Chapter 09 – The Prank
It was a little after dinner when the two returned from the city.
Once the guards had hauled away the unconscious pickpocket, a patisserie suddenly caught their attention and they’d purchased cake. They had been looking forward to eating it for tonight’s dessert.
After brewing some tea, Ruri put her hand into her pocket space, ready for her treat, and pulled out the box she received at the patisserie. There were supposed to be two pieces—one for Ruri and one for Chelsie—but, for whatever reason, there was only one piece inside.
Not only that, but what had gone missing wasn’t the cheesecake that Chelsie had ordered but the fruit tart that Ruri had ordered.
“Huh? That’s odd.” “What’s odd?”
“There’s only one piece of the cake here. I’m positive that there were two, though… I’m going to go take a look.” When she’d ordered the cakes, the worker had confirmed that there were indeed two in the box. Ruri’s crafted space couldn’t be opened by anyone but Ruri. Given those facts, that left only one feasible possibility.
She opened the entrance to her pocket space and went inside, calling Lydia’s name.
Even if Lydia didn’t know where her cake had gone off to exactly, searching through the inheritance she’d received from Lydia’s previous contract-bearer for it would be an arduous process, so asking Lydia for help was the fastest solution.
Lydia appeared as soon as Ruri called her name. “What’s the matter, Ruri?”
“I bought two pieces of cake today and put them in my space, but when I got hungry and looked inside, I only found one. Do you know what happened to my cake, Lydia?”
Once Ruri asked that, Lydia’s expression became awkward, as if she were startled. “Lydia… don’t tell me…”
“Tee hee hee, sorry… I ate it,” Lydia admitted with a smile that said she’d almost tacked an ‘ehehe’ on at the end of that statement.
Ruri slumped her shoulders in disappointment. “No way… I was looking forward to that…” Unlike in her world, here she couldn’t just step out to the convenience store to buy sweets. It would take several hours to reach the city even riding on Chelsie, and it wasn’t like she could just go out and buy another one right now—things just weren’t that simple. She couldn’t convince herself to go that far just to buy a slice of cake. The only times they would go into town was to sell medicine and to buy groceries—both of which they had just done today. Realistically, she would have to put her plans vis-a-vis cake-eating on hold for a while.
“My fruit tart…” She was in utter shock.
“I’m sorry. Ever since we’ve started talking, it’s made me wax nostalgic about my time with my previous contract-bearer, so I had the craving for the first time in a long time.” Lydia seemed rather down on herself, as if sorry for what she’d done.
Hearing Lydia’s story about remembering her previous contract-bearer fondly all alone in this sectioned-off space, Ruri couldn’t get angry even if she wanted to.
“It’s whatever. I’ll just go and buy another slice later. More importantly, Lydia, you can eat even though you’re a spirit? The spirits on the outside don’t seem to ever eat.”
Lydia was relieved that the subject had changed and that Ruri wasn’t angry at her. “Spirits don’t have physical bodies, so they cannot eat meals, yes. But we can eat if we can have a body, and for that we can just borrow someone else’s. As the Spirit of Time, I am a tad different from other spirits in that I can manifest a body without needing to get one from someone else. Of course, since I cannot leave this space, I can only do so in here. But, as long as I can manifest a body, I can indeed eat meals.”
“Ah, I see. In that case, did you eat a lot with your prior contract-bearer?”
“Indeed. Eating is unnecessary for me since I am a spirit, but they would always bring something with them when they came to see me.”
“Oh wow. Then, how about this? Next time, I’ll buy a slice for you too, so just hold off on eating until I tell you which is yours.”
“Deal. I really am sorry.”
“It’s water under the bridge. Oh, but that gives me an idea. Since I now know you’re capable of eating, I’ll bake some cookies tomorrow and we’ll have a little tea party!”
“That sounds like so much fun. Can you really bake, Ruri?” “Baking a cake is out of my league, but cookies I know I can do!”
And on that note, the night passed into the following morning, when Ruri was working diligently on baking cookies.
The spirits all clustered around her, brimming with interest as they watched her work. Even Kotaro came out of nowhere to watch from the kitchen window once she started working on her batch.
“What are ya making, Ruri?”
“Cookies. I’m going to have a tea party with Lydia.”
“Wow, that sounds so nice~ We wanna have a tea party, too!”
“But none of you drink tea, right?” According to Lydia, they could eat as long as they had a physical body, but not a single spirit here had one. Even if they did have a tea party, they would just be watching her, which wouldn’t be much fun at all. Ruri gave them all a wry smile.
“It’s fine! It’s the mood that counts.” The spirits all told Ruri in unison that they’d find just observing fun, and Ruri gave in.
“Okay, then, how about I set up a chair and table out in the yard so you guys and Kotaro can all join in?”
“Yay! Yippie!” “Hooray!”
“Bmoooo!” The spirits weren’t the only ones giving a full body display of their joy; outside, Kotaro was belting out a pleased cry and wagging his scorpion tail around, mowing down the weeds around it.
“In any case, I’ll be having my tea party with Lydia today, so would all of you mind giving me a hand baking the cookies?”
“I’ll knead the dough with wind!”
“I’ll put fire in the stove!”
After much excited clamoring, they finished baking the cookies.
Ruri placed the freshly baked cookies onto a plate, then took one of the extras and tossed it outside toward Kotaro, standing just outside the window, who nabbed it out of mid-air and scarfed it down.
She applauded Kotaro’s nice catch before divvying up the leftover cookies, placing one on a plate for Chelsie and placing another on the windowsill for Kotaro.
“Alright, all done. Next, to make the tea…” she said to herself as she poured hot water into the pot, placed the tea leaves in, and let it steep for a few minutes.
Ruri then placed the finished cookies, the teapot, and two teacups on a tray. She was ready to go see Lydia. Just then, the bottle containing Chelsie’s patented rancid medicinal tea, lying on the shelf in the kitchen, caught her eye.
Ruri stared the medicinal tea down before she grinned as an idea popped into her head. She flipped over one of the face-down teacups and poured the rancid medicinal tea into it.
Opening up the pocket in space like it was nothing, she entered to see Lydia already waiting for her.
“I baked you cookies, just like I promised.”
“That’s so great, it’s been so many years since I’ve had cookies.” Judging from how happily Lydia was smiling, she could tell that she had been looking forward to this tea party a great deal,
making the effort she put into baking the cookies completely worthwhile.
She placed the tray on a nearby table and took a seat.
As Lydia manifested her solid form before taking a seat herself, her once transparent body turned clearly visible, and the wings on her back disappeared. She almost appeared human.
“Is that your manifested form, Lydia?”
“It is. Not much of a difference; it’s just that my wings are gone and my body is more opaque.” True to what Lydia described, her features hadn’t changed in any other way, so there wasn’t much of a shift between the two forms.
And she was still hearing Lydia’s telepathic speech reverberate in her head, no different from when she was in spirit form.
“Even in a materialized form, you don’t use your mouth to speak, huh?”
“I’m not incapable of doing so, but I find this to be the easier way to communicate; I’ve grown accustomed to it.”
“Makes sense.” Once Lydia had sat in her seat, Ruri set the cookie plate in the middle of the table and casually set the already-filled teacup in front of Lydia.
Then, she filled her teacup from the pot and set it in front of herself.
“Oh dear, our teas have different colors… Different scents as well…” The remark startled Ruri, but she hid it with a smile.
“I’ve made a special tea just for you, Lydia.” “Oh, did you? I am so grateful.”
Seeing that Lydia was being so forthright and didn’t suspect a thing despite being presented with the intense-smelling tea, Ruri breathed a sigh of relief. She then watched in suspense as Lydia picked up the teacup and brought it to her mouth.
Lydia took a sip. Her hand stilled—and her face beamed with a frozen smile. “T-This is delectable…”
“Huh…?” And then Lydia took another sip, much to Ruri’s astonishment.
Ruri had taken one sip and almost fainted out of sheer agony, but Lydia seemed completely fine. She was sure that she’d filled the cup with the rancid medicinal tea, but now she was second-guessing herself.
Upon closer inspection, she could see that Lydia’s hand was shivering ever so slightly and that her lips were slightly tensed up. It seemed that she had neither poured the wrong substance into the cup nor was there anything wrong with Lydia’s taste buds.
Lydia, oddly, kept pounding down the tea before Ruri quickly came in to stop her.
If she were to let her drink anymore, Lydia seemed likely to pass out.
“Lydia, you don’t need to force yourself to drink that. I know it doesn’t taste good.”
“No, it is good. Plus, this is tea that you made especially for me. I want to drink every last
drop.” Ruri had planned this out as payback for Lydia eating her cake, but after seeing Lydia trying to brave the odds and drink the tea because Ruri had made it just for her, Ruri’s conscience became too loud for her to ignore.
“Lydia, I’m sorry!” she apologized, hands in front of her and bowing.
“Ruri?” Lydia said, dumbfounded as to why she was apologizing, but Ruri soon set things straight by confessing everything.
“A prank… I see, so it was a prank…”
“I really am sorry!” She couldn’t bear to lift her head, thinking that Lydia would be furious at her, but she was met with a delighted giggle, which brought her head up in surprise.
“Whether it’s you or the last one, I have to wonder why my contract-bearers so love their pranks.”
“By ‘the last one,’ do you mean your former contract-bearer?”
“Indeed. They were a fan of pranks as well and would bring all sorts of things here—like that chest that surprises you. ‘Jack in the Box,’ I believe? After it sprung out at me, they apologized in a similar fashion as you, Ruri,” Lydia said with a small smile, reminiscing on these things from yesteryear.
Once Ruri saw that face, she noticed that it was familiar. Whenever Lydia started talking about her former contract-bearer, she always got the same look on her face. A face of glee, pleasure, and sadness.
Something then popped into Ruri’s mind which she said aloud.
“Lydia, why did you make a contract with me?” Judging from Lydia’s behavior, she seemed to have been very attached to her previous contract-bearer, so it was hard to believe that she would be content with just anyone who managed to enter this pocket of space. It begged the question: why her?
Lydia ate one of Ruri’s cookies to wash the bad taste out of her mouth before somberly closing her eyes.
“They said it themselves. They said that, ‘one day a person who will make me smile shall appear.’ I had convinced myself that such a thing would never happen… But with you, Ruri, I think I could have fun once more.”
“I don’t think I’ve done anything particularly amusing…” Only a short amount of time had passed since Ruri had first met and contracted Lydia. They had only had some idle chit-chat, and she hadn’t necessarily done anything that would gain her favor.
“While being attracted to your mana is the greatest factor, you also were so concerned for me once you heard I was here all by myself. I knew that you were a kind-hearted person. And that you remind me a little of my previous contract-bearer. I was confident that we would get along just fine. That alone was reason enough for me to make a contract.”
“…So you’re having fun now?”
“Yes, every day is filled with so much joy now.” Lydia affirmed with a smile from ear to ear, filling Ruri with pleasure.
“…But I will not let you off the hook on this prank matter.”
“Huh…?” That statement made Ruri’s mouth straighten out in surprise. “Didn’t you just forgive me, though…?”
“I never said any such thing.”
“But you were smiling like you had a good time.”
“Those are two separate matters.” Lydia pondered on what she should have Ruri do as an apology for her prank. After a few seconds, she pounded her fist into her palm as she lit upon a suitable idea.
“I’ve got it. I think I’ll have you put on that cat-transformation bracelet from the other day.” “You want me to turn into a cat? Why that again?”
“Seeing as how I can’t leave here, I have never before had the opportunity to touch such a living creature.”
“Aah, I see now.” Apparently, she’d had the opportunity to touch pelts and taxidermied animals, but she’d never had the chance to touch a living animal since they couldn’t enter this space.
“Well, turning into a cat isn’t too bad, I guess…” Since she pulled that prank, she couldn’t refuse this relatively small wish. More importantly, she also couldn’t resist Lydia’s hopeful eyes gazing at her, so Ruri started looking around for the bracelet that should be somewhere in the room.
Lydia tapped on the table with one finger, instantly teleporting the bracelet Ruri was looking for onto it.
Seeing Ruri’s clear and speechless surprise at that, Lydia went on to explain, “It’s like when you try to pull things from this pocket of space; if you need it, it will appear in front of you.”
“Wow…” Ruri replied in comprehension, picking up the bracelet and putting it on. In the blink of an eye, Ruri was transformed into a white cat, who descended from the chair and moved over to the space by Lydia’s feet.
“Oh my, how adorable.” Ruri came over to Lydia’s legs, and Lydia gave Ruri a pat on the head. Feeling the warmth of a living animal for the first time, the spirit’s face was filled with adoration.
It seemed as though one pat wasn’t enough, so she tried to see if it was all right for her to touch her a little more.
“Would it be okay if I held you in my arms?”
“Meoooow,” Ruri said, trying to give her a reply, but the only thing to come out of her mouth was, naturally, cat sounds and not human speech.
That was when she realized that Lydia and herself wouldn’t be able to understand one another now that she was a cat.
“What is it, Ruri?”
“Mrw, mrw, mrw, mrw.”
“…Aah, now that you’re a cat, you’ve lost the ability to speak, correct?”
“Meow.” Although unable to speak, it seemed as though Ruri’s point was getting through, which was a huge relief.
“In that case, you just need to use telepathic communication. It conveys whatever you wish to say in your mind using mana. It isn’t terribly difficult to do. All you need to do is throw your mana and words to the recipient in a similar fashion as when you’re using mana normally.”
Just as she was instructed, she thought hard about conveying the words that popped into her head in a process very much like when she used magic.
“Ly… di… a… Can you… hear me?”
Upon hearing the voice resonating directly in her head and not her ears, Lydia’s smile widened. “Yes, loud and clear.”
“Ooh! I did it right!”
“You sure did. So may I hold you in my arms now?”
“Yeah, sure.” There was still a little awkwardness to iron out in her telepathic speech, but she was able to convey her words well enough.
Lydia put her hands underneath Ruri’s cat arms, picked her up, and placed her on her lap.
“Tee hee hee, cats are so fluffy and cute.” Lydia was absolutely smitten over her first contact with a cat, petting Ruri’s body and hugging her tightly in her arms.
“…Are you done yet, Lydia?”
“Just a little longer.” She tried to signify the end since she was starting to get ticklish from all the touching, but Lydia wasn’t willing to stop just yet.
Even though she said “a little longer,” she ended up spending nearly an hour petting Ruri up and down. With that big, satisfied smile on Lydia’s face, Ruri just couldn’t find it in herself to tell her to stop. Especially not after hearing that this was her first contact with a live animal.
After this first experience, Lydia would continue requesting that she turn into a cat every now and then.
◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
According to plan, the Prince of Nadasha and the classmates had exiled Ruri from the kingdom, snickering all the while. They kept this conspiracy secret from Asahi and instead told her that Ruri hated life in the castle and had run away. Although they thought she would simply accept that as the truth, they all underestimated Asahi’s attachment to Ruri.
“Ruri-chan would never just leave me behind! I know Ruri-chan better than anyone!” If Ruri were there to hear her say that, she would probably interject profusely that that was not the case.
The Prince and the classmates were left confused in the face of Asahi’s unexpected resistance.
She looked ready to fly out of the castle and look for Ruri herself at any moment, but the Prince calmed her down and sent a search party to the Mystic Forest on the day he exiled Ruri.
He thought that, with any luck, he could bring Ruri back before they tossed her into the forest, but when his team crossed paths with the Nadasha soldiers on their way back, that was indication that they had already dumped Ruri off.
The Mystic Forest was a home to ferocious magic and non-magic beasts alike. Time was of the essence.
He called for reinforcements and searched the forest for a few days, but Ruri was nowhere to be found.
In actuality, the search party had almost come face to face with Ruri, but the spirits skillfully led them away so that they would never encounter her, and if they tried to go the same way as Ruri, she had an excellent backup in Kotaro, who would chase them off in the opposite direction. With all these contingencies in place, the party never once found her.
Asahi was losing her temper with each day that went by without Ruri, making the classmates, and the people of the Land of Nadasha, start to sweat.
Despite not being the figure he once was, the King was still sovereign of the land as a whole, and he decided to use this situation to his own advantage.
“It would seem that your friend has been abducted by those of the Nation of the Dragon King, Priestess Princess.” The King and Head Priest were positive that Ruri was no longer alive, but they made sure not to give that impression and put on sympathetic faces.
“Nation of the Dragon King?”
“Yes, the land where those savage demi-humans live. I am quite positive that envy over our nation having the Priestess Princess got the better of them and they captured the one person who is your weak point.”
“No way… I’m the reason Ruri-chan is…”
“Put your mind at ease. We shall not allow those savages to have their way forever. However, unfortunately, there are many people within our land who lack the backbone to send forth soldiers against the Nation of the Dragon King. If you, the bringer of prosperity to our lands, were to spearhead the initiative, then I have no doubt that even those now opposed to the idea
would take up the call to arms. Will you not help us in order to save your friend?” The King continued with his sincere attitude, but in his gut he, of course, had absolutely no intention of saving Ruri. He was ready to blame the Nation of the Dragon King once more, after they’d won the war, by saying that Ruri was killed in the course of the battle.
Asahi knew nothing of all of this, but their descriptions made the Nation of the Dragon King sound like a brutal and savage land. She willingly consented, confident that she simply had to save Ruri.
“Of course! We need to help Ruri-chan as quickly as possible… Just hold on, Ruri-chan.” And so, the Land of Nadasha prepared to go to war against the Nation of the Dragon King.
There were many in attendance who let out a sigh of exasperation upon hearing this conversation.