It was two days until the Emerald Demon Labyrinth closed itself. With the Labyrinth open to the public now, waves of people queued to enter; even if only to spend digging up magic stones. Once its core was extracted, the labyrinth wouldn’t spawn any more monsters. Instead, it produced non-attribute magic stones. How? Apparently, the monsters spawned by the labyrinth turned into those stones; they were buried about 5cm deep within the walls or ground.
The labyrinth’s restorative mechanisms would sometimes push the stones. This was in order to repair itself, and these could be easily picked up. As for the ones still buried, it had to be cut and/or dugout. While, normally, the labyrinth’s walls and floor were hard to destroy, it was still possible. As a result, the magic stone hunt and mining became a new craze for the people.
I didn’t bring tools though. Without them, I could only pick up any of the stones the labyrinth spewed out. But seeing how crowded it was, I realized how small of a chance I had to do that. So, I decided to just watch on while I wandered around the labyrinth. The labyrinth’s pathways and the structure were complex. It basically made a very large maze. A map was essential to go through it safely. I saw that almost everyone had a copy of what seemed to be the map I drew. I also saw a few people carrying the Marida Company’s bento box.
By the way, there was no lighting within the labyrinth. There were still some sources of light, such as the glowing grass, but people preferred to bring lanterns or conjure up a ball of light. As for me, I brought a lantern myself. I wondered why some rooms were brighter than the others within the labyrinth. But as it turned out, those were the places were people gathered to rest.
Sitting in the corner of the rest area, I unpacked the bento box I bought earlier and took a short break myself. Once I finished eating, I’d head outside and maybe see if there was a vendor selling tools for digging.
Back on the surface, I looked around and found what I needed immediately. There was one next to the Marida Company’s spot. I headed there and bought myself a digging tool.
“Eh, Ashley-san? What are you doing here”
Sitting behind the vendor’s table, was Ashley-san.
“Fufu, this stall belongs to the General Guild. We’re open for business, especially for a certain manuke who forgot the common sense to bring tools into the labyrinth.”
Of course, being a manuke makes it easier for her to make fun of me.
“Oh, I see. Although, being a manuke has nothing to do with me being forgetful…”
“I saw Schwartz-san leaving the labyrinth. Getting back so soon?”
“Eh, yeah, I am. My job is done, so I’m thinking of taking a break and getting some fresh air.”
“Thank you for your hard work. I’m also going on break soon. Would you like to have some tea with me?”
“Sure, why not? I’ll wait for you.”
Although it was sort of embarrassing, I unexpectedly reunited with Ashley-san. It’s an opportunity to finally hand her the souvenir I bought back in the capital. While waiting for Ashley-san, I moved off to the side not to obstruct business and watched her work. Next to her, there were two more people manning the stall. Most likely other members of the guild. Each wore a plain-looking apron over their winter outfits.
After a while, Ashley-san handed her apron to someone else who came in just now, most likely her replacement and made her way to me.
“Did I make you wait too long?”
“Nah, I was having fun watching Ashley-san work.”
“Surely you jest! Anyways, let’s go. The tent selling delicious pound cake is just over there.”
I replied without much thought to it, but somehow, it made Ashley-san blush slightly. She tried to hide it by looking away and walked ahead of me. I hurried to catch up to her, walking at her side to the tent she mentioned. The tent was a small tent housing a kitchen. Chairs and tables were arranged around it like an impromptu outdoor restaurant. The setup had a boutique coffee shop that felt similar to my world. I pulled a chair out to let Ashley-san sit after I picked a suitable table.
After the trivial exchange, I sat across from her, then called to the nearby waiter to order a fruit pound cake and Darjeeling tea. Ashley-san also ordered the same things. We kept ourselves entertained while we waited for our orders by talking about many random things. For instance, how we felt about the harvest festival. As for Ashley-san, she was excited since it was the first harvest festival in several years.
The waiter arrived without our cake and tea. The cake gave off a delicate scent of dried fruit and honey. Ashley-san eyed it with a wide smile. I was more interested in the Darjeeling tea instead. It was a dark orange-colored tea, served in a simple teacup. I could faintly smell the strong muscatel flavor that wafted up along with the steam.
Ashley-san eagerly raised her fork to eat while I sipped on my tea. The refreshing flavor filled my mouth with a single sip. The tea had probably been brewed using specially picked leaves during the early summer. I’ve tasted plenty of teas from different cafes before, but I had to say, the Darjeeling tea served here was the best out of all of them.
The fragrance was refreshing and the subtle astringent flavor would do well to enhance the sweetness of the fruit cake. This made it some of the best to accompany the cake. seeing Ashley-san’s expressions, I could tell she was on the same page.
Ashley-san hardly spoke while eating, but she had a charming smile; sometimes purring in delight with every bite she took.
“Ah, right. Ashley-san, the other day, I went to the capital and bought a souvenir from a store I visited. Here, I’ll give it to you now.
“Yes, for you.”
I hadn’t known when I’d meet Ashley-san again. So, I kept the trinket in my chest pocket. I took it out and presented it to her. There wasn’t paper wrapping in this world yet, so the trinket had been kept inside a small wooden box, fastened by a red string.
“Thank you, can I open it?”
“Of course. Hopefully, you’ll like it.”
She unfastened the string and opened the lid gently. After seeing the contents, she removed the lid and pulled the gift out.
“A… Ruby necklace?”
“Do you like it?”
“Yes, thank you! This is the first time someone gave me a gift like this.”
As it turned out, she thought it’d be a hair ornament or earrings. However, I’d taken her position as a Guild Investigator into consideration. Since the position might require some intense movement, there’d be no worries about accidentally dropping it on the job if it’s a ring or necklace. So, I decided to get her a necklace. It was a choker style one with a thumb-size orchid colored ruby.
I stood up and walked behind her.
I received the necklace from Ashley-san and placed it around her neck.
“Thank you, but isn’t this expensive? Are you sure you want me to take it? Look, even the chain seems to be made of mithril.”
“Yeah. I heard that mithril has the best compatibility with the ruby’s magical power.”
The necklace certainly was expensive. I wouldn’t have been able to buy it if for the bounty on Yagoche Company. How many souvenirs did I buy back then? 6 more, I think? I ended up spending more money than I wanted. By the way, the others weren’t as expensive as this one.
I know that it may not have been wise to spend my hard-earned money on an expensive gift. But this was the only one I thought fit with her shining red hair. And now that I see it, I was correct.
“It’s really pretty. So, shall we head back now?”
“Eh? Ah, yes! It’s time for me to replace the other employee.”
“Well then, let’s head back.”
Both Ashley-san and I got up and headed out. The cake and tea had been paid when it’d been delivered. Since we already paid, it wasn’t a problem to leave.