The next day, my burger shop made no sales once again. Despite the samples Noele handed out, I wasn’t able to attract a single customer. Then at the start of the third day, the city guards came and forced me to relocate to a less busy intersection at market street since I didn’t have a permit to be there.
That was when I decided to hand out free samples at the stall itself. I hung up a sign, which proved rather effective. People actually visited my stall because of what I offered— a free sample to all who came. A bearded man eyed the platter of burgers I had laid out. He was dressed in relatively glamorous clothing compared to the average individual. He inhaled deeply as I stared at him.
“Are you going to try some?” I asked dryly.
He picked up a cheeseburger, sniffing it as he stepped back. I just watched him with a flat stare. He shook his head.
“It smells quite delicious, even if it looks like it has an odd texture,” he said as he exhaled with an exaggerated motion. “I will try this delicacy, if you allow it.”
“That’s… what the sign says.” I pointed at the wooden board I hung in front of the stall. He nodded in response
“Indeed, indeed. I shall be the judge of this cheesy burger.” He took a bite as he faced me. “What level of a [Cook] are you, in any case?” he asked as he chewed for a second.
“No levels,” I said simply. “I cooked it myself.”
And he spat it out. The bearded man’s eyes grew wide. He stared at me in horror, looking down at the burger as I cocked my head.
“Uh, that’s rude.”
“You are not a [Cook]?” he exclaimed.
“No, I’m not. But I can cook—” I started.
And he tossed the burger to the side. I blinked.
“Now that’s just wasteful.”
The bearded man marched off, grumbling as he shook his head. “If I wanted to eat a disgusting meal, I’d go back home to my wife! Thanks for wasting my time!”
“...but you just wasted a perfectly good burger.”
Most interactions went a similar way. As it turned out, most folks didn’t want to eat a dish prepared by someone without at least a single level in a Class related to being a [Cook]. The moment they realized I had no Class, they were instantly disgusted, as if my lack of System-granted Skills somehow soured the taste after they started eating.
It was rather annoying. I could’ve lied and said I was a [Chef] or whatever, but they’d then ask for proof or my credentials. And the most annoying part was that I still hadn’t gotten a second Class option to be a [Cook]. Although, it might be because I hadn’t been doing this long enough. So after that failure of a day, I changed tactics.
First of all, I stopped serving the burgers because they weren’t picking up any steam anyways. I decided to serve an eclectic of dishes— anything I could cook with the ingredients I could easily acquire in Windrip. Whether it was sushi or pasta or even a half-baked attempt at making fried chicken.
Next, I made sure to say I wasn’t the [Chef] behind these meals. I lied and said that someone else had done the cooking, and I was simply serving them. It seemed like a foolproof plan, except for one problem: the people of Vacuos didn’t actually like some of the food from Earth.
“Raw fish? This is disgusting! Are you trying to poison my children?” a woman scoffed, hurrying her two sons away from the stall.
“What is with all this sauce? It’s enough to make a goblin puke!” a man drew back from the pasta as he pinched his nose.
The only dishes that were received well were the burger. Unfortunately, it seemed I had already built a reputation in the city.
“Aren’t you an adventurer? This grease… is this meant to be a meal for adventurers?” A well-dressed man turned away from the fried chicken as he waved a hand dismissively at me. “Stick to killing monsters, adventurer.”
And, as such, even after a week, I had made about a dozen real sales in total. I slumped over the stall, sighing.
“This really isn’t going well.” I closed my eyes. “I could just go back to killing monsters for money… but man, that’s just so boring.”
Jax was bored too.
For the past few days, the Forsaken Archer had wasted his time. He had already wanted to leave the moment he realized his target was some food vendor. But after consulting his informant once again, he decided to stay for a bit longer.
It took a lot of convincing, from the informant’s part. There was also a lot of pleading and begging for his life. However, eventually, Jax gave in. So the Forsaken Archer stayed in Windrip, watching, hiding in the shadows, and bored out of his mind.
He took no interest in watching a human cooking and selling their odd, abominable dishes. And it wasn’t like there was much for him to observe. He only ever had his interest piqued at one point in each day. A single moment that always drew most of his attention. When a blonde girl approached his target in the evening.
Noele the Noble Spellsword.
He recognized her. Jax made sure he tracked every adventurer above A-rank or any others of note at the other ranks, and as such, he remembered her name. She was a newly-anointed A-rank adventurer who had quite a few impressive feats under her accomplishments.
Certainly, as a C-rank then B-rank adventurer, she was consistently punching above her weight class. But more recently, she had done something every adventurer in the Astrad Kingdom heard about— something that Jax had verified while he was here in Windrip.
Noele was the one who killed Glutaz the Goblin lord. It was what was officially stated in the Adventurer’s Guilds records, and it was what they said in this city. Most of all, it was a direct contradiction to what Jax’s informant told him. And that was why he was intrigued.
Something was amiss. Both alleged killers of the Goblin Lord seemed to have a close relationship. He eavesdropped on their conversations, however he learned nothing of note. It was mostly benign talk about what they’d been doing that day.
Jax narrowed his eyes as he watched the brown-haired human sigh and lie there against her stall. Noele wasn’t here right now since it was still early into the afternoon, and she wouldn’t be arriving any time soon. The Forsaken Archer doubted that they’d have any substantive conversation again today, so he decided to act.
He was tired of waiting, and he knew there was something off. There couldn’t be two separate killers of the Goblin Lord. There could only be one. The fact that this tidbit was muddled made him suspicious that one was covering for the other.
Jax wasn’t sure which girl was the fake and which was the real. But he just knew that he wanted to find out. So, for the first time in a week, the Forsaken Archer slipped out of Windrip, no longer keeping an eye on that damn boring food stall.
“Surpass your limits,” Noele told herself as she struck out with her training blade.
The blunt metal clashed against the wooden tower shield. She had put in all her might into that attack— but Garron barely budged. He grinned and shoved her back. The Noble Spellsword clicked her tongue as she refused to back down.
“Do it because I have no other choice.” It was a mantra that replayed in her head again and again and again. It was something she forced herself to remember, even as she trained outside of Windrip.
Noele unleashed a flurry of strikes at the Steel Tank. She circled around him, trying to find a chink in his defenses. He grunted as he was assailed from all sides. He slammed his tower shield into the ground, sending a pulse of energy out and knocking her back.
She stumbled, but still pressed on. Garron’s eyes grew wide as she pushed through the shockwave, swinging her blade for his neck. He raised his own shortsword as he cried out.
His entire body flashed with a protective white barrier. Noele narrowed her eyes, before gripping her sword with both her hands. She thrust forward with all her might as the first vestiges of a golden aura flaked from the blade.
Noble Slash, she said the Skill’s name in her mind without actually activating the Skill itself.
Her attack clashed with Garron’s defenses. Gold and white sparks exploded out. The Steel Tank heaved, staggering back as he took the brunt of her strike. Noele pushed harder as she watched the golden aura coating her weapon whip wildly in all directions.
Then her blade snapped. The dull metal exploded, and a powerful force blasted out. Her own golden aura shot out her way and sent her stumbling back. She was nearly knocked off her feet, but caught herself at the very last moment. Blinking, she stared at the broken bits of her training blade clatter to the dirt ground.
“So, I take it I win again?” Garron asked as he lowered his shortsword.
Noele sighed. “It didn’t work…”
She dropped to her knees, burying her head in her hands. The burly man pursed his lips as he stared down at her.
“Nothing ever works. Even if I keep pushing you— even if I throw myself at your attacks. I can’t seem to surpass my limits…”
“Perhaps the issue lies in another underlying factor, Noele,” Garron suggested as he rubbed his massive chin. “Do you know what Amelia means when she asks you to do that?”
“I have absolutely no idea,” the blonde girl said, sprawling herself atop a patch of grass. “Amelia says I shouldn’t rely on my Class so much, but she also says I can use my Skills if I wanted to? Which… that doesn’t make sense to me.”
The Steel Tank furrowed his brows. He stood there in thought for a moment as Noele closed her eyes. She lay there in silence, until he finally spoke up again.
“Perhaps Amelia means it in a meditative sense?”
“A meditative what?” Noele blinked as she sat up.
“I have heard [Priests] channel the power of the angels through meditation. Becoming one with the divine. Developing a closer relationship with a higher power. Perhaps Amelia suggests something similar, but with yourself?” Garron raised a finger as he spoke in a lecturing tone.
“That’s…” The blonde girl frowned. “That may make sense.”
Noele knew that her mentor wanted her to rely more on her own power. Perhaps if she could form a closer relationship with her own soul, she’d be able to understand her own strengths better in a way that would aid her.
“Thanks, Garron,” she said with a smile.
While she’d just met the burly man just over half a month ago, he had been so incredibly helpful to her. She was grateful for all his help, even if he didn’t quite fully understand— or even believe in— Amelia’s power or training methods.
“Of course, I am here to help.” He nodded back at the blonde girl.
Closing her eyes once again, Noele focused only on herself. She took a deep look within her very core— into her soul.
It was hard. It was a very faint vision. One which she was always aware she could perceive, but wasn’t ever there unless she focused very hard on herself. Thanks to [Greater Mana Core], she had mastered how to control the flow of the mana throughout her body.
But this time, she didn’t care to regulate the flowing magic into her soul. It seemed to obfuscate her vision. It blotted out the vision she was trying to see. Perhaps it was thanks to seeing the reflection of her soul in the Mirror of Holy Judgment just two weeks ago, but it was almost like she knew what she wanted to see.
She exhaled, seeing more and more of her own soul. Like a candle in the dark, her soul shone brilliantly. Clear to see now. A ball of golden flame that encompassed her.
My mana… my soul… it’s so— She pursed her lips.
Noele wasn’t going to pretend she knew what she was doing. She didn’t. However, she felt like she could almost… touch her soul. Even though it was still so distant. Even though her vision of it was still so blurry. She reached out as she whispered.
“Garron, I—” she started.
“Who are you?” the burly man demanded, his gruff voice clearly wary. “Noele, get up!”
The blonde girl paused. Her eyes snapped open, and the vision of her soul faded. She scrambled to her feet, reaching for her sword sheathed on her side.
Garron had his real tower shield raised, facing a hooded figure emerging from a nearby thicket of trees. “Name yourself!” he called out.
The hooded figure came to a stop just a dozen feet away from the two adventurers. He smirked and raised his hood. Noele’s eyes widened when she saw his pale skin. His green hair. His pointed ears.
“An elf?” she said, frowning. “What’s going on?”
The elf just reached for his bow as his gaze fixed on the blonde girl. She could feel his bloodlust just from his eyes alone. He spoke simply as he raised an arrow.
“Greetings, Noele the Noble Spellsword. I am Jax the Forsaken Archer. The Outcast of Drazyl. The Scarlet Bloom of Azryea. S-ranked adventurer. It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”
“S-ranked what—” Noele opened her mouth.
And in that instant, he fired a volley of arrows her way.
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