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Randidly rolled his eyes. Of course there was another guild monopolizing something. Although this world was incredibly advanced in its martial arts, if a little backwards about insisting on using spears, they certainly weren’t very good at resisting monopolies. Economic power was very concentrated. Not, Randidly supposed, that his own world was probably doing very well about that, since the system hit. Or perhaps even before.

But of course, the “complicated process” was simply the use of the skill Extract on the beast meat that Randidly had bought. Some of it didn’t have it, the cheaper meat, but the more expensive meat was strangely thick and resistant to cutting, possessing a strange sheen of energy that resisted the cooking.

Frustrated at his early failures at making a good cheeseburger with the expensive meat, Randidly had tried various things. In fact, Randidly had completely forgotten about Extract. He had used it once or twice to experiment, and for drawing minerals out of rocks, but he hadn’t sat down and used it enough to understand how it could be used.

But after Randidly used Refine on the meat to no effect, he saw Extract and shrugged. What the hell, might as well try it. And the meat suddenly became much, much more tender, and these tiny glowing grey rocks were produced. They had a strange heat to them too, a weird cross between alcohol and cayenne pepper, which Randidly was only too happy to add to his different recipes. He nibbled a bit himself, and had no ill effects for a while, so he didn’t think serving it to other people would be a problem.

Claptrap, his eyes at first shocked, then fearful, then glowing with an avarice that made Randidly shake his head, told him that Monster Essence could be taken from the flesh of monsters level 25 and up, with the likelihood of the body possessing some increasing with level. Of course, the Alchemy Guild bought all monster corpses above the level 25, although for a pittance, so very few people took them up on it, and claimed to be able to refine the Monster Essence from all of the bodies.

Monster Essence, Claptrap continued, could be used in potion making and crafting, empowering the effects of weapons and armor even further. Although, he admitted, he had no idea how either was done; it was too far above his level.

Randidly stored this information away for later. For now, it was good enough that the Monster Essence was a spice substitute in a world that seemed content to just eat meat raw.

Still, Randidly sent Helen to go buy so more monster meat, especially of high level beasts. This left Teliph alone at the register, but honestly, with how male spear users lingered to chat with a Helen, even when she was shooting off flinty glares, they wouldn’t lose much efficiency without her. And grinding another skill might prove useful.

This also inspired Randidly to experiment with using the 4 potion ingredients as spices too, which yielded positive results. The blue was minty and numbing, the red was savory and rich, the green was sour and acidic, and the purple was bitter and lingering.

Slowly, his small stand offered more types of burgers. Not that the spear user customers really cared. Honestly, they usually just said they got in line for the smell, and to give them whatever the person before them got. So Randidly made burgers with different spices and condiments, watching their reactions, tweaking his recipes.

It really was enjoyable. The past few days of cooking, engraving, and diary reading had been a nice break for Randidly. It had been a while since he had a physical break like this. Cooking was strangely fulfilling, and not only his Cooking skill grew, but once more his Grace experienced gains that he wasn’t able to reproduce just by fighting.

As Randidly’s food stand attracted more and more attention and customers, more people were lingering around, which led to a very robust business for Claptrap. Their eyes inevitably wandered to the wares, which they picked up, likely assuming it was exceedingly low quality.

Then they saw the engravings. They seemed shocked at first, then fearful, then they decisively bought the Engraved equipment they wanted, casting their glances around fearfully, as if they were scared that the Engraving Guild was going to appear and confiscate it all.

Randidly looked down at the little grey crystals and grinned, as he used the mortar and pestle he obtained long ago to grind them into a salt like powder that he could rub on the meat. Now he would have the Alchemy Guild out for him too… perhaps he should ask what other guilds there were, and use that to extrapolate other useful skills he should learn. After all, he had to leave this world eventually anyway.

Randidly’s smile faded somewhat. Although it had only been about a month for Donnyton, Randidly had been away for over 2 years. Everyone at the town felt so far away, although in a way, it was his baby. In his chest, the Aether connections still were strong, so they were all still alive. He could send messages through the friend system, but… Randidly was still uncomfortable with the idea of too much interaction.

Better to just wait and speak to them when he returned. There was a thread of guilt in his heart too, especially after Helen and he…

And now they moved about their day as if it didn’t matter at all, although there was some long looks sometimes, from both of them. But Randidly didn’t know how to bring it up, and Helen didn’t seem to want to, and also Randidly had no idea what he wanted. So he let the issue drop, inwardly a weird mix of relieved and disappointed.

The sounds of angry voices attracted Randidly’s attention, and he looked up from his sizzling patties.

“Make way! Make way! Merchant’s Association coming through!”

Two burly women, followed by a squat, fat man who waddled like a penguin more than walked, pressed their way through the line to the front of the cheeseburger line. When the arrived, the man gave Claptrap a dismissive glance and then sneered at Teliph.

“Hehehe… we are here investigating allegations that you bribed the resident official to obtain a stand… even though the don’t have a merchant’s license!”

The penguin man made this reveal as though it were a revelation from the heavens, but most of the people gathered just seemed annoyed and confused, glaring at the penguin man with folded arms. Honestly, Randidly mused, the only person who seemed scared was Claptrap, who instantly paled.

“As such… this stand is violation of the Merchant Association rules, and it must be shut down. Turn over your… err…. Wares and profits, if you wish to leave peaceably.”

The two burly women stepped forward, producing jagged spears with strange spikes. Teliph turned and looked at Randidly. Although the man had bandages around his face, Randidly instantly understood him, but he had no idea what was really going on. But then Randidly laughed aloud and nodded to Teliph.

The only path for a spear was forward.

Teliph calmly stepped around to the front of the stand and produced his spear. Then he beat the two women bloody, smashing them into the ground. They were likely perfectly capable spear users, but in front of Teliph’s brutal offensive, within 30 seconds they were both broken on the ground. Time in the prison environment produced a much more capable spear user.

Unfortunately, this exertion was already pushing a strained Teliph, and he was then forced to return to the back of the stand and meditate, controlling the tremors and weakness of Aether Starvation. Which left the other male spear attendant as the only person to deal with customers while Helen was away fetching more meat. Which wasn’t ideal, due to his arrogance, but he at least followed orders relatively simply.

So the male spear attendant stepped forward and beckoned the next customer, who stepped over the body of one of the burly women, like this was the most natural thing in the world. Perhaps violence was more common than he thought, Randidly reflected.

After staring at his two flunkies with bulging eyes, the penguin man shouted that they would pay, in a very cliche fashion in Randidly’s opinion, and then waddled away in a hurry, leaving the two women to groan on the ground.

Claptrap breathed in and out, his eyes wide. “Do you… do you really need to offend so many organizations…. The Engraving Guild… the Alchemist Guild maybe…. and now Qtal’s Merchant Association…? Maybe a little bit of diplomacy-”

Randidly snorted. “If there’s one thing I learned, it's that all most conflicts come down to power anyway. Let’s skip the crap and just be honest about it. Besides…”

Flipping a patty onto the bun, he wrapped it up and handed it to the male spear attendant before saying. “Besides, it’s not my fault they have such unreasonable rules. If they weren’t just a bunch of bullies, there wouldn’t be any problems, would there?”

Randidly was surprised at how heated his voice had become, and he paused. For Claptrap’s part, the merchant could only give Randidly a strange look, then shrug helplessly, turning back to his own customers.

Perhaps it was foolish, but… Randidly refused to negotiate with these people who wouldn’t display even an ounce of respect and civility.

Setting those issues to the side, Randidly turned back to his cooking, his lips curling up in a smile. Humming slightly, he made himself a burger and took a big bite. Then he spat it out, shaking his head. That spice combination was definitely out. Then he gave the people who were buying experiments like this a withering glance.

Truly, this world didn’t know fine cuisine. All the better for him, Randidly supposed. Made for quite an easy way to grind skills while making money.

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