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Peach Wine

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PROLOGUE

Shangri-la, Hell, the mortal world; humans, demons, and gods. They all have something in common: their love of alcohol. Whether it is as the blood of Christ, as an offering to your family deity, or to keep demons appeased, alcohol has been entwined with religion and ritual worship for as long as human memory, and perhaps even longer. Even the gods can't say no to a few celebratory drinks.

And yet, in the vast expanses of heaven and hell, who is responsible for making alcohol fit for gods and demons? Why, surely no one would be better suited than a spirit themselves.

'That's two bottles of pear wine, and one bottle of spiced ginger beer, which brings your total to 970 yen.' The demon girl behind the counter took the customer's money and handed them their change with a somewhat frazzled smile.

'Thank you, please come again!' she barely had time for her parting words before the next customer was before her, all but throwing their purchases onto the counter in a rush.

It was just like any other day in Hell. Demons wandered the streets of Hell's shopping district, children begged their mothers for toys and sweets as the sky glowered a faint red, ominous as always, the faint screams of damned souls drifting through the air like the voices of demented song birds. It was just another day, and business at The Bacchus Brewery was booming.

Lisa made her way out from the back of the store cradling a crate of wine, pushing her way through the crowd of customers, being careful not to bump into them or the shelves.

'Thank you for your patronage!' she called as yet another customer parted the shop noren* and left through the open doors.

She turned to face the shelves and started replacing the sold out wine with the last of the day's stock. This was probably the fastest they'd run out of wine for quite a while. It seemed that every demon and their hellhound was out to buy it. It was only as Lisa was replacing the shelves of their Prefectural Wines ('Who needs to go to the mortal realm when you can have your own little taste of Japan's 47 prefectures here at home!') when she saw the last bottle of their seasonal special, Spring Strawberry, had been sold. She had hoped it would at least last another week; she didn't want to bring out the next special so soon. But it couldn't be helped.

Sighing, Lisa returned the now empty crate to the back of the store and began searching for the 'Seasonal Special - SOLD OUT' sign.

The back of the store away from customers' eyes was a mess of crates and boxes of wine and alcohol bottles, both empty and full. It was gloomy, with only a meagre amount of light peeking through the small windows in the very back wall, but it didn't take Lisa long to find what she wanted. With a small 'aha!' she pulled the sign from among a pile of debris of old signs and boards, all with their own logo or phrase thought up to pull in the customers.

'Already?' came the surprised voice of Lisa's head assistant, Tsumugi. 'We only restocked the shelves yesterday,' she said, empty bottles clutched to her chest.

The one-horned demon girl was quite probably one of the hardest workers in Lisa's distillery business, despite her looks. She was small, but made up for what she lacked in height with an almost terrifying ability to memorise up to the smallest detail of every wine Lisa produced. It was scary to think how much her competitors could profit if they managed to get Tsumugi under their wing.

'I know,' Lisa said. 'But everything's been selling like their stocking for the end of the world out there. You're taking those back to the distillery, aren't you?' Lisa gestured to the bottles clutched to Tsumugi's chest. Tsumugi nodded. 'Then tell Gamo to start getting the Sento Wine ready for sale, we'll start it in the shop next week.' Tsumugi nodded that she understood.

'Which vintages shall we prepare?' Lisa thought about it for a moment.

'Let's go with half of the stock from last year, plus five bottles from each vintage up to eight years ago.' It was more than Lisa was usually willing to sell in one season, but if the way everything was flying off the shelves was any indication, there shouldn't be any problems with leftover stock. And even if there was, she thought, it could always be sold later as an older vintage.

As Lisa made her way back to the shop front it was still buzzing with customers. She called to the counter staff as she went, 'The last of the Spring Strawberry's gone.'

The girl at the counter made an 'OK' sign before turning to help the next customer.

Lisa sighed as she set the sign down beside the shop entrance. To think it was already Sento Wine season. That meant they'd have to get on to producing this year's vintage, too. Which meant a visit to a certain holy peach farm. Oh well, Lisa thought. At least she could take Church for a walk.