Chapter 18 – Starting Work
(I don’t think I’ll be able to last much longer…) Ruri thought, practically agonizing as she reflected on her past actions.
It seemed Jade had developed a taste for sleeping with the comfort of Ruri’s fluffy fur ever since the first night. He’d taken to resting with Ruri on every possible occasion.
Not only that, but in an attempt to get Ruri to stay by his side as much as possible, Jade had a small cat bed placed in the royal office. Though, the bed saw little use as she would sit atop Jade’s lap more often than not.
She normally reverted back to human form when she was in her own rooms, but due to these recent developments, she found herself remaining in cat form more often than not since she didn’t know when Jade might come calling for her. Even in her human form, she kept the bracelet on her person at all times so she could turn back into a cat at a moment’s notice.
Being by Jade’s side nearly all the time, and his lovely mana wavelength, she deviated from her original plan of learning how to live in this world and started living an idle life of mostly sleeping and eating. At this rate, she was going to become a hopeless cat… no, a hopeless case, so she finally set out to correct her lackadaisical lifestyle.
“…Okay, what’d you wanna do again?” asked Joshua, in the midst of preparations to head to another nation. She seemed to be somewhat inconveniencing him, but Ruri had no one else she could depend on. Joshua was the only person who knew Ruri was actually a human and was the only person she could confide in.
“Well, I’d like to work, if possible…”
“You do realize that you’re a Beloved, right? What’re you gonna do if something happens to you? The state has got you covered for anything you might need, so you don’t have to work. You can just kick back and take it easy. Much like I’d like to do, in fact. Geez, I’m actually jealous.”
“I want proper work so I can earn money to live on my own one day. My entire reason for coming to the royal capital was to consider my options for the future, so if Chelsie-san ever finds out that I’ve just been loafing about, I can’t even begin to imagine how angry she’ll be at me…” Just thinking about it was enough to make Ruri shudder.
“Well, Grandma is pretty darn scary when she’s mad, I’ll give you that,” Joshua said in genuine agreement, clearly speaking from personal experience.
“But, here’s the thing. His Majesty is gonna be worried sick if he can’t find you. So how are
you planning on explaining this? You still haven’t told him that you’re a human, so you can’t just go up and tell him, ‘Oh and by the way, I’m off to go earn a living.’”
“I’ll be fine so long as I’m not absent for very long. Normal cats wander around on their own all the time, don’t they? There are times when I explore the castle and I’m away from Jade-sama, you know.”
“Yeah, but still…”
“Please! You’re my one and only hope!” Ruri continued to beg the hesitant Joshua and eventually managed to win him over into helping her secure a job.
“Hello and welcome!” Ruri landed herself a job working at a diner belonging to one of Joshua’s acquaintances one town over from the royal capital. She had Joshua provide her with a wig to cover up her hair since it stood out the most. With the wig on her head, she went about her duties as normal. Since her disappearing for hours on end would cause a huge uproar at the castle, she limited her working time to just the lunch hour rush.
Running the establishment was a former employee at the house of one of Joshua’s acquaintances, who’d retired from his housekeeping duties due to age and started the diner with the help of his daughter and son-in-law.
“Wow, Ruri, your work ethic really is a lifesaver. I heard you’d only be with us for a short time, but I really would like you to work here indefinitely,” said the daughter of the diner owner.
“I’ve always dreamed of doing this sort of work, so I find it really fun,” said Ruri in reply. She’d actually always wanted to work in a cafe, but a diner was close enough.
She’d gone to so many part-time job interviews in the past, but there would always be one thing stopping her once she got there—Asahi.
Her having to pick places with few job openings because she didn’t want to work with Asahi might have been partially to blame, but they would always pick Asahi over her, without fail. Despite consistently landing the jobs Ruri wanted, Asahi would turn each one of them down because she wouldn’t get to work alongside her, which only served to fill Ruri with further rage.
The only part-time work that Ruri had been able to get in her world was due to her mother pulling strings to get her some behind-the-scenes work at her modeling gigs. It wasn’t really the kind of work that Ruri had her heart set on, but your average student socialized a ton, which meant no amount of spending cash was ever truly enough—the more cash, the better! Plus, while it wasn’t the type of job Ruri ultimately hoped for, the thought of Asahi never showing up made it the most comfortable workplace imaginable for Ruri.
Asahi normally captured the interest of anyone and everyone around her, but for some odd reason, when she was around people involved with her mother, those people would invariably prioritize Ruri—it didn’t seem to matter that Asahi had been using Bewitch magic. Back then, since Ruri didn’t know about Bewitching magic, she simply thought that her mom’s superior charm kept them from Asahi’s attraction, which made her lament her own lack of charm. Doubts came to Ruri’s mind—Chelsie said that anyone without an immunity to magic would be strongly affected by Bewitching spells, so why did it not work in that particular case?
That was when Ruri suddenly remembered something. She remembered that Bewitch magic wouldn’t work on people with strong mana or against people who already had Bewitch magic cast upon them by someone with stronger mana than their own.
(Huh…?) That jogged her memory of something Chelsie told her—that possessing mana was hereditary and that those with strong mana were more likely to give birth to children with equally strong mana.
(Huh?) This was all jogging Ruri’s memory even further about her grandfather—her mother’s father—who’d drilled outdoor survival skills into her. He never had a shortage of anecdotes from his soldier days, like him charging through a pack of enemies, deflecting their bullets and wiping them out all by himself—or him knocking down a giant tree with his one bare fist.
Ruri had always thought that those were just wild stories, but they would be simple tasks if mana was involved…
She also remembered her mother and grandfather talking to themselves a lot. They would stare at and talk to the air, so much so that it was difficult to believe they were talking to themselves. Ruri’s grandfather would often say to her, “Still no?” but her mother would answer for her with, “Not yet.” The two then disappointedly looked off into a random direction.
Ruri would always try and focus her own eyes, to see if there was actually something there, but she would find nothing, which simply made Ruri scratch her head. The spirits that were always by her own side popped into her head. While they weren’t with her right now, as to not get in the way of her work, they were keeping an eye on her from afar. (No, no, no. There’s no way… There’s no possible way…) Ruri felt like she’d taken a step into the gateway of truth.
She desperately tried to shake the thought from her head. But the more her mother and grandfather’s unusual behavior came to mind, the less she was able to deny. That being said, with no way to confirm anything at the moment, Ruri decided to give up thinking about it. In a way, it was a bit of a relief. She was sure that she had just suddenly gone missing in her world and that her mother and grandfather were probably worried about her. However, with this new idea in mind, they might know that Ruri wasn’t involved in any sort of kidnapping or accident, at the very least. Well, she guessed she had been involved in a kidnapping in a certain sense…
There was even a possibility that they knew what had happened, that she was in another world and that they might never see her again. And while they may never see each other again, this knowledge put Ruri somewhat at ease.
She knew that she was worrying them, but she also now knew that she wasn’t making them
sad. After all, she was brash and tenacious enough to live anywhere, even another world—these were traits she got from her mother and grandfather. No doubt the two were confident that she would make everything work out.
As Ruri thought that, she could feel herself freed of one more regret about her world.
◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
From that point on, Ruri worked at the diner almost every day.
Jade would ask her where she was going on her way out, but she managed to cover her tracks convincingly enough.
As soon as she left the royal capital she would take off her bracelet, return to human form, put on the brown wig Joshua had prepared for her, and commute to the neighboring town. She would enter the diner and order the spirits to keep their distance from her.
Ruri found serving the customers to be a fun experience. Especially because beast people of all sorts visited the diner, she had a blast just people watching. Ruri’s duties included taking orders and bringing out food.
However, one day, when she was assigned to make the workers’ own lunches, she made hamburgers and French fries because she had a strong hankering for them. She also made crepes filled with fresh fruit for dessert—both dishes bowled everyone over. They were so well- received that they asked if it was okay to sell them in the diner proper, to which Ruri agreed.
Human, demi-human, and beastman alike ordered the hamburger and French fry combo, and it became the shop’s number one best seller. And after telling them that crepes could be wrapped in paper and eaten while walking, they started selling them as take-out, turning them into a second big hit among both men and women.
But, copying a runaway hit was the way of the world, especially the business world.
A hamburger and fries was nothing more than beef between two slices of bread with fried potatoes, and a crepe was just a mixture of flour, milk, and egg rolled over fruits. They were items that anyone could make easily, so the imitations proceeded to roll on in.
The end result was shops specializing in hamburgers and crepes everywhere. Instead of being disappointed, Ruri felt admiration for their shrewd business senses. Although a massive influx of people did come seeking these products, they started to thin out the more easily accessible these goods became, and it was no time until the boom had completely subsided.
Ruri fancied the idea of whipping them up some Japanese cuisine since things had gone this far, but this world unfortunately lacked soy sauce and miso. She didn’t know how to make them either, so she probably had to shelve those plans.
The main staple of this world’s diet was bread. According to the spirits, there was something akin to rice here as well, but it rarely circulated in the Nation of the Dragon King. Even so, Ruri desperately wanted to get a hold of some one day.
The Nation of the Dragon King was home to several races, all with their own unique cuisines. Many new dishes had been invented from incorporating the good qualities of each, meaning that they were a wellspring of culinary techniques and ingredients compared with other nations. She considered herself lucky to have come to the Nation of the Dragon King based solely on the food. After all, living off of lousy food would be agony itself. Although there was an extremely diverse selection of cuisine in this world, she couldn’t create any truly Japanese dishes without miso or soy sauce.
Ruri had always been able to cook well enough to sustain herself, but she wasn’t capable of making new or complicated dishes. She wasn’t a professional chef, and this inability discouraged her greatly. She gave up on the whole creating dishes angle. Plotting any kind of get-rich-quick scheme by using cuisine from outside this world wasn’t going to work—things just weren’t that easy here. She would make dishes if she felt like she wanted to eat them, but she most likely wouldn’t make them with the intent to sell. Instead, Ruri quietly focused on busing tables.
“Hey there, Ruri, you gonna be making us some new food?”
Ruri smiled wryly upon hearing the question. The man had been a regular customer even before she introduced the hamburger.
“No, I don’t think so. And I’ve decided to keep it to just worker lunches if I do.”
“Dang, I’m sorry to hear that. I got excited thinking maybe we’d have another great dish like your hamburgers soon.”
“Well, we’ll see how the wind blows…” She had no plans on being a chef, so chances were that she wouldn’t be cooking anything else for the diner.
“I’ve never seen dishes like yours before. Are you not from the Nation of the Dragon King, Ruri?”
“I’m not. I’m from somewhere far away from here.” Ruri was quite literally worlds apart from them, so never-before-seen meals were par for the course.
“Do you live here?”
“I commute from the royal capital.”
“I see, I see. …Aah, speaking of the royal capital, word has it that a Beloved showed up, but do ya know anything seeing as how you hail from there?”
“M-Me? Not a thing.” Ruri’s heart skipped a beat, but she put on a smile to hide her reaction.
“That so? Too bad. It’s what everyone’s talking about, in and outside of town, but no one has any solid information.”
“Is it that fascinating a subject?” She was here to work incognito, so, while they knew who Ruri was superficially, they probably wouldn’t be interacting with her if they knew she lived in the castle.
“Well, of course it is! This is a Beloved we’re talking about. The Nation of the Dragon King hasn’t had a Beloved in such a long time that we don’t even know what it’ll be like to have one around. That’s why I can’t help but be interested. Whenever a Beloved is around spirits gather and help the soil prosper. But that isn’t all; they’ve got their downsides, too.”
“Downsides?” Ruri gave it some thought, but she couldn’t come up with anything that could be construed as a downside per se.
“Just saying, being loved by the spirits has its ups and downs.” Ruri looked confused at this statement, so the man continued explaining. “The spirits really treasure their Beloveds. More than one nation has met their end from hurting a Beloved.”
Ruri had seen enough to know she couldn’t brush off the man’s comment about spirits destroying nations as hyperbole. His dead-serious expression also helped sell the point, but Ruri had seen the spirits react drastically to danger befalling her, and Chelsie had warned her up and down to keep the spirits under check.
She knew her hold on them had kept them from any real violence so far, but it was just so hard to imagine them causing that much destruction.
“Also, spirits are absolute entities. I hear there are some Beloveds that use the fact that other people won’t oppose spirits to their advantage and start getting too big for their britches. Like, they’ll overestimate their own abilities and start launching wars against other nations. There was once a Beloved, a human one, who tried to mess with the Nation of the Spirit King and, well, the Nation of the Spirit King had a Beloved of their own that was even more powerful, so they ended up getting hoisted by their own petard…”
Spirits would unconditionally lend their powers to Beloveds just like they did for Ruri, no matter their motives, so there were bound to be some Beloveds with designs on world conquest.
“Not all human Beloveds are like that, of course, but I gotta say I’d like to know what kind of Beloved we have. It’s possible that the Nation of the Dragon King could get dragged into something we shouldn’t.”
“Yes, fair points…” Despite being one herself, Ruri objectively realized something—that a Beloved was like a person carrying around the football to the nuclear bombs known as “spirits.”
◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
With the lunch rush past them and the end of the work day drawing nearer, the daughter of the diner owner called out to Ruri.
“Hey, Ruri, dear? Would you mind coming with me to do some shopping? I might send you to go do some errands later, so I want you to have an idea of where the shop is.”
“Yes, of course,” Ruri replied with a nod, taking off her apron and going out to shop with the woman.
This city that neighbored the royal capital served as a passage for people heading there, so it was pretty big in its own right. Also, since lodgings in the capital were fairly expensive, there were many people who would stay at a place close to the capital and commute.
This city had a lot of shops—not to the extent of the royal capital proper, but still a lot. For someone who only made round trips from the castle and the shop on foot like Ruri, she could easily get lost if she didn’t watch herself. So she committed the path to memory while the daughter explained what they were there to get.
As they walked the city, a shadow was suddenly cast on them from high above. The shadow paused there for a split second before speedily traveling along. Ruri curiously looked overhead. She didn’t find an airplane flying through the skies but a lifeform with a gigantic frame. It was the same form that she had seen countless times when Chelsie transformed—the dragonkin’s dragon form. Several more dragons followed soon after and Ruri looked in the direction they had come from. There she found a tall, rocky mountain visible even from where they stood a town over—the same mountain housing the castle. The dragons appeared to have flown from there.
They were most likely patrol soldiers. They had transformed into dragons and gone on to patrol the area around the capital, which also helped serve to keep the neighboring nations in their place since one look at these gigantic creatures was enough to deter almost anyone from advancing.
While there were people foolish enough to try in spite of that, their presence still served as a deterrent to bandits and the like. It was thanks to them, in fact, that the area surrounding the royal capital was extremely safe.
“Never stops being a feast for the eyes, huh?” commented the daughter, looking at the sky with her hand shading her eyes. Ruri nodded in agreement.
As she watched the giant bodies fly across the sky Ruri was enchanted anew by her fantasy surroundings.
“So Ruri, have you gotten used to living here yet?” “Huh?!”
“You know, you were living out in the forest for a while, away from the royal capital, right? That’s way different from big-city life, so I’m sure it’s been all sorts of disorienting, yeah?”
“O-Oh… yeah. Sure has…” Ruri stammered, thinking that she’d meant “gotten used to living in this world,” which made her heart stop for a second until she realized she was jumping to conclusions. “Hmm, it’s a completely different way of life for sure. In the forest, just buying things is a whole ordeal, but here, you can go out and buy what you need right away.” Ruri told her about one of her past episodes where the cake she was about to eat got eaten by someone else and that she was so far away from a replacement that she’d tearfully accepted her fate.
The woman chuckled. “The ease of getting what you need is one of the main perks of living in a city, yep. And the royal capital in particular has goods from all over. Even this city has an abundance of goods, since it’s right on the way to the capital.”
“The fact that I can eat sweets whenever I want is very appealing.”
“I don’t blame you. That’s important for us girls,” the owner’s daughter emphatically agreed with Ruri, clearly a fan of sweet things herself.
In the middle of the conversation, Ruri felt someone bump into her back.
“Oh, sorry about that…” Ruri wasn’t the one who bumped first, but she apologized regardless, figuring it was only polite since she was the one standing in the middle of the walkway, chatting and blocking the flow of traffic. She turned around to see who it was who’d bumped into her.
Ruri stood silent for a second, and just when she realized she’d seen their faces somewhere before, the memory resurfaced and the muscles in her face tensed. It was them. It was the pair of creeps she’d run into as soon as she arrived in the capital.
“Grk…” They seemed to notice Ruri as well, their eyes shooting open before their lips curled into devious smirks.
“Well, well. If it ain’t the li’l girly we ran into a while back!” “Us runnin’ into you out here feels like fate, don’t it? Eh?”
“No, no. Doesn’t feel like that in the slightest, sir!” Ruri replied, frantically shaking her head as if to say, “Not on your life!”
The men started to inch toward her for whatever reason, and Ruri followed suit by inching her way back. Although she wanted to do an about-face and hightail it, she unfortunately was there with someone else. She couldn’t just run off and leave her.
“Acquaintances of yours, Ruri?”
“Uh, no, not exactly, erm…” Ruri stammered, at a loss as to how to answer this question. As her mind spun frantically, one of the men plopped his hand on Ruri’s shoulder, causing Ruri to shiver at the unpleasant surprise.
“Hey, don’t freak out now. We ain’t gonna do anything to you no more.” Ruri wasn’t about to believe that.
As she stared up at him, full of fear, the other man proudly informed her, “That’s right. We’re both reformed thanks to the good sir, after all.”
“Yeah, the good sir in black from head to toe.”
Once she heard them mention someone in “black from head to toe,” it evoked the image of the man dressed in black clothes who’d shown up after she’d defeated the two men standing before her. It was the same suspicious man who’d been fascinated by Ruri’s hair.
“Once you did us in, the good sir threw some coin our way. Along with a warning not to pull stuff like that again, that is.”
“At first, we were pretty steamed and didn’t see how some pocket change was gonna help, but after a few days, he even helped us find jobs. So now, we’re living on the straight and narrow. And it’s all thanks to him.” One man went on to earnestly commend the fact that kind people still existed in the world while his partner nodded at this observation in a commendable manner.
The two looked oddly satisfied—content, even—with mellow expressions on both of their faces.
Seeing that helped, and while Ruri still wasn’t ready to completely drop her guard, it did help settle her down a few degrees.
However, the man’s next sentence made her eyes go wide, wiping her mind of all thoughts of wariness.
“So if you did do something, you need to hurry up and apologize.” “I… excuse me?”
“C’mon, the good sir’s kind, so I’m sure he’ll forgive ya.”
“Huh? What do you mean by that?”
The two men gently admonished Ruri and looked at her with somewhat warm eyes—it was almost as if they’d both attained some sort of enlightenment.
“The good sir said that he was looking for you. A guy who said he was one of his envoys came by asking if we knew where you’d gone, a few times actually.”
“If they’re using people to search for ya, it’s gotta be something pretty major, right? I know it’s none too compellin’ coming from us, but, missy, crime doesn’t pay,” he said, and left her with a parting remark. “Make sure you apologize, y’hear?” he said before him and the other former street thug walked off.
Ruri was left standing there, momentarily unable to follow the plot. “Oh my, Ruri, did you do something?”
“No, I haven’t done anything!” Ruri firmly declared. It was quite the opposite. She was the one who had something done to her by the two former, apparently, toughs that just walked off.
But all that could wait, as what she was really interested in was the person who was searching for her—that man dressed in black that had seemed so suspicious at first glance.
While the main thing that she could gauge him on was that he was dressed suspiciously, her wariness toward the mysterious man was starting to swell, nonetheless. He also seemed to be fascinated by Ruri’s platinum blonde hair. Those factors made Ruri positive that the man was some sort of slave trader. Even though those two former toughs seemed fond of him and called him the “good sir,” that definitely wasn’t enough to convince her, and she feared what would happen if he were to find her…
As Ruri worried over the consequences of being found by the suspicious man, she proceeded to finish her shift at the diner, return to the castle, and head straight for the royal office where Jade was working.
Since Ruri had been working at the diner incognito, she hadn’t been spending as much time with Jade, which was starting to have a noticeable effect on his mood.
When she went to the office to check on how said mood was fairing, she caught Joshua in the middle of leaving. Joshua noticed Ruri and his lips curled into a cheerful and amiable smile. He approached her, squatted down and whispered to her so that no one around would hear, “Welcome back, Ruri. It’s good t’see ya.”
Joshua, the only person who knew that Ruri was a human, also knew that Ruri had just come back from working at the diner.
“How was your shift?”
“It was really fun!” She was physically exhausted but mentally satisfied. Joshua said that she didn’t have to work because she was a Beloved, but Ruri much preferred to keep herself active. That wasn’t to say she hated lazing about, but since she was finally free of Asahi and in an environment where she was allowed to do whatever she wanted, she wanted to relish this unfettered time. And eating up that time by just lying about would be such a waste. “I really am glad that I asked you to help me get some work, Joshua.”
“Hmm, personally speakin’, I’d be grateful if you were to quit right away, but it’s hard to say that when I see ya this giddy about it…”
“Why are you so opposed to me working?”
“Well, because it’s big trouble if anything happens to a Beloved; that’s why. I picked a diner because I’m pretty sure nothing dangerous’ll happen there, but then again… If His Majesty ever finds out about this, he’ll chew me out for sure.”
Ruri shared the same sentiments at the whole “if Jade ever found out” part. Putting the bit about her being a Beloved aside, maybe it was because she was in cat form, but she’d noticed that Jade gave her an awful lot of attention and care—perhaps too much.
Though it would be nice if he would simply let her do her own thing upon learning she was a human, seeing as how humans could more aptly fend for themselves, judging from the sense of apprehension she was getting from Joshua, preparing herself to get chewed out alongside him seemed to be the more likely option.
“But Chelsie-san told me to think about how I want to live in this world—not to choose to live like a Beloved. She basically said it was fine for me to look for work in the capital.”
“Geez, Grandma, you’re not helping our case… Listen, I’m just saying that there’s no need for you to work because we’ve got you covered on the essentials. And the other nations’ Beloveds are all under those nation’s care. Then again, this kinda behavior is pretty typical of you… Anyway, if anything happens, be sure to tell me. But just so you know, I’ll be out of the country for a while, so don’t go sticking your neck into danger. If anything happens while I’m away, you go straight to Grandma. We clear?”
He was likely terrified of what the spirits would do if something were to happen to Ruri, but Joshua was worried like a big brother for his little sister. If Ruri were in human form right now, she’d probably have a wry smile on her face.
“Yes, sir~” It was just as Joshua said—it was entirely unlikely that she’d face any danger doing some mundane work at a diner. Even though she thought he was being a little too paranoid, she admirably nodded.
“Welp, I’ve gotta get,” Joshua said, petting Ruri on the head one last time before standing. “Have a good trip. Stay safe.”