011 – Chaos Before the Start of School #4
I used to cook quite a bit, taking after my father.
But when it really mattered, I ate hastily.
I was too busy to pay attention to what I was eating.
I didn’t eat to enjoy but to survive.
Taste and nutrients were not a concern.
But that had to change.
Neglecting one’s eating habits like that would come back to haunt later.
Debt accrues in poverty.
The interest here is ‘unhealthy living’.
This time, it had to be different.
“Two cups of water. Add about 400mm more and boil for 5 minutes, then remove impurities.”
Victor had no apparent talent for cooking.
From what I felt, he seemed quite skilled.
He had a meticulous style, typical of his personality.
If you didn’t follow the cooking instructions on the ramen package exactly, he’d get annoyed.
That kind of cooking style at least didn’t result in ‘failure’.
While the soup bubbled away, Shadi, who had been captivated by the spicy aroma of the 「Fragrance Soup」, wrinkled her nose.
“…Has the bitter smell really disappeared? Is my nose dull? Milone, how about you?”
“I feel the same way, Senior Shadi.”
Victor was the only one who remained silent.
If we let it simmer a little longer, it would become the Tier-2 dish 「Fragrance Soup」 that Nike and I used to share. But I had one more secret weapon up my sleeve.
The Tier-3 ingredient, “Mainland Eggs”.
Crack them in and whisk them around.
And finally, a starry burst erupted from the pot.
“We did it! Success! The dish is perfect!”
「Luxury Fragrance Soup: A soup made with a special blend of spices, eggs, and meat in a golden ratio. It removes bitterness through proper cooking and adds richness and flavor. It can’t be more perfect. 」
“Now, try it.”
I ladled the soup into bowls and presented it to the club’s judging executives.
Shadi, the secretary, and Milone, the treasurer, stared at their bowls without touching them.
The first to dig in was Milone, who was scheduled to enter the first year of school this year.
“Well, I’ll be the first to try it. Even though you’ve beaten the eggs, they’re still red. Is it because of that strange herb? Let’s see…”
Yeah, this was something the youngest would do.
Milone picked up a spoon and took a spoonful of the soup, which had a slightly reddish hue.
His expression quickly changed oddly, and he began spooning up the soup continuously.
Shadi, seeing his reaction, was flustered.
“Hey, Milone! You should at least tell us what it tastes like!”
“H-How can I explain this…! Senior, you should try it yourself!”
“It’s Victor who cooked it, not just anyone…”
Shadi’s elegant face wrinkled slightly.
What did she think of Victor’s cooking?
Even I would have been suspicious if it were me.
But I had to say something.
“Go ahead and try it. And judge it thoroughly. It’s your duty.”
Even down to the last drop, they had to evaluate it.
“Victor, were you always this talkative?”
After letting out a sigh, Shadi picked up her utensils. She took a spoonful and widened her brown eyes.
“W-what is this? It tastes better than the 100,000 Rene lunch I had in the shopping district!”
“Don’t compare my 「Luxury Fragrance Soup」 to ordinary restaurant food.”
“That guy is so full of himself. I don’t like it, but…”
Unable to resist her desires, Shadi continued to scoop up the soup.
“Why is Victor’s cooking so good? I don’t understand. I don’t understand at all. I’ve never had this kind of food even on the mainland…”
It was the moment when my hypothesis, “Tier-1 dishes are popular even to the Student Council executives”, was proved correct.
I spoke to Victor with even more confidence.
“Victoria, you should try it.”
As Milone and Shadi enthusiastically savored their portions, Victoria maintained a composed silence.
Gazing at the soup within her own bowl for a moment, Victoria eventually lifted her utensil and took a mouthful.
“It’s delicious. A bit vexing, though.”
“Dried meat and homeland eggs are affordable ingredients. They’re the Tier-3 ingredients designated by the gods. I’m not sure about the herb, but to craft something like this from readily available ingredients…”
“Even when combining budget-friendly components, you can achieve astonishing results.”
“Are you blaming me for not recognizing the possibility, like you and that child, Nike? Cheap cooking with good potential. That I didn’t have the foresight to see it?”
What are you saying?
I chose not to answer, and Victoria continued.
“And you, being able to cook like this. You never told me.”
“You didn’t tell me. You never cooked for me. I don’t even know anymore where your boundaries as a person lie.”
Victoria put down her spoon.
Her words were cold, but considering she had finished all of her portion, I could expect a somewhat positive outcome.
“So, what do you think? Judging.”
In response to my question, Victoria calmly closed her eyes.
While I was feeling slightly anxious, for some reason, prospective first-year student and treasurer Milone, who seemed even more uneasy than me, bounced up from her chair, jittering with her gavel.
“…If you can consistently produce dishes of this quality, there will undoubtedly be significant economic benefits. It seems to provide not only taste but also vitality. Perhaps, by conquering dungeons with this, we might be able to bring more resources to Ludens…”
Shadi, the secretary, picked up where Milone left off.
“That’s right, Victoria. Unlike these wishy-washy folks who just talk, he seems qualified. You did mention doing business, right? Can I eat when we go there? Huh? Say yes!”
“The quantity will be limited. And, of course, we need Victoria’s approval. To establish a club, we’ll need the approval of at least three members of the judging committee.”
Our gaze now shifted to Victoria, who was sitting with her eyes closed.
How many seconds of silence filled the room?
Victoria, who had opened her eyes, said,
“Okay, I’ll approve it.”
However, Victoria added some meaningful words directed at Nike.
“Miss Mokemoke, please do your best to ensure that the club is not disbanded this time. Victor, who is new to clubs, may not know that this is the beginning, but Miss Mokemoke knows well, right?”
“…I’ll be different this time. I won’t be alone.”
“Yes, but please don’t trust anyone blindly to avoid being betrayed.”
Was it because of her mood? Her words had bite to them.
“Alright, then I, Milone, will receive the club establishment guarantee fee from Seniors Victor and Nike. The establishment fee is, as announced, 10 million Rene.”
Now we were left with only 7 million Rene.
The bundle of money that had been so hefty now felt incredibly light.
“Well, we’re leaving. Goodbye, everyone.”
There was nothing more to do here.
Even if we stayed longer, it seemed that no more exciting news would come out. It was time for Nike and me to leave the judging room.
Victoria called Nike over again.
Why call again?
If we let it slip that we’ve entered into a “lover’s contract” or something, who knows what might happen. Hold back a little.
Victor’s stomach seemed to hurt.
He probably didn’t like this situation where lies like the “lover’s contract” were being told. Don’t turn into a boss monster just because of this. Hold it in.
When Nike asked, Victoria took a deep breath and spoke.
“I made a mistake earlier. I called you ‘childish’ and ‘immature’. You’re the first person to ever make me flustered like this. Those braids suit you well.”
“R-really? Victoria, you’re incredibly beautiful too. Your skin is so fair…”
That was the end of their conversation.
* * *
“Phew, I thought I was going to die from nervousness!”
As Nike exited the Student Center, she shouted loudly.
“But we really succeeded at once! What on earth was that ‘Luxury Fragrance Soup’? It tastes better than the fancy dishes in the shopping district. Could that herb really make it this good?”
“Come to think of it, Nike, I didn’t get to feed you.”
I had only made enough for three servings.
After giving some to the judges, there was nothing left.
Ironically, Nike had procured the ingredients, but she hadn’t taken a single bite, making me feel somewhat guilty.
Still, Nike was cheerful.
“We can eat a lot from now on, right? If it’s the spice herb, I know where it grows in several places! Shall we have it for dinner tonight?”
“We can’t touch the remaining ingredients for the dishes we’ll sell. Besides, our remaining budget is tight, just 7 million Rene. We might have to scrape by eating tree bark until school starts.”
Nike seemed unconvinced, but this was reality.
Now we were just at the starting line.
Our debt remained substantial and, if anything, had increased with the loan.
However, Nike’s expression was rather bright.
“Still, that was amazing! Did you see their reactions earlier? Everyone enjoyed it so much! With that level, won’t we make money quickly? Right?”
Even though there hadn’t been any improvement in our situation, she could be this happy because there was hope.
Being poor isn’t just about not having money. What they lack is hope, and I say this with confidence.
Hope that tomorrow will be better.
As long as that hope exists, people can find joy even in the mud puddle.
Fortunately, hope is free.
“Now, it’s time to start. Nike, I’ll be picking up the tempo, so follow along.”
“Tempo…? I don’t know what you mean, but we just need to recruit members now, right? My club got disbanded because I couldn’t recruit enough members. Victor, you’re from the Student Council, so you must have lots of friends, right?”
The tempo slowed down.
* * *
To maintain a club, you needed at least three members.
There were also other requirements, like participating in club fairs and demonstrating achievements.
In any case, you needed three members.
For now, there was Nike and me.
We were confirmed members of the “Victory’s Cook Club” .
The issue was the remaining one.
Naturally, I thought Nike would have a friend who could join the club.
But I never imagined the iceberg that was about to appear before me.
“… I thought you had a lot of friends, Victor.”
“Do I have many friends? For me, Victor, there are only enemies. You got angry when you first saw me.”
“Well… that’s true. So, what should we do? I don’t have any friends either!”
“What can we do? The deadline is one week. We have to promote aggressively. Let’s focus on the new students for now.”
I wondered if there were any club-related events at the beginning of the new school year. Existing clubs would be making a fuss to attract new members to secure more funding. And I was about to intervene in that chaos.
“No, it’s not a big deal. It’s just one person.”
Just one more person.
Joining the club meant they could enjoy Tier-1 dishes, right?
If we baited them with this, we might end up with too many applicants, and then we’d have to decide who to pick.
As time passed…
Before we knew it, it was the first day of the new school year.