In the middle of resting before I am to join an underground fight club, we have decided to eat a hearty meal. And this meal in particular...
“French fries... and nacho cheese. Nacho cheese... and french fries.”
This is an annoyingly packed restaurant that we are in right now, one called Mel’s Manners. It is, in Delta’s words, a “shit trendy joint for hipsters with green hair” and apparently quite expensive. But Francis led us here in high recommendation of some of the food items here, most especially the nacho cheese fries.
Nacho cheese fries...
Someone scoots in the narrow gap between my chair and that of the table behind me. They brush against my head and push me away from being able to focus on the food in front of me. Ugh, I do wish we had gone somewhere with a little bit more space.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around what exactly this is. Cheese... plus fried potatoes. But not just any cheese. It is a special kind of cheese, a concoction brewed in just the precise way that it evenly melts onto the fries and then as it cools becomes thicker and more solid within moments.
I must try this out. I must find out if it is as good as its reputation, or as bad as it looks.
I rip a fry from the messy plate. I extend the fry into my mouth and take a bite. The fry is soft, salty, and scrumptious. That is to be expected. But the cheese... Well, I’m not entirely sure this is the same cheese that I am familiar with from back on Mystix from its taste and texture. But, assuming this cheese...
It’s exactly the right kind of disgusting. It’s delectable in all of the worst ways. This is food fit for ants. The scraps of a drunken beaver. And it’s also the greatest thing I have ever eaten.
Move aside combos. There is a new greatest food in town.
“Atta boy,” Francis says. “I heard the ding. I know what that means.”
“It’s horrible,” I tell him. “Nacho cheese fries are a very bad food.”
I answer by devouring half the plate in the next five seconds. My hands are covered in dairy product.
I see the entire future and past in front of me, behind me, at once.
Nacho cheese fries have destroyed my life, and remade it, both at the same time in the same way...
This actually reminds me of a different time I ate a very special food. Back when I was on Mystix. Back when I was a part of Team Fanghook and adventuring around the world fighting monsters and saving villagers. Well, most of that was fairly accurate. Not exactly, but it was quite a memorable event.
Borguk slams his mug of hard liquor on the table and gives a hearty laugh.
“You fool!” he shouts in my direction. “You are a mighty silly fellow, aren’t you!”
“I would consider myself above-average when it comes to intelligence, myself,” I say. “Perhaps in this circumstance my actions were suboptimal, but I feel that I conducted myself quite well.”
“Shut up with your idiot talk,” he says. “Admit you were wrong about all of it.”
“I cannot do that.”
“He’s as stubborn as a sheet ghost,” Thalia says from across the tavern. “You’ll never get a confession out of him.”
“That’s right. I forgot that Mr. Solbourne’s just a silly little North Spiran.”
I jump up and raise my fists. “You take that back this instant.”
“Take what back.”
“North Spirans are not silly. Nor are they little. Nor are they stupid. I will fight you for the honor of my people if you continue this line of thought.”
“I never said stupid...”
“I’ll fight you and finally earn a place on your team!”
Borguk laughs again.
I sit down and slump back in my chair again.
“Kid, you didn’t get rejected from the Adventurer’s Guild ‘cuz you’re a bad fighter or anything. We accept pretty much all [Adventurers] no matter what. But you filled out the application wrong. All you had to do was correct it, not charge in here’n threaten us with violence.”
“We’re not office workers,” Thalia says. “We’re just travelers passing through on the way to the Spiran Wastes. We can’t help you with any of that.”
“But... I filled it all out correctly.”
Borguk slides me a plate filled with slimy tentacled fish parts from an animal known as an octopod. “Have this, kid.”
I eat it. It’s quite amazing in taste, but the texture is way off. Way too slippery and chewy.
I’m in love with it. Perhaps not because I like the food itself, but because it was given to me by these astoundingly impressive [Adventurers,] the same ones who just hours ago helped fend off a bonesaur stampede right into my hometown.
They’re heroes, and they’re even talking to me. Despite my rejection from the Adventurer’s Guild, this pleases me so much.
“What did I fill out wrong to get rejected, I wonder?” I ask.
Borguk’s expression shifts. “Oh...”
“Oh?” Thalia asks.
“I bet I know what it was,” he says. “Eryk, did you... hand in that application in person?”
“That’s what I thought,” Borguk says. “Someone at the Adventurer’s Guild branch office must have seen you were a North Spiran and...”
“By The Goddess’s name, they rejected me for my heritage?!”
“That’s what I’m guessing.” Borguk slams another mug of hard liquor down and burps. “Tell you what, Mr. Solbourne. We’ll head down to the office with you tomorrow morning. If it was a real honest mistake on their part or yours, we’ll get it sorted out. If it was because you’re a North Spiran... we’ll add you to Team Fanghook, okay? We’ll also beat up anyone responsible.”
“That sounds... positively amazing!”
Thalia looks suspicious. “You aren’t serious, are you...?”
“Well, we gotta kill time before Miss M and Malia get here. Why not own some fools?”
“True.” She shrugs and eats a lotus root.
I finish my dish of octopod and feel a wave of excitement rush over me. Sure, I was probably prejudiced against just for the color of my hair and my eyes, but these two here, these [Adventurers] from a far-off land, have decided to help me! Wow!
The next morning, we go down to the branch office and indeed discover that the office has been rejecting North Spirans automatically. We beat up a lot of office workers.
Good times. Good times.
I wipe all the nacho cheese off my fingers with a paper tissue. I sit back and smile as I look at my two new friends Francis and Delta. They are not quite as strong or skilled as Borguk or Thalia, but they are even nicer of people.
Together we will achieve—
Another person walks by my and bumps into my head. Ow!
Delta bursts out laughing, which miffs me more than a little bit. It is quite rude to laugh at violence committed to someone else, even if it is very small amounts of violence.
“I can’t believe it...” Francis says, mostly to himself. He, too, is eating a plate of nacho cheese fries, and he looks to be in a sort of heaven of his own at the moment. A heaven of crappy food items. “The quality has gone so far down on these fries since the last time I came here...”
Wait, what? “Wait, what?”
“I hear Mel’s Manners got new owners after the previous ones had their food licenses taken away,” Delta says. “Something about offering fake vegetarian and vegan options with injected micro-meats inside every dish, or something along those lines.”
“So maybe the micro-meats were what made the nacho cheese fries so good, huh.” Francis stares down at his plate some more. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s still nacho cheese fries. But... it’s just not the same.”
“If this food is inferior to the previous version, and it was still good enough to earn me a Destiny Point, I can only imagine what the genuine product must be like,” I say.
“Yep. You’d probably earn like fifty at once.”
“If only it worked that way... You know, there’s another fake and less than savory thing I have been thinking about. Have I ever told you two about the Adventurer’s Guild?”
They both shake their heads, though stop when an overweight man pushes past the backs of their seats.
“Well then, I’ll keep it brief,” I say. “The Adventurer’s Guild was the organization I was a part of while on Mystix. It was a group that accepted most, if not all [Adventurer] class heroes, as well as heroes of other classes that wished to join the teams. Teams consisted of groups of four, five, even ten heroes who worked together to raid dungeons, explore new lands, settle geopolitical disputes, and collect treasure. My group, Team Fanghook, was one of the more reputable of those. The Adventurer’s Guild branch offices would assign us quests to embark on all across the continent and we would fulfill them, usually in record time thanks to Thalia’s amazing record-keeping abilities.”
“That sounds a lot like Blaze Blitzer in the Dungeon Core Saga Series,” Francis says. “Are you really, seriously, completely certain you haven’t seen that show?”
“There is no such thing as television on Mystix,” I say. “It would have been absolutely impossible for me to have seen it.”
“That is true...”
“What’s so fake and unsavory about it?” Delta asks.
“Oh, right, my story.” I clear my throat. “Well, it took me a while to join the Adventurer’s Guild due to some, um, ‘processing errors’ with my application forms that were likely a result of prejudice against my being a North Spiran. So in that time after my first rejection and before I joined, I was nearly recruited by Blackriver, a mercenary group whose tasks were extremely similar to that of the Adventurer’s Guild.
“However, unlike the Adventurer's Guild, whose branch offices are condoned by the local governments and whose organization is tantamount to its own nation-state, mercenary groups like Blackriver, as well as Ghent’s Rivals, the Second Surge, and Umbrage Unleashed were less legal, less fair, and had an immense amount of backstabbing involved with its various groups. There were competitions between Adventurer’s Guild teams, to be sure, but they did not raid innocent villages, invade kingdoms to pillage, and rack up mileage by traveling to far-off places just to destroy them before anyone else could reach them. Mercenary companies themselves were essentially at war and often sabotaged each other, but even further than that, the members of each team would attack each other as well to try and take more loot. It was chaos incarnate.”
“And you’re telling us this because...?” Delta tilts her head to the side.
“These nacho cheese fries remind me of shoddy mercenary groups.”
“F-fair enough.” Delta has no witty response to that.
I lick the cheese off my fingers and wonder what my life would have been like if I had joined a mercenary group instead of the Adventurer’s Guild again. Would I have become dirty and despicable just like them? Perhaps. It is too hard to tell. But I—
Ow! Why do people keep bumping into me?!