Coming down the stairs of my impressively large residence, I found Saki sitting alone at the dining table. Her breakfast recently polished off, a cup of green tea steamed in front of her, a favorite drink of hers since we had discovered it.
“Breakfast, sir?” Roberto asked, part of the usual morning ritual. I nodded to him in response. “The usual, the ‘washoku’, or the, ahem, child menu?”
Due to the many guests that currently live in this place, the servants had become used to preparing several styles of meals. My taste in cuisine sometimes clashed with what was traditionally prepared by those working in the old castle. Though Saki had eaten whatever she was given previously, the temptation to request what she wanted now invited some extra input. Furthermore, Yi Long and Chrys had preferences of their own, derived from what I was used to making for them.
Since it seemed like a permanent adjustment going forward, I drew up a menu for them to choose from, categorizing the dishes into sections based on whose taste it suited most. Aside from the ‘usual’ menu that they were already accustomed to making, there were the specials that I reinvented, the ‘washoku’ cuisine of Sanshiro that drew similarities to Japan, and the ‘child’s menu’ made up of the young ones’ favorites.
I eyed the tray in Roberto’s hand. One dish had slabs of boar bacon and some grilled tomatoes. Another was a bowl of miso soup with rice and pickled vegetables. Finally, the last dish was simply a stack of pancakes.
“The child menu…,” I said, a little sheepishly. For some reason, I was in the mood for something sweet.
As I sat down with my plate of pancakes, Roberto set down a cup of warm milk tea before heading back to the kitchen. Slowly, I dug out small, triangular bites with my fork while eyeing Saki sipping her tea.
“Sweets will do you no good, Chancell-, I mean, Claude. You spoil the young ones too much. At least, they have the discipline to get up on time for their activities.”
It seemed like Saki was still fumbling with what exactly to call me. She had been accustomed to calling the previous Chancellor as such, so it became natural for her to call me the same. However, a shiver ran down my spine whenever that happened, so I preferred that it be used as little as possible. At least, until the bad memories faded a bit.
When asked what I should be referred to then, she cycled through a couple of the common courtesies before one sent a particularly strong sense of ominousness.
In her viewpoint, that had been a perfectly innocent and acceptable title. I was, in a way, at a higher standing than she was, and older as well. Likely, she viewed me as someone to follow.
However, the memory of her partial demonification floated in my mind at that moment. The menacing dark aura, coupled with the hollow expression of sadness and loneliness, had reminded me of a certain yandere character that eliminated those that got close to ‘her Senpai’. All she needed was a bloody hatchet or something to complete the picture.
Of course, Saki had no idea what had unnerved me. And it was a bit harsh to view a companion in such a manner. Ultimately, I just waved the suggestion off and went with addressing each other on a first name basis. At least, she didn’t seem to mind that. It was best not to tempt fate.
I stared at the calm face that Saki had on now. It was quite the difference from how she acted upon my return to Sistina. She had been controlled by Willingham, and the fallout afterward was understandable. To be conversing casually like this was a blessing compared to that time.
She placed her cup gently back on the saucer.
“What? Do you have a problem with me keeping an eye on your health? You’ve been going about taking care of other people’s issues without keeping an eye on yourself. How would I look at Queen Katalina and Miss Faulkner if you get sick?”
“Don’t worry. I’ve had it a lot tougher when I was away… Although, can you do me a favor and call me ‘baka’ three times?”
Saki wrinkled her eyebrows at the weird request, unsure what to make of it.
“Pretend that it’s a good-luck charm. Give it a good tsundere flair also!”
Hesitantly, Saki stood up. Her normal armor clinked a bit in the process. With a slight blush, she looked to the side and said unconvincingly, “Baka, baka… baka. There, you happy now?”
“Yep. After all, bakas can’t catch colds according to Japan, can they?”
Saki sighed, finally realizing where my train of thought had led to. Now, she realized that I had been teasing her. But regardless, her expression ended with a smile.
“In any case, finish eating. We have a job to do. Some sectors are in need of materials.”
Shoving the last piece of pancake into my mouth and downing the rest of the milk tea, I wondered what she meant by that.
I forced a laugh as I watched Saki swing a blade at a nearby tree. The simple metal edge easily sliced through the towering trunk that was much thicker than her own body. With a slap of her palm against the trunk, it toppled over with ease.
With that pair of simple motions, the feat of chopping a massive tree down was complete. That would have normally taken several people an hour with axes or required a few strikes of powerful magic.
I stared at the tree in front of me, gazing at the lines that indicated the mana grain. With a similar swing of the knife, a mana blade formed at the tip and sliced through the trunk as well. However, I didn’t have the power to simply push over the tree like Saki had. Pointing helplessly at it for her aid, she walked by and kicked it over like it had been made out of cardboard. The resulting thud that shook the ground certainly didn’t lie though.
Apparently, the workers had drained their supply of wood faster than expected. The construction of the new castle town extending past the City of Faulkner moved swiftly. Within this past month, the Queen’s castle and my own place were completed. The builders then moved on to the various other buildings that supported the castle afterwards. Already, skeletal framework of stone and wood could be seen from a distance, giving a clue as to how the area would appear in the future.
As the current Chancellor, I was tasked with whatever the kingdom needed to move things forward. And according to the report from Dengel, there was an immediate need for wood materials.
Saki threaded through the forest, swinging her blade like a samurai slicing bamboo. The thunderous sound of trees falling echoed behind her as each one was bowled over by a simple tap from her. With the trees on the ground, the various teams of workers went about carving them up for lumber.
I moved over to one such fallen trunk and used my mana blade to carve through the thick wood, making more manageable sections for the workers to handle.
‘What a way to take advantage of Electi,’ I thought with a hint of amusement.
It wasn’t that I particularly minded menial tasks such as this. But I couldn’t help the feeling that the ‘Chancellor’ had become an errand boy at the moment. Yet, that suited me over some stuffy office handling desk work.
“You don’t know how much time this saves us. Thanks a bunch, Mr. Chancellor. And to your Electi friend as well.” A burly guy, who was likely the foreman, approached me.
A tremor went down my spine.
“Please. Just call me Claude. And her Saki.” I indicated towards the unstoppable force plowing through the forest.
“Ah. I forget that you’re not one of those nobles with their nose up in the air. Certainly, a breath of fresh air. That Queen, too. What a peculiar bunch we have leading the kingdom, I’ll say.”
I chuckled at that remark. Already, the people of Sistina were coming to terms with a society that didn’t feel so distanced with those titled above them. There was a closeness formed with the general population that wasn’t present before. Along with a revision of the kingdom’s rules to continue promoting it.
As such, I received all sorts of requests. Whether it be cooking up a storm, using my critical attacks to cut things, or coming up with inventive suggestions for Queen Katalina to put her expertise to, there was a hope that normal days were in store for us.
Before we knew it, the sound of bells echoing across the work area had sounded, signaling lunchtime. In just a few hours, a sizable supply of wood had been harvested, and the transport of it had begun.
“That’s all we need for now!” The foreman from before clapped my back.
Saki walked over at that point, a few stray leaves stuck between the crevices of her armor and in her hair. Though she had ‘destroyed’ a small forest, it looked like she had hardly broken a sweat. If people would associate her nickname with such benign actions from now on, they would surely grow to understand her like I did.
That was part of Dengel’s plan after all – to expose her to the people and show them her awkward, but relatable side. Under Chancellor Willingham, she had solely been deployed as a tool for hunting down enemies, which had built up some nasty rumors. Few people saw her separated from him, and her reserved nature kept her from seeking attention.
To face the negativity within herself, she needed to interact more with others. I had extended my hand to pull her from the darkness. Now, many others would extend theirs as well. That was the way we decided to tackle the hidden dangers of being an Electi. We would not let the demon’s attempts succeed, now that we knew what the trigger for it was.
“Hey, good job. How about we grab lunch?” I stuck my fist out for her to bump it. She returned the gesture with great care. The last thing she desired was dislocating my shoulder like the first time. I forgave her right away, but she was still highly conscious of that mistake.
We walked towards the busy area of Faulkner and stepped into a familiar building. The artwork at the front entrance still annoyed me to this very day, but it was a small price to pay for this otherwise cozy restaurant.
Despite the fact that ‘A Certain Slice’ was my restaurant, I had spent hardly any time cooking here since the grand opening. Biggs and Wedge, the head chefs, had completely taken over its management, particularly with my long absence. And now, they essentially forbade me entering the kitchen, saying that it was no place for the esteemed Chancellor to be.
“Over here, Master and Mistress.” A waitress ushered us over to an empty table.
I was beginning to feel more and more out of place merely sitting in the dining area to eat. Nonetheless, I couldn’t get over their insistence that I was the customer now. The same happened at home. The servants gasped at the thought of the Chancellor wasting precious time to prepare his own meals. How ironic when I was obviously dressed for the occasion.
I would be screaming out, “Dammit! Let me cook something!” if it weren’t for some special requests, like the pizza I made to boost morality the other day.
I glanced through the menu until a single line caught my eye.
‘Quiche of the Forest’
Even though the menu had changed a bit from months ago, I had already taken note of the dishes Biggs and Wedge had developed in my absence. This one, however, was not here last time.
Alice, Dengel’s younger sister, walked by to take our order. Immediately, I pointed to the mysterious addition on the menu.
“Oh, that? Chrysanthemum added that today.” Alice bent over and whispered into my ear. “She’s been eager since this morning for someone to order that dish. Why don’t you do the honors?” Pulling back, she winked at me.
Furthering her interest in cooking, Chrys had ended up under Biggs and Wedge’s guidance, seeing that I was too busy to do it now. She fared pretty well for a kid, so I was curious how much she had grown in the past weeks.
“As you suggest. Let’s give it a go.” I resigned myself to being a sudden guinea pig. I was a sucker for new things at times. Saki ordered a plate of noodles and tea.
Barely after Alice turned toward the kitchen, another voice called out to me.
“There you are.”
If the locks of platinum hair and red eyes didn’t immediately give it away, the unique armor of the Valkyrie was unmistakable.
Eryn had dropped by for lunch.