pinched her belly in a futile attempt to shut it up.
“Um…I can heat up something fast if you want to stop.” I offered a way out of her current situation.
Seemingly realizing her own hunger, Eryn knocked on the small window next to her. It slid open, and the coachman peeked through.
“We’ll like to stop for a bit, please.”
At once, the coachman tugged on the reins and led the horses off the dirt path. We came to a stop near the edge of a forest that followed one side of this path.
Immediately, I pulled out a box from the magic fridge. Within the box was a layer of Chinese buns that had been filled with minced and seasoned meat. I had prepared it before our journey, thinking that it would be something quick and easy to eat. However, the cold storage had hardened the outer surface of the bread.
Gathering a small pile of sticks, I asked Eryn to create a fire, in which I set a bowl of water over it. Suspending the buns on a plate over the water and covering it, steam soon started to seep through the cracks in the makeshift steamer. After a few minutes, I lifted off the cover and poked one of the buns. A soft feeling enveloped my finger as a sign that it was ready for consumption.
“Here you go.” I tossed one to each of my companions.
Saki eyed it suspiciously before biting into it. As the flavor of meat hit her tongue, a sense of nostalgia hit her.
“Oh! Nikuman!” She exclaimed, excitedly taking more bites.
“Hmm…I guess you’re Japanese?” I made a guess based on what she called it.
Having guessed her ethnicity, Saki eyed me suspiciously. “And you are…?”
“American, technically. But I’m half-Chinese.”
“I see…” Saki reached for another bun and ate it quietly afterwards.
“Is she from your homeworld?” Eryn inquired, looking at me strangely. Those were nationalities that didn’t exist here.
“Maybe? There’s certainly a Japan in my world. But as to whether it’s the same Japan…no idea.” I scratched my head and turned towards Saki. “What year was it when you left?”
“It was Heisei 29, so 2017…”
From what I recalled, Akihito was the reigning Emperor for Japan during that time, which Saki nodded in affirmation. So far, so good…
“What were you before you came here?”
“In high school.”
Now, what would a normal high schooler know that I would also? I didn’t have a good concept of what Japanese schoolgirls were into, so pop culture was pretty much out. I could barely remember the trends in my country, much less in another.
“Who’s the Prime Minister?…”
“Ahh…Wait, what was his name again? I’m kind of blanking….” Saki fidgeted as she scratched her head trying to remember. I guess living in a completely new environment could wipe out some of the details that you once knew.
Come to think of it, that’s not something I knew either. Why did I ask that in the first place?
“Er…President of America?”
“Why would I know that if I don’t remember my own country’s leader?”
I was starting to run out of straws to grasp. The outside world never mattered much to me before, but now I regretted not even having the basic knowledge to verify someone from my own world. However, what other choices did I have? The only knowledge that I could be proud of was my extensive catalogue of otaku-based culture. Blame ‘free, unlimited, high-speed internet’ at college for enticing me into keeping current with everything in regards to my interests.
“Do you…watch anime?”
“…Yes,” Saki answered a bit sheepishly.
Feeling relieved at my lucky but dumb guess, I asked her to name a few series that she had watched, since I would’ve likely heard something about them. However, none of them rang a bell. Were they some kind of niche genre that I had never dived into before? Saki quickly shot down that notion as she claimed that most of them had been fairly popular.
“I guess we must be from parallel worlds then.”
It was a bit funny to claim that we were from different worlds based on solely this, but did it matter now that we were both stuck here? Deep down, I was a bit sad that I didn’t have anyone to geek out with, but I had long abandoned any hope of that anyways. At least, we seemed to share one similar interest, and she was, at least, someone from a similar world as mine.
Having finished prying into Saki’s history, I reached down for a bun to fill my own stomach. However, my hand hit an empty plate.
“Huh? There were a bunch here just a moment ago. More than enough for us three.”
I looked over at Eryn.
“Don’t look at me. I only ate two. There were several more when I last grabbed one.”
As I wondered where they could have gone, we heard some rustling nearby in some bushes. Discreetly signaling the others to check it out, we crept over with our weapons drawn. Peeking over the bushes, I saw a kid with short blond, messy hair in a tattered outfit munching away at a bun in his hand.
“Eh?” I accidentally let out in surprise.
The kid dropped the bun in surprise and before I could react, a blur had sailed by me. My eyes couldn’t keep up with the movement, as the bun thief had made an escape.
But before my head could catch up to the movement, I heard a cry and someone stumbling. The thief had somehow tripped and crashed to the ground, scattering the other buns that he had been holding.
The three of us quickly surrounded the thief, who had the build of an elementary school kid. He looked up at us in panic, a few streaks of dirt traced along his face. His clothes appeared filthy as if he’d been living outside.
“Hey, what are you doing here? I’m not mad that you took my buns…well, maybe a little bit, but that’s not the point.”
“Sorry…smell food…hungry.” The boy looked at the ground dejectedly.
The situation seemed abnormal. A starving kid outside in the chilly weather, far away from civilization. The rough speech. The speed of his escape. There were some alarms ringing in my head.
“Hey Eryn, can you check his status?”
“Eh? Oh sure.” Eryn pulled up a window and began examining, but almost instantly, her eyes froze.
I looked over and ended up in a similar fashion.
In the page of stats, a single number jumped out at us, mainly because it was significantly higher than the rest. This number was attached to the line reading ‘Spd’.
“Wait, an Electi? …Did you get summoned from another world? Someone as young as you?” Eryn had voiced the first thought that ran through my mind.
As he nodded in confirmation, I was astounded by how the gods seemingly wished to screw over the life of yet another person. Having gone through my own struggles, I started feeling sympathetic about his situation. Damn it, I suddenly have the urge to at least give him a good meal. But where was his master then?
“Gone? Like abandoned you?” My hand clenched in a flash of anger, but that soon went away at his next statement.
“No, dead… Lived north… Men attack… Escape… Come here…”
Despite his broken English, I could tell he had already been put through the wringer. However, something else bothered me.
“Hey Saki, aren’t you Japanese? Why is your English so good?”
“Because I learned it when I got here? I knew a bit beforehand, but my master helped me. It seemed like I was able to catch on quickly.”
Huh, that meant that the kid probably wasn’t here for long before he was attacked. I looked at Eryn with pleading eyes. Seeming to know what I was hinting, Eryn knelt down and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Do you want to come with us? We can’t leave you out here alone.”
With a look of skepticism and fear in his eyes, the kid hesitated to answer. Seeing this, I offered a suggestion.
“Hey kid, did you like the buns that I made? I promise to make more tasty food like that if you follow us.”
The noise of an empty, growing stomach sounded in the air.
“I guess I have my answer.” I started taking some kitchen equipment and food from the carriage. “Looks like we’ll have to delay our dragon slaying for just a bit longer.”
For the moment, there was a starving customer. As a chef, this was where my priority lied.