Ludmila could only respond to the older girl with a sigh of amusement. Regardless if it was love or her interests, Saki was a girl who held little restraint, despite how hard she tried to hide it. In this case, it was for the one ingredient that they had yet to find a substitute for, until now.
After discovering meat from the Monstrous Oxen, Claude immediately recreated the dishes of his world that involved beef. As another otherworlder who regularly consumed it in her diet, Saki regained a love for the staple foods from her world, filling a hole in her existence.
“Gyuudon, yakiniku, nikujaga, sukiyaki, hamburger….” Saki went starry-eyed as she had her first taste of it for the first time since she arrived here.
Ludmila, on the other hand, found it not much different than the meat from her hunts, perhaps a little less gamey. In the hands of a proper cook, any meat could be made tasty. Still, other people not of this world seemed rather excited about it, so she didn’t want to burst their bubble.
The only issue was that the Monstrous Oxen were typically high-level monsters residing in the remote regions of southwest Sistina. It was hardly effective to pay for sufficiently-leveled adventurers, simply to satisfy the palate of a few.
It was then that Ludmila raised her hand, offering to devise a strategy to hunt the beast with minimal labor costs. Given her expertise in hunting, she proposed several approaches to overpowering animals that were much mightier than the normal human.
“If a child can defeat a bear, how shameful is it for an adult to fear a cub.”
That was a proverb that was spoken in her village in the other world. It was used to teach children that every creature had weak and strong members. And until one could gauge that strength on his or her own, it was foolish to fear an entire species.
It became Ludmila’s task for the next several weeks to educate the local villagers, training them to take down their much higher-leveled prey with proper planning and equipment. And now, Saki was looking at her with hopeful expectation.
“Training is all set. But whether they can thrive will be up to them,” Ludmila said flatly. Despite the moments of emotion that broke through from her original self, her inclinations were still often grounded in a blunt and stony tone. She just accepted it as a part of growing up.
There was such disappointment on Saki’s face that it was hard to tell who was the older one. But then, she shrugged it off, hiding her eyes under the metal hard hat that was upon her head. Ludmila had grown used to seeing that strange headgear in the past few months, given to Saki when she started demolishing the wall between Sistina and Purnesia. Claude mentioned something about gap moe factor when he handed it to her, who appeared wholly convinced of it.
Yet, that wall’s demolition ended quite some time ago, and still, Saki wore the thing. Ludmila could only sigh as the scent of pheromones and hesitation wafted from Saki whenever Claude approached. She wanted to reach over and pat the soft black hair of the new Chancellor, but that required finding something to climb on top of. That action in public would also be quite belittling of someone who was supposed to help lead a kingdom.
“Are things progressing here, Chancellor?” Ludmila asked, more so to lift Saki out of her moment of brooding than anything else.
“Uh, yes. The swampland has dried up, making it possible to construct the buildings needed for the next phase. After this, we are clear to survey the land and restructure the ley lines leading north. There are no worries of the ground exploding on us.”
Ludmila nodded as she took in each piece of information.
The swampland that was a natural fire hazard in the past was now gone, the combustible gas that spewed from there driven away once the stagnant water was removed. Saki had learned the hard way that even the sparks from her demolition could trigger an explosion.
After the wall was cleared, the real work began with Saki leading the effort. Using the former site of Fort Valga, a new town was being built as a central hub for the huge project aimed to transform the lands up north.
Despite the inhospitable environment of Purnesia, its people had lived there for several generations. That was their home, so many refugees felt like they would only be labeled as such by staying in the lands of Sistina. A people dependent on another nation, even with good intentions, was never a good thing in the long term.
For that reason, the new rulers of Sistina became committed to a huge endeavor – making the northern lands of Purnesia thrive upon mana once again. The genius of Queen Katalina and the otherworldly curiosity of King Claude combined to craft a method for terraforming the earth. Restructuring the mana ley lines that had become choked would revitalize the surroundings, but such a project required a ton of manpower and magicians that could shift the earth properly.
One couldn’t simply push dirt around and hope for the best. Apparently, iron housed in the crust aligned over time, which took hundreds if not thousands of years to accomplish naturally. A continent-wide disaster in ages past had likely caused the poor environment of present-day Purnesia.
The ‘alignment of iron’ for good mana flow sounded remarkably like electrical currents to Claude, who surmised that long pipework constructed across the area would accelerate the lands back to health. Saki took one look at the proposal, seeing the parallels of city-wide plumbing in her old world. It was a simple solution for those of the modern age, and one proven successful within their cities. But grafting a network that spread across an entire nation was ambitious.
However, the dangers that loomed in the world no longer existed. Since the Demon had been defeated, the sightings of demonic beasts had gradually dropped over time. And even when there was one reported, it was slain before the kingdom could even send someone to take it down.
And where the demonic beasts breathed their last breath, remnants of fire and ice dotted the area. Saki smiled whenever she received such a report. It seemed that her former flame and her companion were doing quite well with their new lives.
She stared at the half-made buildings of their new town, taking a moment to feel the sounds of progress banging away. She was doing quite well herself. No longer did she cling upon another person for validation; she did what she believed was right.
How she appeared to others didn’t matter nearly as much. She was different and proud of it. And if the town ended up having a design that suited her ‘tastes’, then the people here would just have to suck it up and deal with it for putting her in charge!
“Ah, while you are here, why not take a dip in the onsen? You must be tired from your previous task?”
Ludmila snickered at the other girl’s taste for piping hot water to bathe in. She had grown up simply taking a dunk in the chilly rivers around the village. But she could understand the luxury of hot water soothing one’s body. She nodded lightly in response, accepting the guilty pleasure.
“Good. And while we’re at it, I really wish you would let me dress you up in something more… colorful.”
“No way. Ludmila is your assistant, not your Hina doll.”
Saki pouted at the girl dressed all in black and white, but that just showed how close they had become over the past months, though still not close enough to be her ‘dress-up darling’. Before, they were simply companions who were connected through Claude. Their reserved natures made it difficult for them to do much more than acknowledge each other. But now, they could converse normally, beyond simply working for each other in their new roles.
Ten minutes later, the two of them were soaking in the comforting waters of the onsen. However, they were far from alone, as various women came and went through this public space, a man-made hot spring created to ease the aches of a full day’s work. Saki had insisted this place be one of the first structures built. And of course, the King gave his full approval.
‘Though perhaps… that was not such a good idea…,’ thought Ludmila as she stared at her companion’s flushed face. It was obviously not due to the heat.
“Big Sis Saki, pervert,” Ludmila whispered, which invoked a panicked response from her.
“I-I-I can’t help that I have an appreciation for the cute and stylish!”
“Look but no touch.”
Ludmila peeked over at Saki. Even though she didn’t know what that word meant, the feeling behind it was obvious. The half-sunken body trying to hide her embarrassment was a dead giveaway. Heaving a sigh, Ludmila scooted closer, still turned around.
“Fine, you may pat Ludmila’s head. I give you permission.”
Reaching over eagerly, Saki quickly forgot about the teasing, letting her fingers rest upon the short, blond tresses. During her previous task, there was no one around to give her such things, so offering the first headpat in a while to Saki was a big deal to Ludmila. Not anyone would do.
“Say… why didn’t you just return to the capital? I’m sure Claude would have made time for this. You’re family, after all.”
“I don’t need to rush to Brother Claude’s side anymore. He has Sister Katalina devoted to him now. I’ll let them be… And what about you? Have you seen Sister Eryn since the wedding?”
Saki shook her head. “No… No reason to chase after her rumors. Just like you, I’ve learned to let go as well. She seems happy traveling with her close friend at her side. That’s enough for me.”
Ludmila snickered at those words. “You, restraint? I’ll believe it when your scent stops giving your desires away.”
“Hey! How can you even tell?! We’re in the baths!”
“Cleanliness does not drive away the smell of horny.” Ludmila grinned mischievously.
“H-Horny! Why I-”
Saki was cut off by the sudden feeling of skin upon skin. Her eyes widened at the sudden embrace out of nowhere.
“It’s okay, Sister Saki. We will cope with our feelings in what way we can. You mustn’t feel ashamed by your nature. It is for others to decide whether to reject you or embrace you for it. That is how we truly connect with others.”
“I see. Thank you, Ludmila. I couldn’t have asked for a better assistant.”
For any of the onlookers who were currently bathing, the Chancellor and her assistant clearly had a warm but platonic relationship. A natural partnership full of playful jabs and moments of endearment that were often seen between sisters.
Regardless of how different their backgrounds or outward appearances were, their bond surpassed all of that. It was a model of how such different people could find common ground and come together. And it was their hope that the people of Sistina and Purnesia would work together to build a better future.
All that mattered was the willingness to step forward and embrace the other, ignoring what was deemed as ‘flaws’. There was still a lot of good left after one looked past the blemishes.
“Shall we go grab dinner in the capital? Then, we can drop by and make a report to the castle together afterward. They can’t close off their doors to ‘family visits’, now can they?” Saki gave a final stretch of her arms over her head before pulling herself out of the water.
Ludmila nodded before climbing out as well. “I want pizza,” she quickly commented, taking the initiative.
“I suppose… but I still want that beef soon. Any chance that you can make that happen?” Saki turned to her, pleading with her hands cupped.
“Cleanliness does not drive away the smell of gluttony either.”
“I-, wait! Get back here, you!”
Ludmila was enjoying her current life quite well.