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A breeze, gentle enough to not disturb even a strand of my hair, blows across the plains between the gently sloping hills and the village. The wind, marbled with the refreshing scent of the flowers, seems imbued with a poetic essence and fills me with the joie de vivre of youth, even as I sit in a daze.
Which is why I don’t notice it.
The fact that even as I sit here in my comfortable but subjective instant, time continues to swiftly pass me by.
Yup, it’s already almost 13:40.
“Hey! What are you doing here?!”
Grandfather’s irate voice swiftly pulls away the image of a young lady on the stone wall, leaving behind that of a sloppy grandchild. Gravity decides to join in on the fun too, and I topple backward over the wall, landing squarely on my behind.
I look up, only to see a horse-drawn chariot fill my vision.
It stops right in front of me.
The sheer shock of it all has robbed me of my tongue. Before me is a bizarrely macho draught horse with a mysterious cross-shaped scar on its forehead to complete its gruff look. It gives me a piercing glare as if to say, “A new day, a new battle; that’s my life!”
“This is a Shire horse. His name’s Deimos. He’s usually pulling the plow for our village’s fields.”
Grandfather is on the chariot, wearing a golden helmet.
There’s also a stranger sitting next to him. He’s in overalls like a farmer, but his large round eyes give him the look of one fond of such amusement. He’s probably one of Grandfather’s playmates.
“Ah, thi-… huh?”
“I thought I asked you to go pick up the assistant. What’re you playing hooky here for? Look how late it is now. Come on, get a move on, do your job.”
“And another thing, you-”
I’m being given a thorough sermon here, but I’ll spare you the details.
“…So, what’s that thing?”
“It’s a chariot.”
He says it so casually.
Having only a single axel, this is a two-wheel chariot.
“I was wondering what you meant when you said chariot1 back then, but I didn’t think it would actually be one of those medieval ones.”
I only know what chariots look like.
“It’s actually supposed to have two horses pulling it, but since good ol’ Deimos here’s a hero of our village with a 12 horsepower engine in him, he’s all we need to pull this chariot.”
“My entire body doesn’t come up to the height this horse’s shoulder does…”
“That’s just how this breed is. I’d managed to reproduce the body of this chariot, but I didn’t have a horse to pull it. I finally managed to rope one in to get it moving today. During the twentieth century, there used to be a tank known as the Merkava2; funnily enough, its name is a Hebrew word meaning ‘Chariot’. In a way, you could say this is the original ‘Merkava’. It’s a historical feat to have reproduced this chariot in this age, see. This is education in motion right here.”
It’s all just a game.
“I’ll have to continue with this trial run, so please pick up the assistant now.”
“Yes… I’m sorry.”
And with a “Roady-ho,”3 the chariot begins moving and continues down the road.
“… What a fun life.”
Since I’ve gotten myself in trouble, I should continue to my destination in earnest now.
As the village gets closer, the dirt path transforms into a stone-paved road, and the number of people passing by increases too.
The rows of houses on the sides aren’t uniform, either.
The vividly painted white, red, and brown townscape gives off a sense of harmony as if made that way from the beginning, probably the product of centuries of history. This village still lives, unlike the ruins around it, and the thought brings comfort even to a recluse like myself.
As I walk towards the main street, I see people living in peace; old people napping under their eaves with the colors of the street to their backs and women chatting on the streets themselves.
It is as if the entire village has been transformed into a giant pub.
Now, the Lamb and Olive is a boarding house facing the circular plaza up ahead.
It used to be a tavern, and it goes back to being one when bazaars and the like are held. But when it isn’t, it is often used as a rendezvous point, owing to the readily recognizable sign with a lamb and olive.
Well, I’m here now… and so is he.
Right in front of the building, right under the sign. A fearsome young man stands tall, with muscles threatening to burst out of his shirt.
He has earned the nickname Mr. Hercules. In this instant. Within my heart.
He has his arms crossed and a sullen look on his face as if he were offended by me being practically an hour late.
Talking to people is really hard… But I must make an effort.
I first feel things out by lining myself up with him from ten meters away… Yeah, we don’t look like we’re in line with each other.
I decide to close the distance at a speed of 1mpm (meter per minute). It’ll take me about eight minutes to reach a conversational range.
There’s no point in running away all the time, so I’ll use those eight minutes to get myself together and talk to him.
“… Um, are you perhaps Mr. Hercules?”
I messed up.
“Forgive me… Uh, the assistant… are you…?”
“Are you one? I’m just a postman…”
I’ve got the wrong person!
I run away, leaving the bewildered youth behind.
I sneak a peek at him from afar, and after about ten minutes, the young man meets up with his companions and leaves.
But since he’s gone, there’s nobody else by the house.
“…It’s an hour too late… It wouldn’t be strange if he wasn’t here, but…”
So, where are you, assistant?
I made a mistake by dragging my feet so much because I didn’t want to pick him up.
If the assistant can’t get to the office on his own, then maybe he’s wandering around here all alone.
If that’s the case, I’ll have to look for him.
It’s around 14:00 now.
“I haven’t seen him, see…”
“We don’t have any assistants here…”
I try to keep myself in sales mode and interview more of the villagers. Still, I hear no tell of anyone seeing an assistant-looking person around.
I mean, not even I know what he looks like. This search has become an extremely inefficient affair.
“Hmm? This old man’s drunk, huh.”
As I continue walking around the village, an increasing amount of the people I meet seem to be staggering around, and they’re all drunk (Why in the world…).
People get really jobless when it isn’t the farming season.
I finally meet a person connected to the assistant when I come back to the village outskirts.
“Are you from the mediation office?”
A woman in her late twenties taps me on the shoulder.
“Yes? That’s true, but…”
Her honey-colored blond hair is casually tied back, and she wears a lab coat, which is rather unusual to see in these times.
“Thank goodness. I’d heard from someone in the village that you’d been searching around.”
I turn around fully and ask - “…Then, could you be Grandfather’s-”
“No, I’m from the medical association. I was in charge of your assistant.”
People of the medical association also work under the UN, just like I do.
“I’m sorry. I’d been delayed by a bit of trouble on my side.”
“Oh, Same here. The moment I took my eyes off him, he suddenly disappeared… I was looking for him too.”
He’s probably gotten himself lost rather often, seeing as the doctor doesn’t look very impatient. In fact, she seems half-exasperated. That calms me down a little.
“Well, let’s split up,” I say.
“I’ll take another look around the village, then.”
“I’ll go see if he’s in the woods.”
“I’m glad you’re reliable… Because he’s awfully… indistinct.”
The doctor says something similar to what I’d heard from Grandfather. It seems that the assistant is quite a free spirit.
“Okay, let’s meet at the meeting spot in an hour.”
We part ways and proceed to our respective jurisdictions.
The hill closest to the village reminds me of the scenery from a picture book.
Aside from some sparsely scattered copses, most pastures are pale green, and there’s a wealth of bucolic scenery to see.
If you climb a little higher and look behind you, you’ll see the entirety of the village of Camphorwood.
As you cross a few gently sloping hills, the terrain becomes steeper and steeper until you eventually enter mountainous terrain. And as you head further away, the dense greenery of the lush trees also increases in proportion, making it impossible to see the lighter shades of the meadows anymore.
And, putting aside a tributary of a national highway that’s on the verge of being forgotten at any moment, there’s a great, wide world sitting on the other side of those mountains.
Of course, it’s not as if I will walk that far.
Despite my current location affording me quite a panorama, there’s not a person in sight. If there’s anyone around, they’re probably a little deeper within the forest. I wouldn’t be able to see them in the woods from here.
“I don’t… think he’d have gone that far.”
But though I call it the woods, it’s still only a small part of a larger forest.
It’s just the low-density areas that are known as the woods.
If I don’t watch myself, I might even end up stranded.
“No way I’m doing that.”
It would be terrible if that happened.
I hasten my pace and soon see the woods nearby.
I’ve brought a compass with me, but… I’d only ever use it in the worst-case scenario. Please, please don’t let this compass be a disaster flag.
I move forward, having decided to retreat once the sunlight piercing through the foliage above is no longer strong enough to mottle the ground at my feet.
There’s no guarantee that some wild animal won’t show up, after all.
Suddenly, a bun-shaped bush rustles, and I brace myself.
I’m going to collapse.
“Nothing… Humans just aren’t fond of non-sequiturs.”
“That’s no good.”
“It is how it is… Ah, wait, you.”
I pick the fairy from my hair and place it on my lap.
“Have you seen any male humans around here?”
“I din-see nothin’.”
“And it doesn’t look like he’s been around here either…”
“Or so I thought, but I did.”
“I’m watching you.”
I dangle the fairy in the air.
But it seems this fairy likes being teased, so there isn’t much of an effect.
“So, where did you see him?”
“A human; I saw one, ya know?”
Ah, maybe these fairies can’t tell the difference between men and women?
That’s quite likely.
“… Well, anyway, could you show me where? I’ll give you a reward…”
I search my pocket and give it one of the gobstoppers6 I’d got from the gold can.
“Oh, my sweet… I love you.”
Why are you proposing to it?
“Now, please tell me where you saw him.”
“Aye-aye, let’s go this way?”
The fairy tumbles down from my lap and bounces off into the forest.
The fairy’s jumps, which don’t feel inviting in the slightest, stagger left and right, reminiscent of an aimless, tipsy gait. It makes me worry if this fairy is even interested in taking me to my destination.
But in the end, I have no other leads.
So I empty my head and follow along, only to find myself in an exceptionally tidy area bordered by an evenly spaced line of trees. The sunlight filters through the trees at an oblique angle.
But despite the lack of trees to block the sunlight, there is no underbrush, and the smooth forest floor lies exposed.
It’s like a natural rest stop, the perfect place to spread a picnic blanket out and enjoy some tea while out and about.
The fairy has disappeared.
I feel like I’ve been suddenly thrown into a parallel universe7.
I’m stuck in a wonderfully mysterious moment where reality and unreality seem on the verge of intersecting.
I can’t tell if I’m dreaming or awake.
This is a most peculiar place.
What’s happening? How’s it happening? Why is it happening? I’m rooted to the spot, dazed.
A voice that tinkles like a bell sounds out.
It frees me from my autotoxemic8 state, and I look around.
A woman I don’t know appears from behind a tree.
She is, of course, not that doctor lady I met earlier.
Her body is slender, her eyes clear; she looks quite elegant. She seems to be my age, perhaps in her late teens, maybe twenty.
We stare at each other, frozen in place. She’s probably just as surprised as I am.
Ignoring the other party while matchmaking would be unnatural, so I greet her in turn.
My opponent suddenly smiles.
“Good day9. Are you taking a walk?” she asks me in a clear, collected voice.
“Yes… I’m looking for someone.”
“Why, so am I.”
The woman puts her slender fingers to her cheeks and smiles, troubled.
“To think there would be such a coincidence as this.”
She’s easy to talk to.
I’m able to keep my naive act up without much stress.
“Are you looking for someone here as well?”
“I’m not sure, actually. It’s just that he might be around here. Um… Did anyone pass by?”
She shakes her head when she hears my question.
“I see… If we go any further, we might get lost, so it’d probably be best for both of us to call it a day here.”
That said, we haven’t searched this area yet, so the two of us will still end up wandering around this clearing…
“How about this. Why don’t we take a look around together?”
I was just about to suggest the same thing, so I accept the offer immediately. We decide to handle half of this natural rest area each.
“I’ll take this side.”
“Then I’ll go this way.”
The clean ground is unblemished by any protruding tree roots, making it easy to walk on, and the fallen leaves are too sparse to turn the ground slippery. Our exploration progresses very smoothly. It progresses, but sad to say, there’s nothing out of place here.
I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating; this is a truly strange spot.
I initially believed it to be a natural rest stop, but now that I think about it, there’s no way this patch is actually natural in any way.
Trees arranged evenly.
The ground is perfectly level only here.
The light is uniform as if it were from a controlled source.
I feel like I’m wandering within one of those optical illusions where the narrow gap between two trees looks like a tree itself.
– It’s that fairy’s doing.
I don’t even need to let the discomfort stew in my head before it takes shape and pops into existence before me.
It’s… A furnace.
Furnaces are quite heavy, but somehow, one has been installed in an impractical place like this.
And with one this big, I think one could bake whatever they wanted, be it pizza or sweets. In fact, one could probably roast an entire pig in this thing. You wouldn’t need to worry about being stuck here as long as you have the right ingredients. But doubtless, this furnace wasn’t set up here to help errant wanderers.
“…Well, now, to think something like this would be here…”
Since the other lady came over, she must have finished searching her assigned area.
She doesn’t seem very fazed, given what stands before us.
We stare at it for a while. Suddenly, she steps forward and puts her hand on the furnace’s cover.
“…Just in case.”
“… You don’t mean to say, they could be hiding, or lurking, or imprisoned, within the furnace?”
“Or worse, being cooked?”
This person’s thoughts are quite dark.
The furnace’s lid opens with a sonorous creak.
“Oh, thank goodness.”
There’s nothing inside.
It seems both she and I share the same sentiment.
I should go back to the office, report to Grandfather, apologize, leave everything to him, then go home and bake some sweets…
It’s becoming harder and harder to resist the temptation to do so.
“Oh, there’s a dog over there,” she says (come to think of it, she never told me her name).
“I’m very curious about that dog.”
She dashes off toward what is apparently a dog. Her receding figure blocks my view, preventing me from seeing the said dog.
If anything, I’m more interested in how she’s behaving.
“What do you mean, a do-Eek!”
As I move to chase after her, my extended right leg leaves my conscious control and continues to accelerate.
I’m not even on ice, but my toes glide forward and up. Eventually, I kick into the air as I lose my balance and am thrown onto my back.
In short, I’ve slipped.
I immediately realize I’ve stepped on something lying on the ground. The feeling of it is similar to that of stepping on wet leaves.
What exactly is it that I’ve stepped on?
In slow motion, I spy a floppy yellow object rippling across a corner of my vision.
Hey, hey, hey, what could that be but a banana peeleelee?
Back when Grandfather left the house, he said he was picking up his “チャリ” (chari), which means bicycle in Japanese. So obviously, Watashi expected a different kind of two-wheeler. Grandfather ended up surprising her with a “チャリオット” (charietto) instead. ↩︎
An Israeli MBT (main battle tank), first developed in the 1970’s. It’s fourth iteration is still around today (as of 2023). There’s a pun here: The word for chariot in Japanese is “戦車” (sensha), but this word also means “tank”. Thus, Grandfather is essentially calling the chariot a “tank”, noting how the chariot was the original “Merkava”. ↩︎
はいどう (Hai-dou) is what Grandfather seems to be saying here, while the word for road, 道 is also pronounced as dou. A bit weak for a pun, if you ask me. ↩︎
Jintai is actually isekai confirmed. ↩︎
Idk why Tanaka-sensei uses “autotoxemia” as a way to describe Watashi’s state, seeing as the only symptom really consistent with what she’s experiencing is some kind of hypnotism or something. Idk if she’s feeling nauseous or anything. ↩︎
The classic Yamato Nadeshiko greeting, gokigenyou! It’s a very prim and proper, rich, refined lady way of greeting others. I would have included a particular lucky star clip here (iykyk), but for some reason nobody has bothered to make that clip, so I’ll stop here. ↩︎