Chrys immediately started shadowing me the next day. As I delegated simple tasks for her to perform, I could tell right away that she was used to helping out in the kitchen.
Typically, an experienced chef could tell from body language how skilled one was. From the elf girl’s posture and the way that she held her knife, I was relieved that I didn’t have to worry about her. The last thing I wanted was to take care of the heavily bandaged hands of a common personality trope.
It seemed like she had a rudimentary understanding of mana usage as well, as she had already learned how to inject mana into objects. However, it took a little bit for her to become accustomed to the magic tools that didn’t exist in her previous world. Once she got over her initial hesitation, she started fiddling with them like any curious child her age.
To my surprise, she was a very fast learner. She could trace many of my motions, albeit at a slower pace.
“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”
“I used to help Mother in the kitchen. She would even let me stand by the fire occasionally.”
“Wow, you seem pretty mature. My mom would be kicking me out of the kitchen at your age.” I chuckled as I recalled how annoyed she would get as I buzzed around her like a fly. Even when I started helping my dad in the restaurant, it felt like I was making more messing for him instead. “You know what? I have an idea.”
I fetched another, smaller pot and placed it on the burner next to mine. There was a stool nearby, so I also grabbed that and put it in front of the small pot.
“Here, let’s make some stew together.” I motioned to Chrys that she was in charge of the smaller pot.
With that in place, I had her imitate the same recipe for fish stew, telling her to half the portions for her own pot. She diligently followed along with each step and imitated my motions in an exaggerated manner. I couldn’t help but smile at her earnest efforts.
As the fragrance from the two pots permeated throughout the room, I spooned a little from each into sampling dishes. It was, of course, the chef’s job to sample their own cooking before presenting it to customers, so I set aside a pair of dishes for both Chrys and me. I motioned for her to give it a taste.
Grabbing the sample from my pot, the stew tasted rich, savory, and had a slight aftertaste of fish. Picking up the sample from her pot, I expected to taste more or less the same. However, my eyes blinked as a different spectrum of flavors tickled my tongue.
Her stew tasted more nutty and earthy, and lacked the distinct taste of the sea. Though her cooking technique was not as developed, I had watched her carefully to prevent any mistakes. The small deviations that I observed shouldn’t have resulted in such a stark flavor change. I stood there, a bit puzzled at where it had gone differently.
Kanade walked by at that moment with Ludmila behind her. They were fetching the dinnerware to set the table.
“Hey Mrs. Kanade, can you give these two a try? I don’t understand how the flavors could diverge so much even though the two of us cooked it nearly the same.”
Kanade gently took the new samples that I scooped for her and tried each one in turn, while Ludmila left to go set the table. After smacking her lips a few times, she came up with the answer.
“I see…it appears that certain ingredients may have been enhanced more than others, resulting in this difference.”
“Enhanced? By mana, you mean?”
“Yes. A chef’s touch is a fickle thing when it comes to imitating another’s dish. After all, aren’t we all affected by our likes and dislikes? Subconsciously, one would tend to enhance the ingredients that align with one’s personal tastes.”
Thinking about my own cooking, it did seem like the flavors that I liked most tended to dominate the dish, but I blamed my subconscious for being a bit heavy-handed with the measuring. However, I had casually overlooked how much shiitake mushroom, my most hated food, I had to use to get the flavor right. But if I had failed to enhance the shiitake, that explained why I had to use so much to balance out the other ingredients.
In contrast, the dish Chrys made lacked the flavors of fish and certain spices, so it seemed like I had indirectly discovered her preferences. When I asked her, she confirmed my suspicions.
“I’ve rarely eaten fish. And I don’t know some of these spices.” She pointed to the ones that were grown in more tropic climates, like Macali.
As a result, Chrys had enhanced the ingredients that she was familiar with – the vegetables and herb-based spices that garnished the dish. Thus, the stew had ended up closer to something that she was accustomed to, suitable for those living in a forest.
“That’s interesting. There are various aspects that I never knew were possible in this world. It certainly wasn’t the case in mine.” After all, mana didn’t exist there.
“Mana manipulation is an endless discipline. You wouldn’t have high-class alchemists and apothecaries if that weren’t the case. It requires skill to control one’s own quirks to draw out the most potential from the basic ingredients.”
A figurative light bulb lit in my mind. If skillful mana control was required to produce items with desired effects, couldn’t that be the case for cooking as well? I recalled many herbal remedies that my parents worked with that exhibited healing effects, though it benefited things like blood sugar and cholesterol rather than recovering HP. In this world, true restorative items could be a possibility.
“Say, is it possible to craft powerful healing items through food?” I looked to Kanade for confirmation.
“Hmm? In practice, mana-infused food does recover a small amount of one’s own health and mana. I’m not sure how far those effects could be stretched…”
It was something to experiment with, one that strangely lit a fire in me.
The next day, I visited the market and grabbed everything that I could think of that reminded me of the medicinal rack that my mom had in her office. With it laid out on top of the countertop, I paced around trying to think of how exactly to use them.
Only after I had bought the collection of strange roots and plants did I realize one thing – I knew of no recipes that went with these ingredients.
“Guess I’ll just have to blend them into some dish and see.”
~30 minutes later~
“Bleeeccch! Dear God, what have I created?!”
A foul, sharp taste assaulted my tongue and wouldn’t be washed away from the tiny sample I licked. A bitterness lingered that gave me cold chills and threatened to turn my insides out. I had poured my mana into enhancing the random ingredients in the pot of curry that I had made. I had chosen curry because of the versatility of the dish when it came to a wide profile of flavors, but not even I could make it taste good. After choosing the ingredients with potential healing effects, the taste of it had become overpowered by this addition. Now, I was staring at a pot of ‘death curry’ that was essentially hazardous to consume.
However, since I came this far, I had to test the effects. I asked Lau to sock me in the stomach to lower my HP, which had dropped roughly 15%. Afterward, I reluctantly took a bite of the curry. The taste of it was so bad that I had to spit it out. Seeing no other option, I fetched some ice to suck on, letting the coldness numb my taste buds before trying again.
I forced a bite of curry down. Nothing happened. I took another bite. Yet, my numbers did not move.
“Aw, screw it.” I shoveled the whole bowl of curry into my mouth and swallowed it, giving my already-numbed tongue as little time as possible to taste the repulsive concoction. Consequently, my stomach started to protest in response.
Yet, nothing positive seemed to happen, which made me regret even trying in the first place.
‘I probably should go look for this world’s equivalent of Pepto.’
I heard a chuckle from behind me. Turning around, Lau was holding his side while trying not to laugh.
“Hey boy, don’t you know? For the effects of food to work, it requires a bit of time for your body to process and absorb it. It’s different from potions that are designed to absorb through your skin.”
As if right on cue, I felt a slight warmth permeate through my body. I looked at my health bar, which had returned to full. Well, I guess it did work, but the taste left in question as to who would willingly subject themselves to it unless there was no other option. Reducing the horrid taste would dilute its effects, and there was likely only so much that I could do to cover it. It was truly too much to ask for instant success at the hands of an amateur. I poured the remaining curry into some bottles and threw them into my Item Box, just in case.
“If you want to pursue this kind of path, it would be best to consult some professional potion makers.”
“Thanks, Captain Obvious.”
“Aside from this. I came bearing good news. We figured out Little Miss Elf’s ability.”
I nearly dropped the empty pot at this. “Wait, really? What is it?” I set it aside to clean it later.
“I think it’s better if you see it for yourself.”
“Well, this is something I wasn’t expecting…”
Chrys was currently chasing Katsys around the courtyard, merrily giggling while pelting the poor inventor girl repeatedly with pellets from a toy gun. Though Katsys turned around occasionally to fire back, none of them appeared to connect with the smaller girl.
“That’s odd. Katsys is getting owned pretty badly at this. Is she letting her win on purpose?” The girl that I knew had better aim than that.
“No, look closely. At the trajectory of the beads.” Lau traced his finger to follow the pellets sailing through the air.
I focused ahead as Chrys fired several rounds. Each of them pegged Katsys in the back. Despite her best efforts dodging, every pellet had smacked her in nearly the same spot along her back.
“You see it now? That’s some deadly accuracy.” Lau stroked his chin. What child could manage to strike the exact same area on a moving target continuously? The chances of that were astronomical. “Now, look at the beads fired at young Chrys.”
Paying attention to the other side now, Katsys fired back several rounds in response. This did not impact Chrys who was dashing forward in a straight line. As a child that knew nothing about dodging and cover, her motions were predictable, which would make her an easy target to hit. Yet, the pellets sailed past her without making any contact to her body.
I rubbed my eyes before looking again, this time focusing on the individual pellets moving through the air. Though they appeared like they would fly straight into Chrys, the pellets curved in the air away from the intended target, thereby missing her completely. One or two I could blame on the wind, but every single one curved away in this manner.
“From your expression, it seems like you are in doubt as to what you see.” Lau’s voice brought me out of the trance. I lifted the jaw that hung loosely in surprise.
“The secret of a maxed-out Luck has been solved – unrivaled accuracy and evasion.”
Auto-aim and auto-evade, huh? Wouldn’t that potentially make Luck the most overpowered skill of all? There had to be a catch to this. Before I could ponder, Lau picked up a stray pellet from the ground.
“It is not infallible though.” Lau flicked the pellet. It sailed through the air and pegged Chrys in the back of the head, which caused her to lightly shriek in response. “If she does not perceive the attack, then it remains unaffected.”
It seemed funny to me that her Luck would only kick in under those conditions, but then again, one’s Attack and Defense worked in a similar manner. If something wasn’t recognized as an attack, then the stats of this world didn’t trigger. Surprise attacks disregarded defense when intent was not registered. It felt like someone had left some loopholes in the programming when the world was created. Of course, whoever did it would probably yell back, “It’s not a bug. It’s a feature!”
Footsteps sounded down the hallway, growing louder as they approached us.
“Dear! There’s a large group in front of our house! Sister went to handle them, but they are carrying the holy emblem of Mitsubishi!” Kanade called to us as she approached.
“Hmph. Should have expected that they’d take this up to the top. Harboring a ‘demon’ is nothing to make light of, even if it is nothing more than a mistaken rumor.” Lau sighed, thinking that he would rather not be dealing with such troublesome people.
Feeling the change in the air, Chrys had stopped playing and gripped onto the robe of her playmate. She could somehow sense the seriousness of the coming situation.
“Let’s go. Depending on what happens, we may have to quickly plan our escape from this country.” This was but one possibility that was in my mind. By accepting Chrys into our lives, we would be putting an undue burden on our hosts.