The man seemed confused by Daital’s request. “Errrr, this one has infinite understanding, but your request…. Look at this menu, what-”
“The best!” Daital repeated, relishing the woman’s gaze. Then the woman snorted in derision, and turned away, and Daital slumped to the side, wishing he could die. What had he done wrong…?
“Uh…. hey, little one, are you well? You have become slightly tilty…” The man said, still extremely confused.
With dull eyes, Daital looked up at the man, then down at the money he had slammed on the counter. A thin trickle of life made it back into his eyes and he straightened. One thing his father had taught him was never to take back money you have placed down for a deal. It offended the honor, of a merchant or a warrior. You were only as good as your word.
So while simultaneously regretting his decision, and wishing that the Spearman himself would appear and slaughter him, Daital asked. “Well what do you make?”
“Ah! These things.” The man said proudly, pointing to a list on counter.
“Well yes, I get that,” Daital said, getting annoyed at the block headedness of this man. Was he really even a merchant…? “What are they?”
“Food.” The man said, seemingly congratulating himself for having the correct answer so quickly.
Daital rolled his eyes. “Well obviously. What sort of food. How is it made? What is a cheesesteak? What is a Hot Sausage sandwich?”
The man opened his mouth, then closed it. Then, in a very deliberate decision that Daital could almost see playing out on the man’s face, the man decided to get angry at him. “Now listen here you inferior swine-”
“Do you want to come back and see?”
This voice was low, and reasonably quiet, but it carried a strange heaviness to it that instantly cut off the now angry idiot before he could even begin. The slim man who was working on the food in the back stepped forward, looking mildly at Daital. His eyes glowed a strange green color, like fresh grass.
Daital nodded decisively. The beautiful woman was back there, and closer to her was better, even if she had humiliated him previously. After all, perhaps with proximity would come understanding of his charms. He hadn’t quite given up on her yet.
So in the fashion of a teenage boy, Daital simply leapt over the counter, landing lightly behind it, abruptly finding himself in a much hotter environment. The strange apparatus the green eyed man was used to cook the food produced a lot of heat.
And then, for what must have been at least an hour but swiftly became an exciting blur to Daital, so much so that he forgot about the woman, the green eyed man explained the operation. He showed Daital how the meat was prepared. How some meat was soft and juicy, while other meat was tough and spongy.
The man demonstrated how to cook each, and how each could hold flavor. He pointed out the different spices that he had and had Daital try them all. There were flavors and sauces that Daital hadn’t even seen before, and he had to gulp down water to wash away, because some of them were quite strong and overwhelming. Then there were the french fries.
French fries, Daital decided, were the greatest thing ever invented. And Daital found himself swiftly consuming handfuls at a time, even when they were fresh from what the green eyed man called the ‘frier’. All the while, the man just watched Daital with a small smile, and moved onto the next thing.
Soon the man was explaining recipes, and flavor or consistency combinations in the food, and he showed Daital the different toppings that could be added to the different foods. The whole concept of the strange things that the green eyed man was doing with bread to make the food portable was incredible. A way to transport juicy and greasy meat, as well as flavorful sauces, all the while complimenting the meal with a fluffy softness that was extremely appetizing.
Then the green eyed man showed Daital how to wrap and package everything, and then he started showing him how this could all be done fast. Unbelievably fast. Which they needed to, because the earlier explanation had caused the line to build up quite a bit, for people waiting for food. So Daital abruptly found himself working, making the food, carefully measuring the spices, wrapping things up.
What was perhaps the most surprising thing was that he gained 7 levels in his Cooking skill, and gained the Skill Grace, which was a pretty difficult passive skill to obtain, but would be infinitely useful to Daital once he became a spear user.
Some of that excitement was dampened by the realization that he again wasn’t training with the spear, but cooking like a woman, but Daital tried to ignore that part of him that whispered things.
But very quickly, it was all he could think about. So much so that, in the middle of adding cheese to finish off the ‘cheeseburger’ Daital blurted out, “But isn’t doing all this a waste? Isn’t it better to just be strong?”
For a moment, everyone in the stall stilled. There was the beautiful woman, the showy man, the green eyed cook, and also a man sitting in the back, that Daital hadn’t noticed until he came back and began working. They all grew very still, and looked at Daital.
And then everyone but the green eyed cook began to laugh. Daital flushed crimson, specifically because the woman was laughing at him, slapping her thigh and muttering, “Funniest fucking thing I’ve heard all year,” while turning back to the customer.
But the cook with green eyes didn’t laugh. Instead, he nodded seriously, and then set down his metal cooking utensils, seeming to think very carefully about the question.
“Yes… perhaps this is a waste. There are more efficient activities I could be doing. But… what is strength? The power to resist others? Or even the power to kill?” The green eyed man’s face darkened, and he shook his head. “Or is power… the ability to do what you want? I do not know. But I do think… living without regrets takes strength. And I want to do this, so I will do it, and I will not regret it.”
Daital opened his mouth, but already more food orders were coming, and his thoughts were already so jumbled he couldn’t sort through them. So he just allowed himself to be swept away, lost in the routine of the food preparation.
That continued until a voice cut through the air. “Who dares offend the Merchant Association?!?”
A tall man pressed forward, surrounded by a dozen or so spear users. He had huge, bushy eyebrows, and Daital recognized the man immediately. He was Gerel, the man who was the cudgel of the Merchant Association. He was only at the cusp of achieving Artisan status, but he was completely controlled by the Merchant Association, unlike the legitimate Artisan’s who were only paid to be on retainer by the Merchant Association.
Gerel raised his spear, a heavy, blunt headed thing, and guffawed. “What? Such a tiny stall? Such skinny wrists you all have, all the better to feature in the kitchen!”
The beautiful woman snorted, leaping over the counter and drawing her spear. The rest of the crowd seemed more annoyed than anything else, and moved to the side, keeping their place in line. The meditating man made to get up, but the green eyed cook waved him down and delicately removed his apron.
Two spear users laughed and moved towards the beautiful woman with lewd eyes, but her movements abruptly changed, becoming impossibly fast and smooth, and she wounded them both, knocking them to the ground.
But Daital, once more, was distracted from the beautiful woman. Because after the green eyed man removed his apron, he seemed strangely… bigger. Bulkier. More vicious. The air seemed to dance with strange ripples, as if power was constantly coursing through his body.
“You!” Gerel bellowed, glaring at the beautiful woman, who gave him the middle finger. Growling, Gerel rushed forward.
“I don’t know what strength really is… or even when to use it.” The cook said tiredly, strolling forward, leaping lightly out past the counter. “But… I’m seeking it, that knowledge and strength. Seeking it is really all you can do. And sometimes, you find it in unexpected places, even in cooking. Do not underestimate the world.”
The cook’s hand flexed, and huge spear of obsidian appeared there. But Gerel didn’t even hesitate, he simply switched his targets, and rushed towards the cook.
For his part, the cook seemed unworried and unhurried, and slowly took a deep breath, then adopted a fighting stance, and then thrust forward with the spear with surprising slowness. It wasn’t that slow, but… considering all the talk, Daital couldn’t help but be disappointed.
But then Diatal noticed that the ripples in the air grew stronger, much stronger, so strong that the air around the cook seemed to warp. Then it clicked.
This man… was almost an Artisan.
And sure enough, when his spear crossed with Gerel, the larger man’s face tightened as he was smashed backwards. But more than that, his eyes were filled with fear.
“You…. you are the Ghosthound, the disciple of the Spear Phantom, Shal.”
The cook, the Ghosthound, just smiled, and began to walk forward, his steps even and heavy, the tip of his spear dragging just slightly against the ground.
Daital didn’t know if he had ever seen something so cool in all his life.
Randidly returned to the boat, pleased with the day.
He wasn’t sure why, but he really enjoyed teaching that kid how to cook. He reminded Randidly of Donny, in the faux-arrogant way they held themselves, and even though he had hated those types when he was that age, Randidly was now past the point of taking their posturing seriously.
What Randidly didn’t expect was to return to the boat to find it, once more, deserted.
He lead his three spear attendants down below, where he found the Spear Phantom’s diary and a note in Shal’s room.
Gone ahead to handle some issues. Don’t wait for me. Registration for the Regional Tournament is in 5 days.
Don’t disappoint me.
There wasn’t even a signature. Randidly was deeply puzzled. Something… was very strange about Shal recently. The Shal Randidly encountered in the dungeon was laid back, but powerful, in a restrained way. This new Shal… he had assumed the increased violence was part of the training… but now with him abandoning him so suddenly, when their stated goal was so close, without any guidance….
That seemed irresponsible. At best.