It was the time when THE NEW GATE was still a peaceful VRMMO.
One of the bases called Alloride was crowded with players and NPCs.
On the main street where stores that were placed side by side, made of wood, stone, metal and other raw materials that didn’t exist in the real world, a couple; in this case a man and woman were walking.
The man, who had black hair and black pupils wore a black long coat with matching black trousers. Except for the red armguards and the red leg guards, his appearance was almost entirely black. Though it was downtown, he was armed with a katana at his waist.
In contrast to the man in black, the woman was dressed in a colorful manner.
Her light brown hair was fashioned into twin tails which reached her back. Her blue eyes, which gave the impression of a blue sky, were looking at the man. Her skirt had a yellow checkered pattern and she also wore a white blouse with navy blue cloth accents. A short red mantle cover from her back to her shoulders. She let it float in the wind.
The man’s name was Shin, and the woman’s name was Marino.
“Hey, Marino. Though I said I’d follow you, how about telling me where you want to go?”
Shin hadn’t been informed of their destination. Therefore, he asked Marino, who was cheerfully walking in front, where they were going.
“It’s just a little farther, be patient.”
Where the two were heading was a shop that had been recommended to Marino.
“Let’s look for a secret famous shop”――It was brought up into their conversation about one week earlier.
Marino, who had a vast network of friends immediately found one of the shops. Ever since she had become a regular customer, she now talked about it incessantly.
“The bar manager is a nice person, every time I go to his bar, I end up talking to him for hours. How should I say this? He really fits the part of a bar manager who works in a coffee shop. Isn’t that what you want? Just like what you might find in a manga or a novel, he’s someone who gives off the impression of a dandy uncle who can be relied on. Although his appearance is a bit comical..”
Apparently, their destination was the coffee shop.
Many MMORPG’s had transitioned to VR. THE NEW GATE which Shin and Marino played was no exception. The conversion to VR allowed the players to move their avatars around like real bodies. Previously, avatars were viewed in third-person with the player viewpoint being from the back of the avatar, so the realism and reality from VR was overwhelmingly more popular with players.
One of the biggest changes was that the sense of taste had been reproduced. In the past, they could only enjoy the atmosphere, but now there were various food products that were sold with the collaboration of a food company.
In addition, there were many customers who come by for food just like in a real coffee shop. Because one couldn’t gain weight no matter how many sweets they ate, there was a rumor that many people had their meal portions increased in the game.
While not true of Marino, Shin wasn’t the sort who would have conversations in a real coffee shop, so he wasn’t really inclined to do it in a net game either.
So, why did he go this time? Only because the person who asked him to was Marino.
In the game, the two people were lovers.
“Ah look! You’ll see it when we turn at that corner there.”
Shin shifted his gaze ahead to where the spirited Marino had pointed.
Shin, who had memorized almost all Alloride’s maps, noticed that a road with little pedestrian traffic branched off from the main street. Certainly, he agreed that this road had all the atmosphere require for a famous hidden shop.
However, Shin started to have doubts before turning at the corner, when he noticed the signboard that he saw earlier.
“Hey, I can see the signboard from here, but only paws and small fishes were drawn on it. Is it a coffee shop where you get to play with cats or dogs?”
‘It actually exists’, Shin imagined a shop where healing is the main theme.
“No it’s not. The bar manager is a beast of the cat race. That’s why the signboard is like that. Ah, by the way, it’s not a small fish drawn with the paw, it’s a small dried sardine.”
Marino gave off a “What are you talking about?” vibe, leaving Shin with mixed feelings.
The name of the shop was ‘Nyan Da Land’. As for that naming, Shin certainly felt it fit a more cat-like vibe rather than animal-like. However, it was not without thinking ‘It should have been easy to understand’. Especially the small dried sardines.
“It’s because he’s a cat, huh? Y~eah, like I would have known that.”
Couldn’t they have used an image of a cat? While puzzling over this, Shin followed Marino through the door of the coffee shop.
“Welcome! Oh, if isn’t it Mari-nyaa?”
“Hello Hibineko-san. I’ve brought the lover whom I had mentioned before”
“Oh, then you must be Shin-kun?”
Hibineko looked at Shin. Their conversation showed that the relationship between the owner and the Marino was something more than what you’d normally find between a shopkeeper and customer.
Hibineko’s low pitched voice echoed through Shin’s ears. Shin wasn’t worried about what was said. On the other hand the possibility of writhing to the sombre baritone voice was high.
However, Shin focused on the nickname “Mari-nyaa” used by Hibineko for Marino.
“Hmm, that was one of the informal word endings that were established by my guild the ‘Cat Type Tribe Word Ending Research Society’. When you want to indicate respect and affection, ‘-nyaa’ is attached to the partner’s name. Don’t worry, ‘-nyaa’ isn’t something intended to be used casually like at a first meeting.”
“Sounds like you’re part of an amazing guild, huh? Um, may I call you Hibineko-san?”
Though Marino was calling the catman, “Hibineko”, what Shin saw displayed using 【Analyze】 was ‘Nekomata@Rising’.
“‘Hibineko’ has been attached to this avatar, huh? I’m delighted when you call me so.”
The cat type avatar lowered his head, there was coloring of black ears at the white fur. However, a portion of his face was gray for some reason, the white and gray boundary line looked like a crack on a concrete.
Hibineko, a cracked cat? It was an amazingly well made avatar, Shin felt it was amusing and a little amazing at the same time. Because it was rare in the game, it was possible that he liked to do things that amazed others.
“Then let’s decide what to order first.”
The two sat on the chairs after the self-introduction ended. It was a famous hidden shop so there were few customers inside, each of them having fun chatting.
“There’s a large menu here. The recommended items are the shakes. The choices are strawberry, white peach, and black sesame in yogurt. By the way, I recommend the black grape shake.”
“Is there coffee or tea behind the counter?”
Shin who thought one of those was definitely her favorite, asked Marino while glancing behind the counter.
“Everything over there is quite good. There are no bad choices.”
Marino commented that everything there were first-class goods. It wasn’t just that it tasted good, the food acted as a power up in a way that was more effective than the half-assed products sold over the counter in a normal shop.
“Then without further ado, I’ll take what Marino recommended, the black grape shake.”
“I’ve decided too. Master, two black grapes shakes.”
Not even five minutes passed after Marino ordered before Hibineko brought the shakes, which had been poured into glasses.
Because a chef could shorten the food preparation time for a certain number of dishes, it didn’t even take a minute of time for the actual food preparation.
To make things seem more realistic, a certain amount of time was waited.
“Thank you for waiting. Here are the black grape shakes you ordered.”
“Then without delay――”
Shin tasted the shakes that had arrived. With an icy cold feeling, the sourness and the sweet taste of the grapes spread inside his mouth. Even though it was in game, it was a taste he could honestly say was delicious.
The admiring Shin saw that the icons which indicate DEX and INT on his stats bar had risen. Though the rate of increase was lower than from a buff from a mage, it was an increase that surpassed that which was typical given by food.
“This is amazing! Do you have a version for take out?”
“I’d rather keep this between a few close friends. It’s a business, but I’m not doing this for profits.”
When Shin asked with a voice that wasn’t strange coming from a major guild, Hibineko answered with a troubled face.
Among the gamers, there were people who want to seriously take in what they do.
For such people, they might not be interested to fight for the no. 1 either.
“I see. Well, I have a chef acquaintance I know, so I thought I wanted to see her reaction when she drinks this.”
Shin who tried to guess at what was going on inside Hibineko’s head, explained why.
“If that’s the case, I’ll prepare one for you to take with you. I wonder what her impression will be?”
“Really! Thank you very much”
Hibineko seemed to be interested in the other’s chef’s reaction. He converted the shake into a card and handed it to Shin.
“That’s Cook-san isn’t it? I don’t appreciate it when you talk about other girls in front of your lover.”
Although Shin was happy for a moment because he had obtained something rare, Marino who had been watching the exchange between the two, glared at Shin.
“M-My bad, Marino. It’s only because the shake you recommended was so wonderful. It was unintentional, okay?”
Shin, clasping both hands together to apologize. Marino nodded with a pose that suggested “It couldn’t be helped.”.
“Oh well, I also thought to take some to Cook-san, so it’s fine. It’s not like you can do this in the real world after all.”
Marino was used to the change that came over Shin when he was exposed to unusual items and equipment. It was like his eye color changed.
“So Shin, you need to find a good shop for me next time.”
“I’ll look for it, but don’t expect too much.”
Shin frowned at her reply. Armour and weapons shops were one thing, he didn’t have a clue about finding a shop with a playful name like ‘Nyan Da Land’.
Shin was relieved though because he knew it meant she wasn’t in a bad mood.
“Then, what kind of tale will you tell us today? I never get tired of hearing Shin’s stories.”
“I’m not sure what you mean, I’ve talked plenty about my black history in the past. I want to hear some stories about Marino’s failures in the past too.”
“To want to hear a girl’s shameful story…Shin is pervert.”
“Wa!? You, stop retorting like that, alright?!”
It was an exchange that seemed more like the bickering of two bad friends than between two lovers. In reality, they knew that they were just joking with each other. It just showed that they were happy together.
Even though they didn’t speak of anything consequential that day, Shin and Marino still enjoyed their conversation.
“Ah, sorry, I have to go soon.”
While she was speaking with Shin and Hibiniko, Marino was keeping track of the time displayed in the digital display on the edge of her view. When her time was up, she mentioned she had to leave.
“Hm? It’s that time already, huh? It’s always hard to believe that the time passes so quickly.”
Marino had told him that she had a time limit to her net gaming and had no choice but to leave the conversation.
“See you later! Please find me a good shop by the day after tomorrow.”
After getting up and telling him that, she left the shop and then logged out. She’d mentioned that she wouldn’t be able to log in tomorrow due to circumstance with her family.
“Now, what should I do? I don’t really know of any good coffee shops.”
After Marino left, Shin was feeling some despair. In fact, he didn’t have a clue regarding where to look for an appealing shop.
“…maybe I should ask her for some help?”
Shin muttered, while thinking about his guildmate chef.
“Have you found a good shop?”
“More or less. Since I don’t know as much about this topic as you do, you might already know about it.”
Two days later. Shin and Marino visited a player hub named Ametora.
Shin was passionate about the things he liked and his favorite activities. Marino on the other hand was quick to gather information about things that were cute, fashionable and stylish instead.
Shin mentioned that he’d asked someone for help, because he expected that Marino probably already knew about this shop.
“Look. It’s that shop. What was written on the signboard seems to be the abbreviation of ‘Black & White’.”
Shin pointed at the signboard, which had ‘B&W’ drawn on it.
“Hmmm I see. I think you’ve made a pretty good choice.”
With a tone that seemed joking, Marino nodded in agreement. Seeing that response, Shin had a “She had known after all” bitter look on his face.
“I wonder if Hibineko-san was the source of your information?”
“Wrong. Though it is someone you know too.”
“When Shin says it’s the person I know too…Cook-san?”
“You discovered that rather quickly…”
“Well, there aren’t many chefs that we’re both acquainted with, right?”
Shin knew plenty of people involved with the production of weapons and armor, he had many blacksmiths acquaintances, in addition to alchemists and leather-smiths. However, that wasn’t the reason that he only knew a few chef acquaintances.
For Marino who knew Shin’s friends to some extent, it was easy for her to make a guess like that.
“I feel like I’m being seen through more than ever.”
“You should increase your friends.”
“Are you saying I don’t have many friends??”
Shin exclaimed. Marino put her hand on his shoulder to comfort him. They seemed to say many terrible things, but neither face showed any malice.
Though a friend might say they were having a comedy couples dialogue, it was their usual mode of communication.
As the two entered the shop, they were greeted by a woman who had a white hair and transparent blue eyes. Her hair was loose and wavy and gently shook in a wind.
Marino called out the name of the shop assistant who had welcomed them with a smile as she said hello.
“Ara, if it isn’t Marino-chan? Long time no see. Oh? What, are you going with a man today?”
“Tee-hee, he’s actually my boyfriend.”
With a slight grin, Holly spoke to Marino in a teasing way. However, Marino declared it clearly without being perturbed. Her expression revealed her happiness.
“Oh oh dear my, that’s good, that’s very good. I’ll give you a discount today. Dear! Can you come here for a moment?”
“…What? You are being a bit loud, you know?”
Seeming to have heard two voices making a racket, a frowning man came out from the depths of the shop.
Before the two women replied, Shin who saw that man’s face, spoke his name.
“Hm? If it isn’t Shin? It’s rare for you to come to a cafe. And together with a woman too.”
“Ahh, yeah, that’s right. Well um, she’s Marino, my girlfriend.”
“Long time no see”
“Fumu, both of you, it’s been a long time.”
Shadow said with a smile.
“You know Shadow-san too?”
Shin asked Marino.
“I know him because I had known this shop, but what about you, Shin?”
“I joined together with Shadow-san in a PvP event. It was an impromptu party we made where he fought with me side by side. He is happy when I call him a real ninja.”
When an avatar’s movement was unusual, it became famous among some players. There was a rumor among players that the operating abilities of a player who didn’t depend on the system were high.
“What Happy?! Being eager to perform, you increased my Status Troll-kun” (T/N: Status in this case was Shadow’s standing as an individual, mostly likely he didn’t want to stand out.)
Shin being Shin, he was famous for a different reason than Shadow.
“Oh boy, it’s because you have a strange way of speaking.”
“Ku, I can’t deny that….”
Shin hung his head down at Marino’s comment.
Holly watched the exchange between Shin and Shadow, though she didn’t say anything, she seemed to be withholding her laughter.
“Then, how about we end this talk for the moment and order something? Coming to a coffee-house, I don’t admire people staying without ordering anything, you know?”
Because they would only block the entrance standing there, Shadow urged them on as Shin was getting hit by the verbal attacks. Shin and Marino ordered a set of drinks and snacks and took a seat.
“What do you say? It’s also good to be like that, don’t you think?”
“What is it?”
“Mou! you’re dense. I mean Shadow-san and Holly-san’s matter. The two of them manage a shop together, isn’t it pretty wonderful?”
Her voice seemed to contain a lot of admiration for them. Holly accepted orders from the customers while Shadow prepared the dishes and drinks like in a real store. Marino watched their movements as they worked with each other in perfect harmony.
“Well, those two in real life are also…wait, do you know, Marino? The things about these two people.”
“Of course. Shin also knew that, right?”
It was a taboo to speak about another player’s real life except oneself in a net. Shin who confirmed it just to make sure, and Marino returned “Of course”.
What the two confirmed each other without expressing it in words, it was about Shadow and Holly being a married couple in the real world. It was not the fictitious net-only relationship. They were a genuine one, two people that could reach out to each other even in reality, Marino has been longing for it.
“When I watch those people who are in love, astonishment comes first more than jealousy.”
“Isn’t that nice, Shin? I was able to meet you after waiting so long. It’s only natural thinking that you’d like to have that feeling forever.”
“Well that too, even I could empathize.”
When the act of love was shown in public, the person seeing it ended up feeling tired.
While holding such impressions, Shin turned his attention to the menu again.