“Let’s see – Tofu? Check. Fish? Check? Random green vegetables that all look the same but have different names? Probably got the right ones…Shiitake? Gross, but Kanade needs them for umami.”
I spun the dried fungus in my fingers, wondering why such an ingredient existed. I never did like the rubbery texture of shiitake mushrooms, but I had to admit that it was one of the key ingredients for a bold boost of flavor. Well, as long as the chewy mushroom didn’t make its way between my teeth, then I would be okay.
After I had completed my initial test, Lau reduced the schedule on physical training exercises. I still hit the obstacle course and sparred with Lau, but the time devoted to that had greatly lessened.
Instead, he spent the time specifically developing the mana control that I had started grasping. This would normally take years to become proficient, but Electi were apparently gifted in adapting to new techniques. Lau himself had learned years’ worth in the span of months, and I was doing pretty well after only a few weeks since the rock splitting test. I had been subconsciously using it the entire time, so it was a matter of flipping the switch in my mind and looking at things differently.
Not that I was aiming to become some defender of the planet that could shoot beams from my hands, but it didn’t hurt to gain as much as I could. Still, I enjoyed the breaks in between training that I had regained again; I was a lazy person at heart.
Of course, the first thing I did with my free time was to question Kanade about her cooking. The style of food that she prepared had been somewhat different than what I was used to. While I went for boldness and impact, her food had a subtle mellowness that warmed the heart. I could feel the energy that had been drained from me during training come roaring back.
The ingredients that she used weren’t anything special. Most of them were the same as what one could find in dishes that promoted healthy eating. My father often made these to force his young child to consume a healthy diet, but it had been missing an attractiveness and feeling of satisfaction that Kanade’s cooking gave off.
“Is there some kind of secret to this?” I asked her one day out of curiosity.
Kanade thought for a moment as she stared at her kitchen knife. “Hmm…I guess it would be rather mysterious to those outside of this country. Have you ever felt particularly tired after putting your all into a dish, much more so than normal?”
“Well yeah, come to think of it…There are times where I get into a groove and my cooking seems to be much better than I expected. Thought it was just an adrenaline rush though.” I rubbed my chin as I recalled those moments.
Kanade pointed at me. “Yes, that feeling. Did you ever bother to check your mana supply afterward?”
“No…not really. Why would I?” I shook my head questioning what she meant.
“You were likely injecting mana into your dishes to enhance them.”
“Eh?” I stared blankly at her statement.
“Mana is the lifeblood of nature. I’m sure you’ve noticed how places rich in mana seem to thrive with wildlife.”
I nodded in response. Katsys had told me to search for this telltale sign when scouting around for locations that could be used for hooking up the power lines for her lighting system.
“Just like how mana sprouting from the earth can foster growth around it, people can weave their mana into food to create a desired effect. However, it seems like you’ve been subconsciously doing it already. You must be quite motivated by something to do so without proper training. Conversely, bad emotions can poison your mana and leech into your food as well.”
Suddenly, a few things seemed to make sense. When I had thought Eryn abandoned me, the food that resulted from those feelings was terrible. Though it seemed like I was following the same motions that I always did, something felt off which I couldn’t put my finger on. The ‘poisoned mana’ from my state of mind had likely degraded the quality of the dishes.
“Then, can I manipulate my mana to create better dishes consistently?” I asked Kanade.
“Of course. Use your ability to trace the flow of my mana as I work.” She went over to prepare some more food.
I stared at her form carefully through my Eyes of Providence. A glow of mana flowed from her hands and into the tools she used. Scarcely any of the mana had dispersed into the air, requiring a keen eye to differentiate it from the surroundings. The calm but rich aura connected her body to the ingredients, weaving itself in with every touch. With each cut of the knife and stir of the pot, the food would be sprinkled with a little bit of mana as a spice.
When Kanade first told me about adding mana to one’s cooking, I imagined a suave magician sprinkling it on dramatically like a ‘Mana Bae’. However, the actual process was less intentional, but more of a state of mind that seeped into her creations. Just like how a mood can be infectious, Kanade’s cooking was dyed with a sense of her being. In this world, some people were likely able to tell who created the dish from this feeling alone.
At that point, I started helping her out in the kitchen. She served as a cross-check for how I was using my mana during my cooking. Lau sighed at this, thinking that it would be better for me to go out and slice practice dummies instead, but one glare from Kanade seemed to shut him up.
‘Behind every strong man was likely an equally fearsome woman,’ as how the idiom went, regardless of what country I was in.
After carefully examining the dishes that I made with skilled mana control, I discovered that they could help another person’s condition. Some food housed restorative properties like potions. While they weren’t as effective with healing injuries, the food that I had prepared promoted a small amount of mana and stamina recovery.
I’d have to take advantage of what I learned here when I returned to my restaurant.
“Claude! There you are!” A voice yelled out to me from afar, snapping me from my memories.
I turned my attention away from the bag of groceries I was carrying to see a blue-haired girl waving at me while running. Katsys had gone shopping for parts for her tinkering. Since the town of Haneman didn’t have what she was looking for, Lau told her to head to the nearby, larger city of Baiman to check what the stores had there. Otherwise, the only other hope was the city of Yakuman, which was the capital of Sanshiro, but that was a fair distance away.
For some reason, I felt a strong urge to play mahjong now.
Since it would not be good for her to go alone, I volunteered to accompany her. Hearing that, Kanade requested that I do some shopping while we were out, hence the food that I was carrying.
“Yo, find what you needed?” I saluted her.
“Yes, they had the magic cores I needed to craft some upgrades,” Katsys said with a smile.
“Upgrades? Aren’t you good enough? I can barely touch you with your run and gun techniques. I can cut away one or two magic shots, but recently, you’ve been splitting it into rapid-fire shots.”
Katsys smiled. She had improved tremendously after training with Kanade, but she wasn’t satisfied yet. There were always ways to improve her devices, like splitting the shots into a series of rapid volleys. When it came to inventions, there were endless possibilities that she could think of to compensate for her weaknesses. Her creative nature wouldn’t let her settle for something that was simply good enough. Furthermore, she still couldn’t make a dent against Lau or either one of the Kinkou sisters yet.
I laughed at the high bar that she had set for herself. While I had been able to score some blows on Lau, he hadn’t been serious yet. Just when I was able to scrape him lightly, he would seemingly shift gears and become untouchable again. I wondered how many final forms the old man had.
The two of us walked back to our wagon and climbed in. Having put our stuff in the Item Box, it appeared to others that we were on a casual ride around town. As we rolled by the city square, a large crowd of people seemed to be gathered in one corner of it.
While it was not strange for a crowd to gather, the fact that nearly all of them had on the same uniform had caught my attention. I slowed the wagon down to check out what was going on. The whispers of some of the townspeople floated around me.
“Isn’t that the Thunder Phoenix clan?”
“Yeah, they’re the largest clan of fighters in the country.”
“That’s strange. What are they doing standing around a summoning circle? Aren’t they practitioners of the Fearless Soul Style of martial arts?”
I looked over to the person that mentioned a summoning circle. “Excuse me. Why is it strange for them to be at a summoning circle?”
“Well, most fighters here wouldn’t bother with summoning a familiar to protect them, especially not members of an esteemed clan who seek to elevate their fighting abilities to the highest level. Why would you need some weak creature to protect you when you can defend yourself? It’s a matter of pride.”
Another person chimed in. “Look over there, at the person standing in front of the circle. Isn’t that the young master of the Zhao family? There are rumors that he’s too weak-willed and untalented to be a suitable heir to the family. Though I heard that his skills were alright, he doesn’t give off a sense of power that his other family members have cultivated themselves into.”
“Ho-ooh? So, he’s going to rely on the crutch of a familiar to give him a boost in ability. How shameful to give up your pride and let someone else protect you.”
I turned away from the two men. I couldn’t agree with them any less. In my mind, there was nothing shameful about the girl that had summoned me. I knew just how hard Eryn had worked to get to where she was, and she sure as hell didn’t need protecting.
Katsys held my hand, noticing that I had become slightly agitated by their remarks. “It’s fine. That’s not enough to get me riled up.” I turned to Katsys with a reassuring look. They had their own beliefs in this country. I had no business imposing mine onto them.
Katsys and I watched as the young master of the clan made some incantations before the circle started to glow. Judging by his height, he wasn’t likely to be older than Ludmila. My eyes remained plastered to his ritualistic movements and inaudible chanting. I had no memory of being summoned other than suddenly awakening in the middle of the circle, so I was intrigued as to what would happen.
As the light faded, the form of a young girl had appeared, sprawled on her stomach. My heart jumped. If a person was summoned, that only meant one thing – an Electi.
At some point, I had hopped off the wagon and found myself inching towards the large group of people surrounding them. The girl appeared to be dressed in simple clothing, not unlike that of the residents of this world. A mess of long, blond hair obscured her face and draped across her back. I looked questioningly at her as I realized that her appearance indicated that she was not likely from a modern era similar to mine.
The crowd around us had come to the realization that the young master had just summoned an Electi. The words of Koujiro flashed in my mind.
“The fact is, a single Electi has the potential to destroy the world.”
The people around us knew this. The summoning of an Electi was an important event. The only question was – what kind of Electi would she be?
As everyone waited with bated breath, the first signs of stirring were seen from the girl. She clawed lightly at the stone flooring, as if she was convincing herself that she was on the ground. Lifting her head up, her eyelids fluttered open, her emerald eyes searching around to understand her environment.
A look of surprise crept onto her face as she realized that she had company. However, anyone would be surprised to wake up to a large crowd intently staring at her.
As she drew back from the crowd on impulse, a few strands of hair parted to the side, revealing ears that were obviously longer and pointier than normal.
An elf? No way. A real, live elf?
Similar to me, the people around her had a look of shock. However, I didn’t expect the next words coming from their mouths…