Side Story: Silica Eats Cake
Upon returning to Relaghn on the twenty-first floor, Silica hurried immediately to the «Teleport Gate» so she could get back to «Friben» on the eighth floor.
As soon as her familiar home town spread out around her, she stole a glance at the clock tower by the East gate and her heart sank. It was already after 10:00 at night. Did she really have time to get her cake now? she wondered to herself as she scurred down the main avenue. It was really late, so there weren't many people around, but a number of people called out to Silica as she went. When they did, she waved and offered a vague greeting, but continued without even slowing her pace.
When she passed through a more empty section of town, the young girl looked up, not quite able to see Pina because the little dragon was lyong on top of her head. She still wasn't entirely used to the sensation, Pina's feathery body was nice and soft on her head, so it felt something like she was wearing a knit cap or something. Well, that was until Pina decided to move, like at that very moment.
The sudden pressure of little clawed feet scrabbling across her head sent an unexpected chill up her back while the little dragon repositioned itself more toward the front of her head. The new spot was far enough forward that she could actually see the front of its snout if she looked up as far as she could.
Even while Silica noticed this, she asked aloud, "Why does Pina even sit on my head anyway?" The small creature made a chirping sound in response to its name, but she just kept thinking to herself. "I guess it's cute, but wouldn't it be a lot cooler if Pina sat on my shoulder? That's what familiars always do in anime, right? Why do I get one that pretends to be a hat?"
"Kyaa!" Pina cried, drawing her attention away from her thoughts.
"What is it? Oh." Silica realized that she had reached her destination while wrapped in her own thoughts. Before her stood the storefront of the restaurant with the best cakes in town. In fact, they made the best ones in any town, though she would never in a million years admit that she'd gone through every town to find the shop that made the best cakes. Wait, even after considering not getting cake, she'd still come here without thinking about it!
At that moment, a familiar voice cut through her thoughts, reaching her from a little ways off to the right. Coming from back the way she had just come, there were a number of men. Silica recognized one of them as the leader of a party she had been in a few weeks a go. They had been another one of those groups who just wanted to use her as and Pina as their mascot, wasting time hanging around and bragging to everyone about their good luck recruiting such a famous player like «Dragon Tamer Silcia».
Well, she loved the adoration, having everyone know her name. It made her feel really important, something she'd nevre really experienced… before all this. Trying not to think back to how things had beenbefore, her mind moved in the other direction. She hated it so much, how so many of the people she met thought of her as nothing but a decoration, or even a trophy, to some of the worst. As if her skill as a beast tamer was somehow reliant on them, people she had only met months afterward! She wouldn't admit it, but part of her knew that her real issue with these people wasn't that their claims hurt her feelings, but her ego, that growing sense of pride she felt as a new celebrity. For the first time in her life her peers knew her name, she did not want that name to point to a useless, powerless girl that no one took seriously.
Seeing the familiar man approaching from down the street while he talked loudly and laughed over some joke she hadn't heard, Silica hesitated for a moment as it brought back all the doubts she didn't want to think about. Then she rushed through the shop doors before her so she wouldn't have to meet him.
As the door closed behind her, cutting short the laugh of the man in the street, Silica was assaulted by the hot and humid air that was common to many NPC restaurants. The earthy smell of freshly baked bread mixed with the sweet and succulent scents of baked treats and meaty stews.
There was hardly anyone inside, save for the NPC waitress and the old man behind the counter. Watching the woman, she couldn't help but stare at the outfit. She was dressed in what clearly looked like a maid uniform, despite this NPC being a waitress. It had a short black skirt and a frilly lace apron and everything. She'd heard that a lot of men were weird and liked those sort of outfits, but she'd never really understood it. Just what was it that made such women appealing? What did they have that she didn't? Her eyes started traveling to the women's unusually large bosom until she realized that the NPC had begun to walk toward her. The young woman in her frilly maid outfit approached her, asking politely if she would like to take a seat.
Silica jumped, startled by the otherwise inanimate girl's approach. Looking in every direction but at her chest, "Ah, y,yeah, right!" she squeaked out, and nearly ran to the closest booth. NPCs wouldn't normally offer a seat to someone who just walked in, she must have stood in the doorway too long or something, she realized. However, the errant thought took her mind off her surroundings for a moment. The sudden motion set Pina sliding backward off her head. With a similar startled squack, the little Feathery Dragon gave a few quick beats of its wings while raking its prickly little claws across the pack of Silica's neck and shoulders. "Eeek! Pina that tickles!" Silica shouted before she could stop herself. Her arms came up, but they were no help with the creature latching onto the back of her neck. Her next reflex reaction had her ducks forward.
Failing in its attempts to latch back onto its master, Pina continued its hurried flapping to try and stay in the air, but it wasn't enough before it landed on Silica again. Since the little girl was leaning forward now, it landed on her lower back. When the little dragon's claws scrabbled all over her back, Silica shot upright once more with a "Kyaa!" Pina echoed the call as it finally managed to take to the air, only to land on the nearby waitress a moment later. Right before the staggering Silica backed into her and went tumbling face first into the seat of the booth she had been running for.
Squirming, Silica managed to turn around on the narrow bench. "Pina!" she cried angrily, though a good deal of that had been her own fault. Then she saw where her familiar had landed.
Standing perfectly still, it seemed the NPC waitress didn't know how to respond to a player's familiar standing on her breasts. As Silica stared in shock for a moment, she found herself comparing their sizes and knew she was completely outclassed, by an NPC no less! Did men really like them so much bigger?
Finally reacting, she jumped forward and grabbed the Feathery Dragon in both arms. Resuming her usual behavior, the waitress continued walking as if nothing had happened.
The little girl flopped back down onto the seat with her familiar held in her amrs. "Jeez Pina, you're so much trouble sometimes… Huh?" At that point, Silica realized what she'd forgotten about when she almost ran into that man she knew outside. Despite wondering whether she wanted to get the cake tonight, she wound up at the restaurant anyway. "Well no use worrying about it now," she shrugged. It's not like she would gain weight from eating a lot of cake before bed anyway, like she would have in the real world.
Tapping the surface of the table, Silica realized that she hadn't actually checked her inventory since being paid earlier. Since her tap produced a small floating menu, she didn't have to open her inventory. Shop windows also displayed the funds players had, so she pulled the floating window closer and glanced at the bottom right corner. Listed right there, she found herself one hundred thousand Col richer than the last she could recall. She didn't know exactly much money she'd had, but knew it was somewhere around eighty thousand Col. According to the figure displayed in front of her, she had a little more than one hundred seventy-seven thousand Col now.
Silica returned her attention to the contents of the menu, the food which could be ordered. Unlike most shop menus, which had a search field and filter numerous filters to narrow down the options shown, restaurants had a simple scrolling interface, with food sorted by category and each dish within the category listed in alphabetical order.
Silica went immediately to the cake section. At first she eyed the cheap cakes, the five hundred Col mini cake was good. She'd also tried the thousand Col white cake, but never anything more expensive than that. She just couldn't spend the money she needed for equipment and healing items on cake. But now she didn't have to worry about that. She had gained an extra hundred thousand Col to spend however she wanted, and she wanted cake!
Looking past the cheap options, Silica stared at the names and prices of the good stuff. Most hovered between two and seven thousand Col, but a couple stand-outs drew her gaze. There was a cream cake for ten thousand Col and… she looked down to the most expensive item on the menu. Mega Tasty Fruit Cake. Twenty thousand Col. Spending that kind of money on a cake was insane, unforgivable in a world where that same money was needed to survive the day.
That didn't stop the openly drooling girl from reaching for the button to order the cake. Her finger hesitated for just a moment as she considered buying many cheaper cakes, but in the end she knew she had made her decision the moment she had seen that fruitcake.
A high pitched 'ching!' sound punctuated the purchase and twenty thousand Col was subtracted from the amount previously shown in the corner of the window. She didn't really know why, but SAO made the players wait for their food to come. It could have materialized instantly on the table in front of her, but instead she was forced to wait for the waitress to walk into some 'back' area through a door that wasn't accessible to players.
Still, the wait was nowhere near as long as it would have been in the real world. Instead of taking some employee in the back room twenty minutes or more to put it together, bake it, or whatever it would take to make the cake, the waitress simply walked into the back and emerged a few moments later with a large cake held in her arms.
The time it would take to make so many trips when the shops were full could lead to backups and longer waits, but they usually never lasted longer than a couple minutes. Since no such thing would happen in the dead of night like it was now, the waitress arrived just a few moments later with the large, obscenely expensive cake.
Silica's face lit up and she let out a delighted "Kyaa!" without meaning to. Pina jumped off her head to sit on the table as the waitress set the cake down.
"Please enjoy your meal," the woman commented before returning to her spot near the counter. "Thanks for the food, she mumbled back out of habit, but Silica wasn't paying any attention to her anymore. All her attention was focused on the cake in front of her now.
It was light yellow, a sponge cake by the look of it. It was much larger than she could possibly have eaten herself in the real world, but she wasn't constrained by such things here. As she stared, the game system resolved all the little details of the cake smaller and smaller until it reached its limit. There were numerous berries and multicolored pieces of finely diced fruit on top as well. Silica cut a slice out of the cake and placed it on a cake plate, turning it to get a better look at the inside. The cross section showed that once past the outside edge, the rest of the cake was composed of numerous layers, just a centimeter or two(0.5in) thick each, alternating between sponge cake and fruit chopped so small it looked like it had started to combine into a thick jelly.
Her fork sliced through the very tip of her piece, where it came to a point and she brought it to her mouth slowly. As soon as the cake touched her tongue, her eyes went wide. Strawberries, raspberries, oranges, and many other flavors she didn't recognize as well melded together around the sweet and moist sponge cake. "Ahh!" she squealed, beginning to dig in.
While she ate, Pina picked berries off the top and munched on them, letting out little "Kyaa!" sounds from time to time.
A little while later, Silica sat back in her seat. The platter was empty, she eaten the whole cake herself. Only crumbs remained on the platter, left to disopate and vanish as their miniscule amounts of durability were drained by just sitting out. Pina was lying on its back on top of the table. "Ahh, I'm stuffed…" Silica mumbled happily. She stared off into space for a while, basking in the afterglow of the wonderful meal. "So, so worth it." That was the best meal she'd eaten in months, ever since she had first been trapped in this horrible world. Maybe even before that.
Staring at the ceiling for some time, the 'full' feeling in her belly abated pretty quickly, leaving her the same as before she had entered. A little while afterward, she scooped the sleeping Pina off the tabletop and left the shop. Another look at the clock tower told the young girl that it was nearly midnight.
Silica frowned. With everything that had happened tonight, she would return to her usual routine tomorrow, another eighty thousand Col in her savings. What about the people she had met? In the end they hadn't needed her help at all, but they had let her keep the money anyway. They hadn't even mentioned it. Rei, Rai, it might not be her place to wonder, they were practically strangers after all, but they were the only other beast tamers she knew. How would those foxes change their lives moving forward?
Taming Pina had changed her so much already, the little dragon had given her a friend for the first time in a long, long time. She wasn't always lonely all the time. She gave the little dragon a light squeeze and looked up. She couldn't see the starry sky here anymore, not until they reached higher floors, much higher. Those two had been so much stronger than she was. Not just because they were higher level, they had some sort of calm about them. "I wonder if I'll ever be like that?" she thought aloud.
And then there was the last one. That boy. "Haru…?"(1) He had seemed so young, maybe even younger than she was, but he also had a sort of strength, that easy, confident strength. Where did someone, a lot like herself by the looks of it, gain that sort of power? Her mind wandered in the quiet night as her feet led her to her- not home, but at least a place to stay, for as long as she remained trapped in this floating prison.
Author Note: I swear there was a reason for this. Unreliable narrators! :3
(1)I can't think of any way to express it in English. In Japanese it would be "Haru ka" which is like thinking about that person, but it's different than "Haru." or "Haru?" which both come across differently in English.