007 – Whose Hand Does the Goddess of Victory Hold #3
The game “D&A” had quite an extensive content lineup.
It ranged from life activities like gathering, fishing, crafting, and cooking to systems for character affinity and club management. Moreover, you could unlock special items by collecting rare collectibles in certain quantities.
This horizontal content system was known as the game’s “substance” and became a measure of a veteran player. You had to surpass a total achievement rate of 70% to be recognized as a veteran. For reference, I achieved 87% of the achievements, the highest percentage on the forum. No matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t go higher.
So, among players, there was often a joke, “haven’t all the implemented achievements already been revealed, and the remaining 13% is what hasn’t been implemented yet? they’ll come out later in a DLC”, they would say.
…Come to think of it, a DLC did actually come out.
Anyway, among the extensive life activities, cooking was my favorite. I invested around 5,000 hours into it. Thanks to that, I had the recipes for most of the cooking items in my head.
Of the cooking strategies posted on the Wiki, more than half were discovered by me.
Bubble, bubble, bubble.
However, it was my first experience actually making such a dish.
However, trying to actually cook such dishes was a first-time experience for me. I put Tier 1 ingredient 「Flavor Herb」 into the boiling water. If it were a game, there would be an effect to press the button at the right timing to remove impurities.
But in reality, it didn’t work that way.
I had to do it with my own eyes.
“Do you happen to have a spoon or ladle?”
“Well, there is one. So, boiling this grass, right? It feels like a waste of water and grass. I can already smell it….”
Nike didn’t seem to understand that I was boiling this paste. Did he not know how to eat the grass he had plucked?
Nike seemed to not understand why I was boiling this grass. Did she not know how to eat the grass she had picked? However, I couldn’t confidently answer, “Yes, boiling is correct.” I had to try it myself.
I skimmed off the foam with a spoon. Perhaps because I had added the 「Flavor Herb」, the broth was already red and hot. It had quite a strong flavor.
The spicy scent was so intense that Nike started coughing.
“Ugh, my eyes are watering…! No matter how I look at it, this doesn’t seem right…!”
At this point, it was probably time to add the 「Dried Meat」.
I put it into the boiling water.
Then, I used the spoon to stir it slowly.
Just keep stirring.
Stir, stir, stir, stir.
After about five minutes of stirring, the spicy scent disappeared, and a delicious aroma that tickled my nostrils filled the air.
Rainbow starlight shot up from the pot.
“It’s done! The cooking of the dish was successful!”
「Fragrance Soup: A special soup made with exotic spices. Through proper cooking, it eliminates the bitterness and infuses a rich taste and aroma. But is there a way to make it even better…?」
This was the completion of the Fragrance Soup.
With the success effect, the text popped up, giving it a game-like feeling.
Considering that this place, Ludens, is a playground for the gods, isn’t this really wrong?
The only disappointing part was that, unlike lighting the fire, I couldn’t acquire the 《Low-level Cooking》 skill in one go.
It seemed like a 5% chance upon successful cooking. Breaking 5% is harder than I thought.
For now, should I just be satisfied that I could successfully replicate my mental recipe? I tried to console myself with that feeling as I noticed Nike biting her thumb.
“Wow… I can smell something delicious. What is this? I’ve never smelled anything like this before. It smells incredibly delicious.”
She released a flurry of compliments like a parrot. Indeed, the scent was magnificent.
The question was, how did it taste? I also wondered if the effect was the same, providing HP recovery as I remembered.
“Well then, shall we try it? Do you have any bowls?”
“We’re going to share it.”
Nike seemed greatly surprised. Could there be something to be surprised about? After all, aside from the pot and water, all the other ingredients were provided by Nike.
Taking the bowl from the skeptical Nike, I carefully served the soup. My portion would just be whatever was left in the pot.
First, a sip.
As the warmth flowed into my mouth, it felt good.
At that moment, Nike screamed.
“Hot, hot, hot!”
“Don’t be stupid. Let it cool down slowly.”
However, Nike didn’t stop using her spoon. Despite saying it was hot, she continued to put the soup into her mouth without letting the soup cool down.
“It’s been so long since I had something this hot. It’s delicious. Incredibly delicious. I’ve never tasted anything this good before. To think that Flavor Herb would turn into such a delicious soup…”
“I’m glad it’s delicious.”
“It’s not just delicious! What is this, really? What were the Flavor Herbs I’ve been eating until now?”
How would I know what it was?
Still, it was a genuinely pleasant feeling to have someone enjoy the dish I made. At the same time, it was a bit embarrassing to see such an exaggerated reaction.
「Fragrance Soup」 is a Tier 2 dish. If a similar Tier 2 dish is available, it would likely be commonly sold by ordinary restaurants or grocery stores, right?
Considering the reaction to just the Spice Soup, I became curious about how people would react to a Tier 1 dish like 「Luxurious Flavor Soup」.
If only I had one more ingredient. But I guess I’ll save that for later.
It’s not a difficult ingredient to obtain.
“Ah, it’s warm… It feels like my fatigue is melting away.”
Nike had finished her portion of the soup and stretched. Her face was somewhat obscured by her messy hair, but she looked very content.
It must be a healing feeling.
I felt the same way.
After all the struggles in this unfamiliar place, the warm soup tasted good and invigorated my body.
Then, Nike spoke.
“Can you make more?”
Seems like she liked it.
“As long as we have Flavor Herbs and dried meat.”
“I know where the herb grows! You can’t gather it at night, but when the sun rises tomorrow at lunchtime, I can probably collect some more!”
Oh, that would be quite impressive.
I suddenly got curious.
“Herbs that are not easy to find or collect. Do you have 《Pharmacy》 skills?”
“Of course! I’m an Earth Mage! My chances of successfully collecting herbs is increased! It’s the grace of the gods.”
Was there an Earth Mage profession in D&A? I wasn’t sure, but it seemed like a suitable profession for someone like Nike, who seemed to be living a vagabond-like lifestyle.
However, Nike got a bit angry.
“Earth Mage! Can’t you see it?”
It was Nike who smiled.
She chuckled. It seemed like she was trying to laugh maliciously, but she had a naturally noisy disposition, so it didn’t feel very “earth mage” to me.
Nevertheless, knowing that she had a 《Pharmacy》 skill was good information. If I played my cards right, it could be a lifeline to get out of the current situation.
I should seize the opportunity when it presents itself.
“Nike, would you like to join hands with me?”
“Join hands…? All of a sudden…?”
Nike twisted her body uncomfortably. Was she embarrassed? Was there something embarrassing in our previous conversation? She was an enigmatic woman.
“That, that’s something you do after you’re dating. Are you asking me …?”
“Yeah. Nike Mokemoke, and me, Victor. Your ‘Pharmacy’ and my skills can definitely be a plus. We can probably end this homeless life in the forest.”
Nike didn’t respond.
But I could vaguely sense the emerald-colored eyes hidden beneath her messy hair glimmering oddly. It wasn’t a mirage illuminated by the campfire.
As if to prove that, Nike reached out her hand to me.
“If we work together, can I have more of that soup you just made?”
“I can make something even more delicious than that.”
I also grabbed her hand.
* * *
Nike said she had been living in this mysterious forest for three months.
Her club was disbanded at the end of last semester, so she spent the entire vacation here.
“This is my cabin. The Flavor Herb is not far from here!”
“This isn’t a cabin; it’s more like a shack.”
“…Well, it’s the same thing.”
Nike was living in a strange tent made of woven straw. It looked like it would collapse at the slightest rain or snowfall. Her school uniform was tattered, and her hair was messy and unkempt.
Could it be that the rumors of ghosts coming out in the mysterious forest were created because of her?
“This is a rabbit trap. This is a bird trap. This is…”
Nike introduced me to some rudimentary items she had made. They were all basic items that beginners could easily craft using tree branches as materials.
“You’ve made them well. Do they actually work?”
“I’ve caught lots of rabbits! I dry the meat and sell the hides. That way, I make around 300,000 Rene per week! Isn’t it amazing?”
300,000 Rene per week?
That would place you in a decent earning bracket, right?
Even if you needed an upfront payment for a dormitory, you could easily afford an ordinary inn room. So why was she living like this? I became curious.
“Nike, do you have debts by any chance?”
“About 200 million Rene or so…”
Of course, it had to be another 200 million.
With her current weekly income of 300,000 Rene, it would take her almost a lifetime to pay off that debt.
“So, selling rabbit hides can barely cover the interest, and you’re sleeping in the forest to save on housing costs, right?”
Nike’s expression visibly deflated.
“I’m not blaming you. I have debt too. I just wanted to ask if it’s worth considering a slightly bigger income than selling rabbit hides. Like exploring dungeons.”
Nike’s shoulders shook hesitantly. Maybe she hadn’t thought of that method before because she was dismissive of it. Then she started laughing maliciously.
“I could die in a dungeon! How dangerous!”
It was a valid point.
In reality, as opposed to a game, it was only natural to think that way.
At the same time, I felt like I was solving a puzzle about why so many of Ludens’ homeless students were here. They simply didn’t consider going to dungeons or fields as an option.
Unlike resettable games, in reality, you only have one life.
So, naturally, you can’t try and reset or experiment with dungeon strategies.
Is that why the academy seems neglected overall?
At that moment, Nike said something.
“I can’t afford to die in a place like this, no matter what…”
It seemed like she wanted to say something profound but couldn’t find the words.
She didn’t tell me, but I could vaguely sense that Nike had a significant goal.
It must be a strong pillar that was helping her endure this homeless life.
Was it family?
Or something else?
I was curious.
I was curious, but I decided not to ask.
My old self, who had nothing but a dark past, suddenly came to mind, and I couldn’t bring myself to speak.
Even if I asked, she probably wouldn’t tell me.
“Alright! Did I pull out the roots properly?”
Before I knew it, Nike had pulled out the Flavor Herb and shouted. She did a great job.
“You did well.”
“Then let’s have lunch quickly! Should I fetch some water? You can use the meat I’ve dried in the shack!”
Nike seemed happy again, eager to eat the soup. She was so excited. Really excited.
However, I had to decline.
“We won’t eat this.”
“What? What are you talking about? It’s not what you promised! Did you lie to me!?”
She seemed angrier at me than when she was talking about Victor, the enemy who shut down her club, or was it just her mood?
I feel like I’ve been tamed for food.
First, let’s explain.
“It’s not different from our agreement. Let me treat you to something delicious. But before that, today we’re going to the center of the Academy. There, we will take out a loan for 50 million Rene in both our names.”
“Large l-loan…? We already have debts, and now we’re borrowing more?”
Nike couldn’t come to her senses.
But I had already planned today’s agenda the night before.
“Just trust me.”
“…I-I’ve heard not to trust people who say things like that…”
Thinking about it the other way around, it does sound very suspicious.
Even I wouldn’t have trusted it.
Taking out a loan of about 25 million Rene in her own name.
However, Nike nodded more willingly than expected.
“Okay. I trust you.”
I, who was thinking about how to persuade her, was now the one taken aback.
“…Is it because I’m Victor? Do you think I won’t deceive you because I’m an executive member who doesn’t lie?”
“No, what’s that about? I just trust you. You don’t seem like the type to lie. I can’t forgive you for closing down my club, but apart from that, I think you’re an honest person.”
Talking to Nike, I felt like I knew something.
She seemed like a fool, especially for a heroine.
The type who I wouldn’t be surprised if she was used and ended up in a pile of debt.
Knowing all too well what the fate of someone who trusts others too easily is, something burned hot in my chest.
“Nike, I swear in the name of the Order of the Gods.”
“Just trust me. I’ll make sure your homeless life ends before the new semester begins.”
Nike was taken aback.
She quickly pulled her ragged hoodie over her face with her hand, looking completely bewildered.
Why was she acting like this?
She really was a strange.