Sungchul crossed through the refugee camp while he moved to strike Aquiroa’s airship. The reason he had chosen to take the path toward the refugee camp rather than his usual route was because a pleasant smell hit his nose.
The smell was coming from a pot hung over a bonfire. Sungchul approached the pot to check its contents. Rather than an actual cuisine, it appeared to be some form of gruel.
Normally, he wouldn’t have even bothered with something like this, but with a nickname that said “Greatest Dish of the Market”, he had lingered around the tent where the pot was hanging with a bowl looking to get a serving. Soon, a pale man with deep-set eyes appeared from within the tent. He didn’t say anything, but it wasn’t difficult for Sungchul to realize that he might not be able to get even a single helping from this man.
Sure enough, the man glared at Sungchul and spat into the pot. Sungchul’s brows twitched imperceptibly.
‘This son of a…’
The atmosphere of the refugee camp was worse than what it seemed from the outside. Sungchul had to actively avoid fights as he walked the dirt road filled with sewage and trash while being the target of more than a dozen hostile glares.
In this process, Sungchul finally realized where these refugees had come from. These were people from the far east side of the Tower of Recluse from the vast region of mudflats known as Insvant. They formed an extremely closed and self-sustained society and were also known to be one of the rare heretical groups who worshipped the Ancient God.
‘They had come a long way from home. Did they end up seeking shelter here because no other place would accept them?’
He had met a few of the Insvant during his time as a rebel. They weren’t all that great people. They would grovel to those more powerful than them and would habitually betray at any given opportunity, and if it’s someone weaker, they would wrung ‘em dry of everything.
Their faith was also quite suspect. It was to the point that there were theories suggesting that some Insvants were kidnapping women and children from foreign lands to be used as offering in gruesome human sacrificial rituals.
“They were quite unsavory people.” Bertelgia wriggled and peeked her head out of her pocket once they were in a secluded place and spoke her piece.
“They are not to blame. Faces grow dim when times get hard.”
“But spitting in your own food to avoid sharing is too much.”
“… I guess it just means that they’re just that relentless.”
Sungchul took a spot far off from the refugee camp. He had decided that he would attack at the break of dawn. Sungchul preferred the serene time of the day when the light is about to break as in this rare moment he was permitted to have luck and had not once experienced failure.
“Hm Hm. The scenery is quite good, an ideal to carry out some Alchemy.”
While Bertelgia took the opportunity to laze about outside of her pocket, Sungchul diligently moved about as he set up camp.
‘Glad I didn’t eat that gruel.’
Sungchul busily went back and forth into the forest in order to procure his ingredients for food. The forest that surrounded the Tower of Recluse had a lot of powerful monsters which made it dangerous for anyone other than veteran adventurers. This meant that there were little people there, but the place was quite the treasure trove of ingredients.
First, Sungchul caught a lamb and drained it of blood. As the blood drained completely, he gathered various fragrant mushrooms and edible vegetation from the forest and purchased what he was short of from Toporo village. He got his hands on a fairly usable cauldron from a stable near the village entrance which put him in a great mood.
“I’ll leave the empty dishes at the stream outside the village, so feel free to take them.”
Sungchul was always happy to find any excuse to avoid doing the dishes.
Once the preparations were complete, Sungchul dismembered the lamb drained of blood with experienced hands.
“Ugh… why do humans do such things just for food?”
Bertelgia who was watching the entire process spoke with great emotion. Sungchul didn’t retort back and kept his words to himself.
‘Kids that say things like that always seems to eat the most.’
The cooking process was moving along steadily. Sungchul was preparing to cook Shabu-Shabu with lamb meat this time. It not only allowed the full flavor of the fresh ingredients to be experienced but was easy to eat as well.
Sungchul brought the water and various ingredients for the meat stock to a boil within the cauldron. He removed the chicken bones, dried fish, seaweed, and various other ingredients used for the stock with a large pair of chopsticks while he used a ladle and a small bowl to sample it.
“Mm. It’s good.”
The homemade soy sauce with a vinegary flavor wasn’t quite as good as the one back home, but it was decent enough. All that was left was to slice the chopped lamb pieces paper thin.
Sungchul threw the lean meat onto the tree stump he had been using as a cutting board and took a deep breath before cutting up the meat with imperceptible speed. Several paper thin pieces of meat were prepared in a matter of moments.
“You are good with the knife too.”
Bertelgia, who had been watching from the side, made a comment.
“There is no weapon I can’t handle.”
“You must be pleased.”
Sungchul plopped down and pulled out some alcohol from his Soul Storage. The alcohol was contained in an emerald colored glass bottle.
‘Is it the end of this as well?’
Spirit of Iron Blood. It was spirit brewed in the territory of the Order of the Iron Blood Knights.
It was called Soju, but it was a high quality liquor made with meticulous process and craftsmanship which made it colorless and odorless; strong on the tongue and smooth to drink, and once sober, felt refreshing. However, there was almost none left as the Order of the Iron Blood Knights was no more.
‘I should be more prudent with drinking it.’
All preparations were complete. Sungchul dumped the mushrooms and vegetables he had prepared beforehand into the cauldron. The boiling cauldron seemed to boil over a bit before settling down. The delicate scent of the stock was mixed with the aromatic scent of vegetables.
Sungchul pulled out few of the firewood within the blaze to lower the intensity of the heat before placing the sliced lamb meat into the cauldron with his chopsticks.
Blood from the lamb meat spread within the clear stock like spores. This was the moment when his stomach began to growl.
Sungchul shut his eyes and brought one of the meat to his lips, but as he was about to eat, something unfamiliar could be felt nearby. He wanted to ignore it, but could not. It was because the ones that appeared at Sungchul’s rear were the werewolves sent down from Aquiroa’s airship.
They were approaching toward Sungchul’s direction with their noses in the air. Sungchul felt slight irritation as he let the godly strength seep into his body. It was one thing to kill them, but he wanted to leave no traces behind.
However, the werewolves didn’t go directly toward Sungchul, but rather toward where he had butchered the lamb faraway. They hadn’t come for Sungchul, but they were actually drawn by the scent of lamb’s blood. They pointed toward the intestines and head, along with the rest of the discarded body parts, with their clawed finger and spoke in a cackling voice.
“Ey, Black hair. You eatin’ that?”
“If not, let’s share.”
“We’re normally quite friendly werewolves, but we turn into savage beasts when we’re hungry.”
They were pieces to be discarded anyway.
Sungchul motioned to them that they were free to do what they wanted.
A pleased smile appeared on the werewolves’ lips.
“Instead of the smelly and dirty meat, it looks like we’ll get to stuff ourselves with the fresh meat of nature.”
“He’s got quite a talent to be able to get a lamb from that forest.”
The werewolves let out a special cry as though they were pleased, and moved past Sungchul. One of them spoke offhandedly toward Sungchul once he noticed Sungchul’s food.”
“Ah, you’re eating it wrong. The intestines have to be chewed raw to experience their true flavor. You’re not a beggar or anything. What are you doing mixing it with some grass?”
Sungchul had to practice extreme patience in a way that he hadn’t in a long time. He crushed the stone in his hand to dust, but the werewolf had no idea of it as he chuckled and left.
Either way, eating comes first. The situation might have spoiled some of his appetite, but he didn’t even have an inkling of intention of stopping his meal. Sungchul dipped the lamb meat he had been interrupted in eating into the boiling soup again to let the stock seep in before taking it to his lips.
It tasted ok, but it wasn’t the flavor he wanted. Trying to warm up what was already cooked made the meat a bit tougher.
Sungchul took his chopsticks to dip a fresh meat into the cauldron again. This time, he fully anticipated the taste he had been seeking, but it seemed like today was not his day..
He tried to eat once again when another person came to interrupt him.
‘Is it the werewolves? No, it’s a bit different.’
If it had been the werewolves, he hadn’t intended on being so easy this time. It was with this intention that he turned around to meet someone unexpected.
‘This person is…?’
Crimson hair like the burning flame and the pupil of a lizard. A voluptuous physique that couldn’t quite be hidden underneath her thick robe.
It was the Half-dragon Kha’nes.
Ironically, the woman Sungchul had been trying to find all this time finally appeared before him after finishing her business.
She followed her beastial olfactory senses, like one of the werewolves, toward Sungchul’s direction. Unlike the werewolves, she was more interested in Sungchul’s cuisine rather than the discarded meat.
“It’s a luxury food that I hadn’t smelled before?”
She approached Sungchul with her eyes closed and only discovered that she was standing before him a bit too late, but she didn’t look all that surprised.
“What the? Aren’t you the Enemy of the World?”
She nonchalantly approached Sungchul like a neighborhood chum she had known for a while and plopped her butt right beside him.
“What’s this? How do you eat it?”
A bigger bother than the werewolves arrived. Sungchul didn’t feel inclined to but showed her how to eat it anyways. He dipped the thinly cut lamb meat into the cauldron to boil it slightly before dipping it into a special sauce to eat.
It was but a sample, but it was a true delicacy.
[The score for this dish is… 45 points!]
The score wasn’t all that high, but it was relatively high when it came to one of Sungchul’s preferred recipes.
“You eat like this.”
“Is that right? Let me try it.”
Kha’nes gripped the meat with her hand on the account of her lacking chopsticks.
“Wash your hands first before you eat.”
“My hands are clean.”
The area around her fingers sprouted scales. It must have been some kind of talent befitting the dragonkin. She used her scaled fingers to dip the meat and like Sungchul, let it heat up before taking it to her mouth.
Sungchul waited for her reaction with no expression on his face.
She closed her eyes and chewed as though she was savoring the meat until her eyes lit up.
“It’s good! Very good!”
It really wasn’t something to be that surprised about as there was no such thing as bad food if Sungchul made it. Sungchul slowly revealed the brooch hidden away under his coat with an expressionless look. The golden brooch scattered blinding light in every direction as it was struck by the setting sun.
‘You got to be able to at least this much to be a true chef.’
But while Sungchul was showing off his brooch, Kha’nes had feverishly devoured all of the meat. Sungchul discovered that half of the meat he had prepared and most of the vegetables had been eaten in the blink of an eye.
‘What the… this girl…’
When Sungchul looked at her with eyes full of complaint, Kha’nes prettily fluttered her eyes and spoke without shame.
“I can eat hot food very well. Aren’t you jealous?”
After saying so, she grabbed the green-colored emerald bottle and emptied it. Sungchul’s eyes trembled for a moment.
‘No… that bottle is?!’
Every drop of spirit within the bottle traveled down her throat and down into her dragon belly. This was the moment when the last drop of the Spirit of Iron Blood that Sungchul had been planning on savoring was lost.
Sungchul’s chopsticks fell out of his hand.
“I’m really sorry! I didn’t know it was that precious to you!”
Kha’nes had bowed down before Sungchul repeatedly to express her apology, but anyone could see that she was apologizing without a shred of sincerity and had purely recited the right words.
Sungchul’s face was as expressionless as always, but the mood was quite different than usual. Bertelgia knew this better than anyone.
‘Ugh… He must really be pissed. This is the first time I saw him act like this.’
She couldn’t take it anymore and crawled out of her pocket to approach Kha’nes.
“Hm? You’re the living book?”
“Um, Dragon sis.”
Bertelgia approached Kha’nes’ ears and explained the gravity of her mistake. Kha’nes who had been staring with a blank face slowly developed a look of realization when she realized just how serious of a mistake she had committed.
“Ooo… I’m really sorry! I committed such a huge mistake without intending it.”
“The food was so just good. Honestly, it’s hard to find a chef of your caliber in the entire continent. Who else would have the Golden Brooch, you know?”
“…that is true?”
Sungchul who had been staring off into the forest slightly turned his body at last to show off a bit of the brooch hidden beneath his coat.
Kha’nes made a bitter smile as she considered what else to add when she discovered the Soul Gem hanging beneath Sungchul’s coat.
“Hm? Isn’t that a Meerkat Carbuncle Soul Gem?”
“You know what this is?”
Curiosity lit up in Sungchul’s eyes.
He had thought that there was no one other than Sajators who knew what it was, but he expectantly ran into someone who recognized the Meerkat carbuncle Soul Gem.
“It’s the first time seeing one in person, but I heard some of the old dragon fogeys talking about it. They said that it was an item made by humans in the distant past to emulate Dragon’s Dragon Tongue Magic.”
She reached out with her hand to touch the Soul Gem.
When Sungchul retreated, she made a bitter smile and apologized.
“Ah, Sorry. I just wanted to touch it once.”
Sungchul held out the Soul Gem of another Carbuncle that didn’t listen to him instead of the one that was quite obedient.
“Hm. This one seems to be quite rebellious?”
Kha’nes seemed to have discovered the problem with the Soul Gem immediately. When Sungchul nodded, Kha’nes winked and proposed.
“Now that I’ve been treated to a meal and a drink, how about I teach you how to fix this Soul Gem?”