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A note from HonourRae

Wanted to give a quick shout to Quill and Still. It's a cozy slice-of-life litRPG, slow-paced and wholesome and (eventually) full of very detailed but still comprehensible alchemy that's meticulously researched. It's also got magical flora and fauna, and a frankly egregious amount of civics.

A month later and Arthur had still not gained his Cooking Class. He couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

His Kitchen Knife and Meal Preparation Skills had stalled out at levels 18 and 19 respectively, but they were well advanced. His Meat Butchering made it to Basic 9. No one had any complaints about the dishes he sent out.

In fact, it was the exact opposite. Chef Barlow had been slowly adding more and more work duties to his station. By now Arthur could cut vegetables as well as men who had worked there for years. He had all the techniques down pat: from mincing to julienning. Chef even had him working on decorative little designs to make radishes into flowers and tomatoes into artful representations of animals.

These were for the fancy parties that chef sometimes catered in a big hall upstairs. Those included nobles and city administration. As those events earned Chef the most money and prestige, he reaped the benefits and passed them down to his workers.

Just last week, Arthur earned an additional Uncommon Shard for his help. It went into his growing pile.

Card shards weren’t the only benefit. He also gained a new skill: Basic Meal Decoration.

And he had earned a new nickname from the rest of the staff: Golden Boy.

It was said with just as much derision as Piss-Ant had been. The older cooks didn’t like the fact that Arthur learned so quickly and had become Chef’s clear favorite.

They couldn’t move against him directly, but Arthur now found himself excluded from all conversation. No one offered to lend him a hand when he became overwhelmed during meal rushes. When he offered to lend someone else a hand — and possibly learn a new style or technique — he was rudely rebuffed.

Soon, his only ally in the kitchen was Horatio. But the other boy was busy learning the techniques of being a successful baker. He couldn’t help Arthur directly, he could only offer sympathy.

Arthur might have been less annoyed about all this if he’d been able to gain a Cooking Class and a bonus to his skills. Since he hadn’t, it felt like he was pushing himself for no reason.

While he lay in his cot at night, Arthur racked his brain trying to think of what else he could do. He had to be missing an important cooking skill in order to complete his class, but he had no clue what it could be.

True to his word, he had read Chef’s recipe book from back to front. None of it had provided a revelation: He already knew most of the recipes and the big differences were alterations to dishes they already served.

The only thing he’d gotten out of the experience was Chef’s goodwill and a new level to his reading level.

At level 17, his Reading level progress had slowed significantly, too.

He needed a way to break through and learn more.

Out of pure desperation, Arthur had tried his hand again at — shudder — Baking. Horatio at least was happy for the help.

He got that skill to level 8 without any new revelations. His cooking class remained out of reach.

 


 

“You look like someone has pissed in your oatmeal,” was Horatio’s helpful observation over breakfast the next morning. “What’s wrong? You worried about the history test?”

Arthur shrugged. “No, I’ll probably pass that.” Out of all his classroom subjects, history was by far his worst. He started from behind and had almost no worldly context for any of the lessons. He was more ignorant that a newborn lamb when it came to the rises and falls of kingdoms, duchies, and scourgelings. Also, he hadn’t received a skill, which hadn’t helped.

Horatio was still looking at him. Arthur sighed and glanced down at his mostly-filled bowl. It said something that he hadn’t gulped down the bland oatmeal like a starving man.

“You ever feel like you’re running in place but never get anywhere?”

Horatio gave him an annoyed look. “Why do you think I’m so focused on getting out of this tiny hive city? Why? Are you getting itchy feet to move on, too?”

His words had an uplift at the end. If it wasn’t Horatio, Arthur would have thought he heard hope.

“What hive does Sams belong to again?” he asked.

“Buck Moon. It’s to the south, right on the edge of the big Corinne Desert. Buck Hive is easily three times the size of this one.” Horatio scowled. “But Sams will probably have to move over here if I ever get a card worthy of him.” He gave Arthur a sly look. “Think Kenzie will let you go to another Hive?”

“No, it’s not about that. I just feel like I’m not getting anywhere with cooking. It’s just the same meals over and over again.”

“Well… yeah?” Horatio shrugged. “Chef’s place is more of a tavern than a fancy restaurant. A place where people want hearty, cheap food.” He slanted Arthur a cynical grin. “Maybe you should take over the kitchen here.” He hooked a thumb back over his shoulder to the entrance of the orphanage’s kitchen. Even from across the room, it was a complete mess. The kids who worked in it as part of their room and board were too young for official work duties. They also liked to throw flour at one another when adults weren’t looking.

Arthur made a face. He wasn’t sure if gaining his cooking class was worth that.

But… if it gave him a boost to his skills, he could use it as a step ladder to get more work in expensive restaurants. And that would give him access to more card shards. Possibly even entrance to a guild. That would lead to more full cards. And—

“I was kidding!” Horatio’s voice was edged in panic. Clearly, he could see Arthur was considering it.

Arthur shrugged. The kitchen kids worked on basic meals which were focused on quantity rather than quality. He now ate regularly enough to figure out the difference. It was doubtful he would learn something by working there.

A bell rang twice, indicating a ten-minute warning to classes.

Arthur scooped up the remaining oatmeal into his mouth and forced it down. “Come on,” he said thickly, rising. “Might as well get a good seat for the test.”

The first part of his day went by easily. He spent most of it still turning over the problem of his Cooking Class. He was so absorbed, in fact, that he was taken completely by surprise when Freyja stopped him from leaving at the end of the school day.

“Arthur, stay here. I need to speak to you. Horatio, tell Chef Barlow that Arthur will be running late, on my request.”

Horatio gave Arthur an uncertain look but of course, he couldn’t go against Freyja. With a nod, he took off towards the restaurant to begin his work day.

“Am I in trouble, Ma’am?” Arthur asked.

Freyja looked down her long nose at him. “How interesting that is where your mind automatically went. Do you have a guilty conscience?”

Yes.

Arthur shrugged. “I just don’t see why you would need to speak to me.”

“Is that so?” The look she gave him was piercing but then she nodded. “Well, follow me please.”

She led him out of the classroom and across the small courtyard back to the orphanage. From there, she walked to her personal office which was located on the main level. It was both larger and neater than Chef Barlow’s.

“Have a seat,” she said and took one herself. A pristine pile of paperwork sat on the desk, but Freyja tapped it into a neat pile anyway.

Arthur sat, trying not to look extra guilty. Did she know about the stolen Bubble Card? That had been a couple of weeks ago, but Freyja and Barlow did talk. Maybe he had dropped a hint?

He struggled not to fidget with nerves.

“How long have you lived here with us?” Freyja asked.

His answer was instant. “Just over five months.” That was easy to remember as he’d marked time by card shard payments.

“Not very long. But it seems you’ve already made quite the name for yourself.”

Uh-oh. “In… what way, Ma’am?”

The corner of Freyja’s mouth ticked up as if she thought Arthur was making a joke. “For one, Barlow keeps bothering me to release you from classes so you can work full time in his kitchen. Meanwhile, we received official word that you were recruited by a silver. Rumor has it, you are looking to gain yourself an uncommon dragon… or above.”

Arthur ducked his head, both in acknowledgment and to hide a stab of fear and frustration. Kenzie had promised that the recruitment list was to remain a secret!

But… no one had come for his card yet, and Freyja still looked more amused than anything.

“And now we have the issue with your schoolwork,” she continued.

Arthur jerked his head up to stare at her. “What’s wrong with my work?” Yes, he didn’t think he had a perfect score on today’s history test, but—

Freyja snorted delicately and laid the papers out. From the titles, they were reports from his recent teacher and his grades.

“Just the opposite. You lead the class in every subject, except for history where you come in second place. In fact, you are in danger of running up against the limit of our standard algebra exams. And we only give those to the most advanced students.”

“I… Math has always been easy for me,” he said lamely. That, and his Arithmetic Skill had never hit a roadblock between Basic and Apprentice. It now sat at a healthy 12th level.

“That much is obvious. Irregardless, several scholar’s guilds have made inquiries.”

His eyes widened. “What?”

“They often keep an eye on the city rolls for up-and-coming stars. Arthur,” Freyja leaned slightly forward as if trying to convey something important. “People are starting to take notice of you.”

Pride flashed through him. He found himself sitting up straighter in his chair. He never thought he would amount to anything, and now people of importance were asking about him.

But that feeling only lasted for a moment. With it came the realization he might be in over his head.

Someone in charge might suspect he had a powerful card to help him along. It was the truth, after all.

Just like that, his pride popped like an overfilled big bladder ball.

“What are the scholar’s guilds?” he asked cautiously. “What do they do?”

“There nearly as many scholars guilds as crafters guilds, though most are based in the kingdom’s great inner cities.” She paused for effect. “The most prestigious work directly for the high nobles and the royal family.”

Arthur’s knee-jerk reaction was to blurt out: No.

He had zero desire to work for the people who had taken his father’s land away from him.

But he also sensed an opportunity. And possibly a way out.

“I’m not sure being in a scholar’s guild is right for me,” he said carefully. “But I like learning.” Especially when that learning included more skills. “Aren’t there books or something? I haven’t learned all the math there is in the world, have I?”

“I surely hope not,” Freyja said. “But you are coming up against the limits of what is generally taught to the populous. We can issue you additional books of geometry and primers to beginning calculus, but the teachers must focus on bringing the current students up to standard. You would be working alone.”

“Oh.” He thought for a moment and nodded. “I’d like the books.”

“You should know the scholar’s guilds have more resources available to them than one person can reasonably expect to learn in a lifetime. You don’t have to make a decision now, but you should know what to expect… in case you are approached.”

Swallowing, Arthur nodded.

“In any case,” she said, “You have a couple of important decisions in front of you. While you technically have one year of schooling left, advanced children are allowed to test out.” She folded her hands in front of her and gazed at Arthur. “All children without parents are allowed to live in the orphanage until they are fifteen. However, if you are not taking classes, you will be expected to pay rent which includes your room, boarding, basic clothing, and two meals a day. It should be affordable, especially if you work full time.”

Chef Barlow would like that. But Arthur wasn’t sure he would. He chewed on his lip, thinking.

Freyja took pity on him. “My advice is to take this time to… expand your horizons.”

Just like that, it clicked. He knew exactly what was holding him back from finally gaining that Cooking Class.

He had been working with what Horatio had called tavern slop over the last few months. Yes, he had mastered it but there was so much more to cooking than that.

He needed new experiences. Not just fine fancy dining, but a whole range of new things.

If he was quick, there might be a solution to two of his problems.

He sat up straight. “Freyja? Is the orphanage hiring for the kitchen?”

 

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HonourRae

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