Evade the Hero and Flee! 184 #21. The Stories of Others (3)>



#4 Their circumstance: A certain spy’s (a lonely gourmet) circumstance


A wooden door welcomed me with a creak. I entered the space beyond it. A space filled with nothing but darkness.
But something like this was nothing to me. Compared to our instructor’s training hall, well, this space was nothing at all.
Sure, it was fairly dark inside, but a handful of candles lit here and there meant that even normal folks could move around mostly unhindered if they paid enough attention to their surroundings.
Honestly, the atmosphere in this place seemed even more alive than ever, thanks to the veil of darkness. Personally speaking, I preferred an atmosphere like this, too. Also, a quiet location was more conducive to focusing on my work than a noisy one.
More importantly, I was acting solo to carry out a secret mission, wasn’t I? I was busy wading the world hidden beneath the surface!
“Your business here?”
A man with at least three times my size asked me that while looking at me from so high up. It was almost unbelievable how someone so massive could walk so silently.
“It was a recommendation.”
Since ancient times, one must be very economical with what they say when doing serious work.
A person’s manner of speech was one of the tools that laid bare their true nature. Unnecessarily yapping away was basically the same as revealing your weaknesses.
Sure, you could scam people with words, like how our instructor always did but compared to him, I was embarrassingly bad at talking, so the wisest thing to do was keep my mouth shut.
“This isn’t so bad.”
A space cloaked in darkness with not too many people in it meant that we didn’t really need to be mindful of each other. A flashy location had its advantages, but a dark, seedy place like this had its own charms, too.
Instead of relying on one’s eyes, one should use their mind to see through such a place.
First of all, I tried to smell the place.
There was an aroma of a certain oil seeping out of the wood. If you hate such things, then well, you’d be hating this place, too. Personally speaking, though, I liked it.
How should I describe it… It has a calming effect on my mind?
This aged, soggy and oily smell was enough to let me know that this shop had been in operation for a long, long time.
What would be the reason for potential patrons to seek out such a dark place hidden in some remote corner of the world? And who knows how long this shop was in operation for!
That’s because only those with ‘purpose’ came here.
“On top of that, the smell of blood, eh…”
A regular person would’ve never picked up on it but I was evaluated to be possessing olfactory senses that transcended humanity. As such, it was not that difficult for me to pick up the faint scent of blood lingering in the air.
It wasn’t a simple ol’ trace, either. This scent could’ve only come from very fresh blood. As expected of a place recommended by an acquaintance that I accidentally became friendly with.
“Here it is.”
The hulking man returned with his preternaturally quiet steps to hand over the item. I cautiously received it.
“Payment first.”
I pulled some gold out from a pouch and pushed them at the hulking man.
“Looks like they are all real.”
“One shouldn’t fool around with a sacred trade like this, don’t you agree?”
The man smirked back at my reply while staring at me with friendly eyes. Without saying anything else, he turned around and returned to his post.
I muttered softly. “This is nice.”
A secret trade that perfectly matched a quiet, dark place like this!
He could’ve said something, but maybe he thought that we’d see each other often from now on since he left without a word.
Instead of people who incessantly yapped on about their methods or whatever, I much preferred people like him who knew when to leave without saying another word. Especially when I had received a personally important item.
That’s because such an action could only mean that he was deeply proud of his product, regardless of the production method he had utilised!
“Well, then…!”
I pulled out my knife. A silver knife gleaming sharply under the weak light, that was.
And then, I unhesitantly stabbed my knife into the product before me.
“Haa~nggg… So, this is the hidden speciality product that only the locals know of… the fried meat!”
The product that made me gasp in sheer amazement… was none other than food.
It had been a month since I slipped inside the demon continent under Her Imperial Highness’s command.
I wondered if the horned headband would even ‘work’ on the demons, but it pulled through so splendidly that my worries were for nought. Thanks to its performance, I was able to take my time and enjoy this epicurean journ… Oopsie, I meant to say the journey to locate our instructor.
Even so, food should not be left out from such a journey.
Yes, that’s right. The goal from the get-go was to sample various cuisines… Ehem, that’s not actually true, the real goal was to find our instructor, but he said this to me a long time ago, didn’t he!
‘We’re doing this so that we can put food on our tables!’
‘That’s why you must treasure your food!’
I was totally in agreement with his declarations.
Except… Uhm… I still didn’t think it was nice of him to say those things while feeding us only on a first-come, first-served basis…
“So soft, yet it’s perfectly chewy, too!”
This type of frying was different from the empire’s method that usually dunked the entire ingredient in oil. Most of the meat dishes I had after arriving in the demon continent were steamed in one way or the other. I only found this after arriving here, but it seemed that meat in the demon continent tended to be far tougher and tendon-y than what’s usually found in the empire.
All sorts of demon races live here, and quite a few of them seemed to have no trouble with these tough meats, but it hadn’t been all that nice for me!
But to think that I’d get to taste a new world like this in a dark corner of the demon continent!
“Sob… So delish…”
Our instructor used to tell us this.
He said that when you get to finally enjoy a meal in happiness without worrying about time constraints or work matters… A person experiencing that brief moment of bliss would lose themselves and become free.
The act of enjoying my meal alone with no one to interrupt me and on top of that, not worrying about the gazes of others, too! This was it. This was the healing activity that even the fatigued member of the evil organisation could enjoy!
There’s no way that our instructor was wrong on this one. As I thought, food was the bestest way to heal myself!
“Let’s see…”
I delicately raised my fork, then stabbed it into the fried meat cut into a perfect little piece.
A dish’s original flavour was certainly important, but its accompanying sauce was just as important, too. Very important. That’s because the sauce was also the part of the dish, after all. I guided the fried meat and dipped it into the brown-coloured sauce.
The sauce was surprisingly thick. Judging from the solid-feeling consistency, did the chef use some kind of flour? A wrong mixture could make it too dry and unappetising, though. I wonder, can this sauce be a good match to this soft yet crunch fried meat?
Time to find out!
“…So… delish…”
The sauce was definitely not dry at all. No, it was buttery smooth. It clung so nicely to the fried meat, probably because of its thickness. Ohh, this gentle sweetness of vegetables and the distinctively nutty flavour from ground sesame seeds!
The sauce somehow managed to preserve the flavour of the crunchy exterior but still stuck so wonderfully to the soft meat underneath, causing a merry festival to go off inside my mouth.
“Ah, so that’s why. That’s why the sauce wasn’t poured on top…”
If it was the wine-based sauce often seen in the empire’s cuisines, then I had a feeling that this fried dish would’ve lost most of its flavour. The crunchy exterior would’ve gotten all soggy and mushy, after all. On the other hand, dunking the meat into such watery sauce wouldn’t have allowed its flavour to permeate deep into the dish itself.
“It’s perfection.”
The crunchiness of its exterior. The softness of the meat. And even the gentle sweetness and nutty flavour of the sauce…!
I couldn’t control myself after the perfect combination knocked me off my feet.
“…Huh?! Where did it all go?!”
After wielding my sword (knife) and spear (fork) freely on this noble battlefield, I noticed the annihilated enemy (no more meat!) before me and quickly made up my mind on the next course of action.
“O-o-one more serving, please!”
My urgent calling prompted the hulking owner to approach me once more. “Little miss. Will one plate be enough for you?”
Unlike when I first entered here, he started talking to me first. A faint grin could be seen on his face as if he had analysed everything about me.
But it was as he said. Such a delicious dish… there’s just no way I’d be satisfied with only one extra plate!
“Three more! No, scratch that, five more, please!”
This crunchy texture was only possible because the meat was fried only a moment ago. Which meant that foolishly ordering a small amount could lead to a delay of sorts before I get to taste this dish again!
That might not have been an issue if I hadn’t started eating yet, but now that I have, there’s no stopping me!
“Indeed, five additional servings.” The owner nodded and turned around to leave.
While watching his departing back, I began tucking into the finely-sliced cabbage dish served alongside the fried meat.
This was also delicious?
The crunchy taste of the cabbage was basically the same as I already knew, but the red sauce poured on top had given it a new kind of flavour.
“This must be tomato-based.”
This sauce perfectly complemented the cabbage with its gentle sweetness. What a wonderful flavour this was.
The owner exercised his great sense of timing by bringing a few easy-to-eat loaves of bread just as I was finished with the cabbage dish. Then, the fried food came out, leading to another round of frenzied knifing and forking next.
I ordered extra servings while finishing up the third plate. And finally, to finish off…
“Takeaway, please!”
“Unfortunately, our shop does not have the option to…”
Even after gobbling up the twelfth serving, I was still not satisfied so I asked the owner to pack the rest for takeaway. But he looked at me with an apologetic expression and told me that his shop didn’t do that.
However, I was taught by our instructor. I was a good disciple that always stuck religiously to his teachings – especially the one about preparing yourself thoroughly no matter what, no matter where!
“W-what is this, little miss…?”
“My exclusive lunch box.”
I had to lodge lots of requests to Her Imperial Highness for a magic pouch, but it was all worth it. It could hold a ton of stuff, you see. Of course, it required just as many magic stones or the constant supply of the user’s magical energy to operate, but… Like I’ve mentioned before, Her Imperial Highness had supplied more than enough magic stones already.
She trusted me enough to dispatch me alone to the demon continent, after all!
The owner muttered. “Doesn’t look like one serving will be enough.”
“Stating the obvious.”
“But, it won’t taste as good once it goes cold…”
The owner stared at me with worried eyes. I could fully understand where he was coming from, though. He was concerned about his dish no longer tasting as good later on and about me, who’d eat the food later on.
A person worthy of being called a master craftsman usually was never too far away. Well, there might be one very close to you, or somewhere no one has noticed yet, quietly pouring all of their being into their craft even as we speak.
Finding a master chef of such caliber was an incredibly fulfilling experience.
“This lunch box is from the em… Ehem, it’s a very special lunch box, so it’ll be fine. It automatically keeps the food warm or cold, meaning the food will be left protected in its most optimal state.”
“Sounds amazing.”
If this was the human continent, just mentioning that it’s a product of the empire would be enough to convince the other party. However, this was the demon continent. It was unfortunate, but I couldn’t start explaining the empire’s amazing magic tool manufacturing capacity to demons.
A short while later, the owner walked up to me with the lunch box filled with enough food for three people (in my standard, of course).
“I’ve kept the sauce in a separate container.”
He even handed me a fairly large container alongside my lunch box, too.
“Hmm… Is it possible for you to tell me the recipe for this dish?”
The owner was looking at me quite favourably since I fully understood the true worth of his cooking. That’s why now was my chance.
Restaurants and diners boasting the master chef’s mentality would never tell strangers their secret cooking method. However, they should be willing to divulge a small tip to someone like me that favourably evaluated their cooking.
Truth be told, I’ve never eaten a dish this distinctive and wonderful back in the empire. If I could just learn the method of preparing such a crispy, crunch exterior, then there’s a good chance that I might get to recreate it back home.
“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that…”
Too bad, the owner didn’t want to tell me the recipe. I felt just a bit sad at that.
“It’s because I didn’t come up with this dish. No, I learned it from a man who entered my diner with his family some time ago. I remember them because their appearances were all different. What a strange family that was…”
Did he notice my sorrow? Unlike what his taciturn appearance suggested, the owner began telling me a rather lengthy tale all of a sudden.
“The oldest man among that group, who seemed a bit too young to be called an old man, asked me if I could lend my kitchen so that he could cook for his two girls, one with pink hair and the other with silver hair. Someone like me from the demon horse tribe is fine with the demon world’s meat, but most humanoid demons find it a bit too tough to chew, you see. He probably wanted to cook for his kids since such meat is a bit too much for the young ones.”
….Ng? Eh?
Right at that moment, I felt a portion of my hair stand on its ends.
“I-is it possible for you to tell me what the others accompanying them looked like, mister?”
“Mm? Others, you say? They were a trio consisting of one man, who looked pretty handsome by the standards of humanoid demons, and two rather beautiful women. The man was a blonde, one of the women had raven hair, while the other was a brunette, I think?”
“Uhhh? Huh!?”
W-well, it kinda felt like the picture was getting clearer, wasn’t it?
“S-sounds like they were the folks I’ve been searching for… Do you remember their names, by any chance, mister?”
Without even realising it, I was addressing the owner respectfully.
To be absolutely honest, finding our instructor was harder than plucking stars from the heavens. And that’s the story from when we were still on the human side of the continent, where the empire held so much influence! No, hang on a minute – if we could bring our instructor back by bringing down some measly stars in the heavens, then Her Imperial Majesty would’ve done so a long time ago!
Obviously, catching our instructor was much harder than that!
“Mm… Although it’s been a while and I don’t remember it well… the old man, no the middle-aged man who taught me the recipe… was his name Marcus? That’s what I seem to remember…”
The owner carefully combed through his memories to inform me of the name. Too bad, I didn’t know who this Marcus was, but that made sense since I currently suspected this mysterious old man was our instructor. Just how many times has he changed his name until now, anyway?
“And then… Hmm… I can’t be sure about other names, but… Aha!”
Ba-dump, ba-dump!
My heart began racing faster and faster, just like when I first arrived here and ordered my food.
And finally…!
“That silver-haired child was called Aru if I remember correctly.”
“I, I found them?!”
The vast, expansive demon continent…
Despite how big it was, I still finally got a hold of a clue to our instructor’s movements. As I thought, the plaza of encounters, a diner, was the best place to collect information!

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