Before I knew it, I had gained a follower. Even after we had returned back to the village, Luda insisted that I was her new ‘master’. I wasn’t sure what I did to make her think that, but it no longer mattered.
Since we couldn’t enter the village with a naked young girl clinging to my back, I had taken off my shirt and thrust it out for one of the others to drape it around her. Upon entering the village, I began to worry what the villagers would think of our disheveled and smelly appearance. Though Eryn said that there was nothing to worry about, I felt that I had every right to be leery of our current appearance.
The villagers approached us, having heard the sounds of battle drifting down the mountain. They gave a collective sigh of relief and cheers as we told them of our success in vanquishing it, seeming to understand the resulting state we were in.
“It must have been some battle. Please come this way.”
We were immediately led to a nearby well to rinse off the putrid odor of the dragon’s vomit that clung to our bodies. Even the sulfur ridden water was tolerable compared to the scent that we were currently giving off. Looks like we all could use a new set of clothing and a bath, too. Seeing this, some men led me in one direction, while some women conversely led the others away. I was brought to what appeared to be a communal bathing area.
“Oh, just the thing I need.” I nodded and took advantage of the facility. I half expected for there to be some sort of comedic fanservice scene like stumbling onto some scantily-clad women, but fortunately, nothing like that happened as I had the place to myself. The last thing I needed was the token ‘chase the pervert’ scenario.
Sometime later, I had stepped out of the building wearing a simple hakama-like outfit. The clothes had been gifted to me to replace my soiled chef uniform that was currently being washed and repaired. Three other girls also stepped out in yukatas bearing various designs. Eryn had chosen one with fireworks bursting across the fabric. On the other hand, Saki and Luda both had picked a more traditional floral pattern. I stared at them momentarily, thinking that the outfits suited them quite nicely.
“Master…praise?” Luda asked sweetly.
“Oh yes, you all look nice. Especially you, Luda.” I snapped out of my trance and gave a reply reflexively. This was the first time that I looked closely at her and considered her to be cute.
Apparently, she had been disguising herself as a boy in order not to be taken advantage of. Given the names used in the northern country, ‘Luda’ sounded more masculine. As the Purnesian army conscripted only males, her master had decided that hiding her gender would make things less complicated in the long run.
That extra bit of history on Ludmila only served to contribute to the sob story that tickled my heart. I was strangely sensitive to the hardships of young female characters, a sensitivity likely fostered by the many visual novels that I had played through. I was never one to pick only one heroine’s route. Each character had her own quirks and story-lines that gripped my attention and opened my heart to them. At that moment, I felt akin to the faceless main character having triggered the Ludmila flag somehow.
Though as much as I wanted to help her, Eryn would have the final say, being my master. Looking towards her, she simply accepted the prospect of gaining a new retainer.
“If you’re her master, she would be working under me as well. It’s not a bad deal, especially given that she’s also an Electi.”
Indeed, her speed was something advantageous to have, but I wasn’t going to let her be forced into anything that she didn’t like. I highly doubted that Eryn was the type of person to do so either, unlike those Ludmila escaped from in the North.
In any case, our family had grown by one.
In the next few days, we made several rounds through the surrounding mountainous area, in search of the dragon’s remains to confirm its death. Sadly, we never found them. Neither did we see any signs of its presence, so it was probably gone for good.
Currently, it was my turn to look around. Saki had joined me in case I needed protection. She seemed to warm up to me after we had discovered some mutual interests, mainly with respect to the knowledge of Asian cuisine that I held. It had been over a year since she had been able to taste the cooking of her home country. Encountering someone eager to recreate them, the wall between us had been torn down after a single round of Japanese curry. Luckily, the village had all the ingredients I needed, including the rice that we had missed so much.
“Master! Here…found!” Ludmila speedily caught up to us.
Even the unfamiliar clothing did not seem to slow down her speedy movement. We were all still wearing the local fashion, but it seemed that repairs on our personal outfits would soon be complete.
As Ludmila stopped in front of us, she placed a basket full of foraged consumables into my hands. Apparently, she had gotten quite used to looking for edible plants while surviving in the wild.
Though she had insisted on tagging along when it was my turn, I was getting tired of her sticking by me the entire time. Her little ‘errand’ was more to give me some time to return to my normal self, which was not used to such attention. However, it seemed that Ludmila had brought me some interesting ingredients.
In particular, I picked up a green leaf that emitted a nice scent. Ludmila had claimed that sucking on its leaves made her more alert, something that was important to have while living in the dangerous wilderness. She had not spent much time gaining experience, as her level was still in the single digits.
“Hmm, this seems nostalgic…is there a lot of this around here? Can you get more?” I inquired with interest.
“Yes…mountain…leaves…many, many…go…now!” Ludmila’s eyes brimmed with excitement at my interest. It took only a moment for her form to escape our view.
“Oh well, she should be okay, since she can move so fast.” I wasn’t going to curb her enthusiasm at this point.
“We’re done checking for today. No signs of the dragon here either, so it’s likely dead somewhere. The village should be safe now.” Saki chimed in, letting me know that it was time to return.
After Ludmila came back with her basket filled to the brim with those leaves, we returned to the village.
After we returned to the village, I took the basket of leaves aside and started boiling a pot of water. Since we had stayed here for several days, having to drink the smelly water had been unavoidable. I couldn’t imagine having to suffer drinking this for such a long time. Naturally, my mind started coming up with ways to make the water more palatable.
Nothing that was in the village met with any success, and I was about to give up since the source of the issue had been removed anyways. This experiment would be the last.
After the water had boiled, I cut off the mana supply to the flame-enchanted magic stone that I used for cooking. Tossing a handful of green leaves into the pot, I let it steep for several minutes.
I dipped a cup in and slowly blew on the steaming hot brew before putting it to my lips for a sip. A familiar but bitter taste hit my tongue.
“Not bad…A little strong though. The water’s probably a bit too hot.” I’d have to revise my technique.
Just then, a group of people came over, including my companions.
“Oh? You’re at it again? We’re leaving tomorrow, so we won’t have to endure this water for much longer,” Eryn notified me.
“The water is sure to return to normal given time, now that the dragon is gone. We can’t thank all of you enough for that.” The villagers bowed in appreciation.
Before the conversation got farther, I dipped another cup into the pot and thrust it in front of Eryn.
Eryn hesitantly took the cup, knowing how badly the water had tasted the time she tried it before. She had rejected it so much that I taught her how to distill it in order to lessen the impact of the sulfur. Since the sulfur content was so high, it actually required many cycles of boiling and cooling to get it within her tolerable range. Since this resulted in the use of a significant amount of fire magic, it wasn’t practical to use it on a large quantity of water.
Closing her eyes as she took a small sip, she blinked in surprise.
“It’s tolerable? I don’t taste any of that horridness from before. It’s actually strangely refreshing.” Eryn couldn’t hide her surprise.
Saki took the cup from her and took a larger swig. Her eyes got large in surprise, but for another reason.
“This is…Ocha? Green tea?”
No one but me knew what she was talking about. That was what I had thought after Ludmila had used it for staying alert. Most likely, she was ingesting caffeine as she sucked on the leaves. The familiar fragrance also tipped me off. While I didn’t do a great job with steeping it, many Asian people would recognize this staple hot drink despite that.
As the other villagers also grabbed a cup to try, they had wondered how the taste of sulfur magically disappeared from the water. I explained to them that green tea contains polyphenols that deactivated certain compounds causing the foul odor, thereby eliminating the scent and taste. I recalled my mom prescribing tea to her customers to cleanse their body of overabundant compounds and toxins. It seemed to work on people whose breath smelled like rotten eggs, so it had been worth a try here.
Though they were confused by my explanation, the villagers enjoyed the taste of the tea. Having learned of this solution to their water troubles, they would soon send people to the mountains to harvest tea leaves for their entire region.
Some time later, the Faulkner trading company would acquire yet another proprietary good that they could sell to the public.
That evening, the villagers celebrated their good fortune with music and food. Eryn, Saki, Ludmila, and I enjoyed our last evening there. Though our armor was now fixed, they happily let us keep a set of their traditional clothing, which we continued to wear until we left.
While the girls enjoyed the food and music, I walked around inquiring about the dishes present, ever curious of those that I had not encountered before. I jotted down the recipes given to me by various housewives.
Eventually, something caught my eye. An old lady was turning a tilted bowl while slowly pouring syrup into it. The inside of the bowl contained small crystal grains that continuously rolled downwards as the bowl revolved, guiding them back up again.
As I stood there mesmerized, I watched the crystal grains grow larger and larger as they rolled along the syrup-coated bowl, until they became the size of a spiky marble. With each batch, the old lady threw in a new batch of seeds and used a sugary syrup of a different color, resulting in an assortment of colored candies.
I recalled the jar in Eryn’s room. The candies within were nearly identical to the ones being made here. I couldn’t help myself but ask the old lady of this ‘konpeito’.
“It’s called Rock Candy, sonny.”
I nearly tripped over myself from that. Of course, konpeito was a type of rock candy.
Disregarding that, I asked if she could teach me how to make it. Not content in just acquiring it, I wanted to take the extra mile and make it myself.
Soon, I found out that it was quite easy to make. Though my form was not refined, resulting in some irregular shapes, it was still candy. The main problem would be getting the proper equipment to do so. Jotting down some notes, I wondered if that would be something Katsys could handle.
Nevertheless, I held in my hand a bag of rock candy konpeito that I had personally made after roughly an hour. I would wait until Eryn and I got back before giving it to her.
Stowing it away in my Item Box, I returned to the ladies in my party to enjoy the rest of the evening.
We had an uneventful journey back to the capital, unaware of all the things that had happened while we were away.