By the next day, the best chefs in Sistina had been gathered around. This included the castle cooks, servants of various nobility, and restaurant staff of notable prestige.
Aside from various nobility who wished to flaunt their best culinary aides, I had Dengel scrounge up a list of noteworthy candidates since he was heavily involved in the food trade. There was little that avoided his detection when it came to promising new dishes popping up as competition, so he had a giant notebook filled with the latest trends and their unique selling points. That made sure he was on top of any opportunities when it came to pitching alternative ingredients to them or roping them into a collaborative environment to better serve them both.
One would merely see the pages flipping through the air to know that Dengel had stumbled upon something interesting. And now, he was among the crowd to help guide the creation of stat-enhancing foods. Of course, he was curious about marketing them himself, but the Queen had put a strict hold on its distribution to only the war effort for the time being.
‘There’s always an opportunity for a later time!’
That was the thought of a true merchant, one who never let the scent of money stray too far.
To reap the benefits at a later time, he would use his analysis skills to help the training along. Chrys and I were standing in the royal kitchen before everyone, demonstrating how to make the first of many dishes.
For the moment, we had settled on savory buns as the army ration of choice. The key point was to make something that was portable and didn’t spoil easily. Furthermore, it allowed for each chef to customize it with their specialty inside. Having them work on a dish that they were most familiar with took advantage of any mana know-how already imbedded in their routine. Having a flavor variety made it all the more palatable as well.
Soon, the noise of chopping and shuffling feet happened all around as everyone got to work prepping their dish.
Just before each chef started to cook, Chrys and I went up to each one and examined their technique. Everyone had unique moments in which their mana flowed into their dish. The chefs each had their quirks, and that was when traces of mana filtered into their food.
As a result, a spectrum of different enhancements resulted in the first round, depending on how each chef seasoned and handled the ingredients.
The vigorous sprinkling of salt and chili onto a noodle dish gave it a slight bite and lifted the spirits.
A methodical, slow swirling of a ladle in a pot of curry made the ingredients fuller and heartier, contributing to an extra increase in health when consumed.
One chef was all about the roasting of meat, injecting the slab of protein with various juices to keep the meat tender and flavorful. The result of that somehow imbued an increase in Dexterity when consumed. Dengel surmised that it came from the chef’s intent to ‘delicately balance out the flavors’.
Certainly, the ‘intent’ to draw out and enhance certain properties of ingredients played a huge part in the result. And as such, the best way to go about training the chefs was to have them focus on injecting more mana into these moments of ingrained intent.
Pinpointing the feeling of that moment and having them unleash their mana became the day’s first training exercise. However, it didn’t take long before the first of them felt the aftereffects.
“So tired!” One chef bent over with his hands on his knees. After two hours of continual mana release, he felt like he had cooked through a mealtime rush that lasted the entire day.
The actions of the others were starting to slow as well, unused to continuously injecting large amounts of mana into their cooking. They were all starting to suffer the effects of mana exhaustion.
“Okay, everyone! Time for a break!”
I opened an oven door and pulled out a few trays of cinnamon buns with a mitted hand.
“You are to eat these, and then go stand in that nifty contraption in the corner. Don’t worry, the Queen herself has been a frequent user of this invention, so it has been thoroughly tested.”
I handed a slightly cooled bun to the nearest chef, signaling him to take a bite. After he nibbled on it once, his eyes widened, and he scarfed the whole thing down.
“That tasty, huh? Now, go stand over there.”
I guided him to the strange contraption, which looked like a changing stall with thick walls. The chef glanced around with an upturned brow as he was shoved inside, noting that various glowing rocks were staring at him from all around. After I flipped a switch, he could feel a warm pulse from them.
He scratched his head, wondering why he was put there. I closed the door at that point, leaving only his feet visible from the outside.
“Let’s see… the effect should happen in three, two, one…”
Knowing exactly when the cinnamon would kick in, I flinched as the chef inside suddenly howled in surprise.
“What the hell?! Hot, hot, hot! I’m burning! Or wait, I’m not burning, but what the hell is this feeling?!”
The chef continued to dance around like he was on fire, unsure if he should escape despite me yelling out to him that ‘he would be fine.’ Unfortunately for him, I was leaning against the door so that his exit was blocked.
While I hadn’t lied that it was safe, I neglected to mention that using the recovery chamber that Katalina invented was no doubt uncomfortable. There was no easy way to convince other people to try it other than shoving the first guy in and letting him feel the brunt of the side effects that came with the benefit.
The strange burning sensation was the rapid flooding of mana invading every pore of his body. He was simply not used to being turbocharged by the Queen’s normal recovery method. After she kept exhausting herself while testing her experimental contraptions, she recalled the hot springs that she bathed in to feel energized again.
Nixing the inconvenience of having to bathe each time, she stuck a ton of energy-emitting magic stones into some walls and connected them to the cables running directly to the city’s mana source.
‘Presto! Instant rejuvenation chamber!’
However, it generally took around half an hour for someone to recharge in this manner, so I decided to speed it up by boosting the body’s mana recovery to the max – through the consumption of a specially-made cinnamon bun.
“You’ll be okay. The burning feeling is all in your head,” I called out to him as he started banging on the door. Not even thirty seconds had passed yet. It had taken me about two minutes to recharge in this manner, but I was more than double his level. Certainly, turning someone into a literal sponge to forcefully soak up mana at an alarming rate was questionable, but one merely needed to suck it up for a minute.
“Ahhh! Ahhhhh! Ah- eh? It stopped…” The man’s voice trailed off in surprise as the burning sensation finally died down. That was my cue to open the door. He stepped out, lightly fuming like he had been popped out of the oven. A healthy glow of mana exuded from him like a freshly-tanned body on the beach.
“So, how do you feel?” I asked him with a hint of amusement.
“L-Like full of spit and vinegar! Can’t say that I enjoyed the feeling of flames licking against my skin and bolts of energy coursing through my bones at the same time, but I feel great now!”
“Good. Continue your training then.”
I beckoned with my palm for the next person to line up for a refresh. They looked at each other for a moment until one girl grabbed a cinnamon bun and chomped on it. She demurely ate, but her face gave away how it danced on her tongue. Hiding the half-drooling expression with her hand, she marched up to the rejuvenation chamber.
Just like before, this girl howled and banged on the walls as mana was forcefully injected into her.
And like this, everyone took turns getting recharged before going right back to training. After a few cycles of that, the swinging states of mana exhaustion and supercharging no longer bothered them anymore.
Chrys, Dengel, and I spent the remainder of the day pinpointing how to improve everyone’s technique. Surprisingly, Dengel went one step farther, giving sharp critiques that even I wasn’t paying much attention to.
“You! The balance of sugar and cinnamon is falling apart! You call yourself a chef?! Slamming all of your mana into a single ingredient, there’s enough fire from the cinnamon to take out the ‘nice from every spice’ here!”
“Paying too much attention to mana and not to roasting, I see! The boar’s so undercooked that I can still hear the wolf huffing and puffing!”
“I don’t know whether to judge you on mana enhancement or the food’s taste… because they are both crap!”
“The mana in this is so bloody RAW that I might as well use it to cast a freaking miracle!”
Chrys and I stared blankly as Dengel went around torching the egos of the other chefs.
“He’s never done that to me. What about you?” I stiffly asked Chrys. She shook her head ‘no’ while going ‘awawawa~’.
At one point, I approached him about it, but he simply adjusted his glasses with his middle finger as he turned around.
“Chancellor, we will never meet the proposed deadline if you baby them through this training. As the best of the best in Sistina, there is no reason to hold back our critique. Their egos are not so fragile. Everyone here knows that they are putting their best to protect this kingdom. Do you not think so?”
The cunning smile of Dengel sent a shiver down my back. Chrys hid behind a counter.
But looking around, it didn’t seem like the other chefs were discouraged at all. If anything, they continued to focus diligently on their training. The antics of a similar television chef who was known to blow his top all the time did not faze them in the slightest. These were chefs that were used to the ‘sink or swim’ mentality.
Before I knew it, evening had come. The chefs were sent to their rooms for the night. Thanks to Dengel, it seemed like everyone was catching on already. At this rate, the training might end a few days earlier. My heart fluttered a bit, thinking that I would join Eryn that much sooner.
A team of maids marched in to clean up the mess that was made, signaling for us to leave. The three of us headed over to one of the bedrooms next to the Queen’s, where Ludmila was holed up for the day to rest.
After she showed signs of miasma leakage, I gave her my charm, which sucked it all up. Since Katalina was simply going to be in the lab, there was no reason for Ludmila to actively guard her. We wanted to make sure that Ludmila had fully recovered from her condition before returning to duty.
As we opened the door to her room, another raven-haired girl sat by her bed, happily chatting with the blond ninja girl.
“Did you have fun catching up, Alice?” Dengel gave her a wide smile, fitting the image of a doting big brother.
“Brother! I was just reading a book together with Ludmila. She never has the time to read, so it seemed like a good opportunity.”
“Oh? What might you be sharing- erk!”
Dengel and I only took two steps forward before the cover flashed before our eyes. A slight blush crept upon our cheeks as we turned away from each other. Needless to say, I had failed to hide that form of ‘literature’ from his attention.
“Brother, why are you and Sir Evers acting so strangely? I would prefer if you would be like Cliff and Dugel from this story. You are so much like them, it’s a bit amusing.”
“Master is naturally popular, even with men,” Ludmila added in a tone devoid of any emotion.
“A, NY, WAYS! How is your condition, Ludmila?” I forcefully tried to steer the topic away from the danger zone.
“Ludmila feels normal. No problems.”
“Okay, good. Until I get another charm from Koujiro, I’m stuck here anyways. We’ll have you stay here and guard the Queen while I head to the battlefield.”
Ludmila looked away, a bit downcast. I could see it in her eyes that she wanted to be there to fight with me. But there was no telling what would happen if her trauma resurfaced once again.
“Don’t worry about me. There’s a ton of people there to protect me. I’m the Chancellor, right? Can’t go having the head honcho get offed. Even if I won’t be anywhere near as useful as Cornelius.”
After finishing the stat-boosting rations, the only thing left that I could help with was to contribute to the attack squad. Though I didn’t want to kill, I could still knock out plenty of them with my abilities.
‘I can’t think of what will happen to them afterward. Focus on the goal. Just like when we saved Lady Kaguya.’
For Ludmila’s sake, I hoped everything would go smoothly. Enough so that she would never hear the gunfire in the distance. At least, not until Chrys received the oracle training to see what was hidden in her mind.
The scene of Ludmila, Alice, and Chrys chatting happily was carved into my heart, something that I vowed to protect. That was what big brothers did for their little sisters.