I’m useless in your hand, I have many faces but I’m all the same,
I get lighter the more of me you have and heavier the less you have.
What am I?
—A riddle handed down through the Scarlet Clan
It was on a certain day, the early afternoon of a holiday.
I was trembling out of sheer emotion.
A light feeling to my hands, traces of bubbles left behind, and a dazzling white interior. A slight acidity to the flavor when you put it in your mouth, a faint sweetness when you lick it.
It was what I remembered fondly—fermented bread.
Where on this world could we get the yeast needed to ferment and leaven our bread?
The problem I’d been wracking my brains over for decades had suddenly been solved.
It happened when I was re-baking some bread that had wound up rotting—it swelled and grew soft. Nina’s indolence sometimes turned out to be useful.
I recalled the that there was effectively no difference between the words rotting and fermenting.
Fermentation simply referred to the kind of rot humanity found useful.
The baker’s yeast I’d spent so long looking for turned out to be present in the air.
Although there is always treasure around you is a phrase often used around Scarlet, I never thought it’d turn out to actually be the truth.
“… It tastes that good?”
Nina was staring at me eating bread with a cold look.
… I only just then realized what sort of face I was making.
I’ll show her—the meaning of true, genuine bread.
Scraping away from bread I’d finished drying, I put the crumbs from it and one bowl and cracked two eggs from chickens we’d only recently managed to domesticate in another.
I then sprinkled salt and flour on behemoth meat, submerged it in the eggs, coated it in the breadcrumbs, then deep-fried it…! I’d just made the worlds first cutlets!
“Alright, try eating it!”
“Why’re you so jazzed up about this…”
Amazed, Nina cut off a piece with her knife before carrying it to her mouth with her fork.
The number one trait of anything fried just had to be how it felt.
Something so crispy and satisfyingly textured couldn’t be found in nature.
Mix that with the taste of fat and meat sealed within when you cut it, it turns into an umami explosion! The overwhelmingly violent taste runs rampant in your mouth as it mixes with the extra helping of salt that coats the meat.
Although it was a bit disappointing we didn’t have the right sauce for it, it was so delicious that there wasn’t too much of a need for it. Nina chewed it in silence before immediately reaching her hand back forward to cut another slice.
Her hands and mouth didn’t stop as she took a third bite, then a fourth, before finally stopping to speak.
“… It’s so-so.”
Still not wanting to admit defeat? Good, I have just the thing for you.
I mercilessly and relentlessly took my own serving of behemoth cutlets and put them between two slices of bread.
Greasy. Meaty. Carbohydrates.
That was all that made up this impromptu cutlet burger, but there’s no way it wouldn’t be delicious.
The mouth feel of the soft bread and crunchy fry coating the meat was unbeatable. The taste of the two contrasting feelings complemented each other many times over.
“A—a-aaah!? H-hey, what’re you doing, hey!?”
I bet she used her intuition to realize just how glorious it would taste. Nina shouted, looking back and force between the lack of cutlets on my plate and myself.
“I thought the taste didn’t impress you?”
“H-hey! That’s not fair! Eating that by yourself…! Give me some too! At least a bite!”
I rose my hands up into the air to keep the cutlet burger out of Nina’s reach. Still though, she didn’t give up and just continued to jump up onto me…
“Ummm… long time no see.”
Nina had pushed me into the ground to take my cutlet burger from me the moment before the nostalgic face appeared to look down at us.
“You’re getting along as well as ever, I see.”
Saying that, Luka was smiling both gently yet somehow embarrassedly.
＊ ＊ ＊
“No, it was my fault for showing you something so shameful, I apologize.”
I apologized to Luka as I brought out the now-dusty chair meant for four-legged individuals out from the storeroom.
People weren’t in the habit of locking their doors in Scarlet since it had such a peaceful place, but letting Nina keep the door open in the summer to let air into the house might have been a mistake.
“Please, don’t. It’s my fault for appearing so suddenly… oh, thank you.”
Luka sat down on the chair I’d brought her.
“There have been many other species inside the village recently, but not many the four-legged species because of their different physiques, unfortunately. It’s not much, but you can at least use this chair I made for you way back then… Awaken.”
Picking up the scarlite kettle, I poured water into it and activated the runes drawn on its surface. Soon after, the kettle generated heat and caused the water to come to a boil.
“Sleep. Nina, if you would.”
If you cancel the magic’s effect once the water gets to the boiling point, the kettle itself—the thing that generated such an extreme heat through magic—would cool down right away. Since it didn’t use fire, it was a very safe way to heat up water. When I passed it to Nina, she put tea leaves in to let them steam. I wasn’t too good at measuring them out, so it always turned out bitter no mater how many times I’d tried.
“… Mm, alright, done.”
I activated the other pot Nina had put them and handed me. With the metal surface turning a frosty white, the tea that had been at a steady steam quickly cooled down.
“Here you go. You’re thirsty, right?”
When I offered Luka the filled glass cup, she accepted it with round eyes.
“I taught everyone what I learned from you, Mentor, so we’ve gotten to the point that a lot of us can live mostly in comfort… I was intending to catch up, but it looks like we still have a way to go.”
Luka muttered that last part half to herself as she drank the iced tea.
“No, I’ve heard about everything you’ve done, Luka. You’ve been working very hard.”
She’d managed to take the lykoscentaur, a race that historically spread out into familial groups, and get them accustomed to the concept of nomadism to aid their unstable life of hunting. I often heard stories about her from her younger siblings, nieces, and nephews.
“How long has it been since you graduated from my school…? Right, it’s already been over a century, hasn’t it.”
A century was no small amount of time for a lykoscentaur. The once innocent girl had grown up well into a beautiful woman.
That said, for a human, that was more than how much time they had between their birth and their death.
“This is called a magimachina. Rin made it.”
Luka closely inspected the kettle and pot I’d used to warm and cool the water a moment before. Rather than writing runes on a loop and placing it on the millstone, we’d found it to be quicker if we just engraved the runes on the millstone itself.
The automatically turning millstone we’d created through Rin’s idea had turned out to be much more effective than we’d expected.
The threshing and milling labor that had taken countless hours doing manually now only took a few moments when it started and stopped and could otherwise be left to its own devices.
And most importantly… this kind of magic, what I dubbed to be endowment magic, was overwhelmingly more stable compared to magic that involved spirits.
It could control water, emit flames, even cause the wind to blow. At any rate, I had an extremely low compatibility with spirit magic, which was a sort of magic that interfered with the world’s natural flow.
I still couldn’t even create a drop of water, making something like ice through it was a dream within a dream.
Yet even so, I was able to lower the temperature of this pot. It seemed as if the principles behind spirit magic and endowment magic were different.
Magic-driven machines created through mixing magic formations and endowment magic through runes—magimachina—had exploded in popularity these past few years with various things devised and produced using the concept. The kettle and pot were just two examples of them.
“Oh, so then this is also one of those magimachina things, then?”
Hearing my explanation, Luka took a small piece of metal out of her handbag and placed it on the desk.
Seeing the implement for the first time, Nina tilted her head to the side.
She was probably trying to figure out what it was for.
It was the first time I’d seen it, too—however.
“We’ve started growing wheat to be used as feed in our village recently, but we harvested more than we’d expected… Lykoscentaur don’t eat wheat, so we brought the excess thinking that we could exchange it for meat, but we got these instead.”
However, I understood very clearly how it was supposed to be used.
“It seems to be called a wor.” 1
“Mmm…? It’s the first time I’ve seen it, I wonder what it does?”
“That isn’t a magimachina.”
Seeing Nina pick up the small piece of metal and inspect it, I spoke.
It had a rune engraved on it, but it wasn’t for endowment magic, it was just an ordinary mark.
“I’m certain—this is something called currency.”