Friday, December 4, 2015

Volume 3 - Chapter 16 - Prelude to the Grand Opening


Previously on EC…

Bell got more investment than she had hoped for, the General that Hank hired with some difficulty got whipped by Kun and the students that outside the Academy to experience the world of trade just returned with a caravan in tow.


“Welcome back, everyone. How was it?”

“““Thank you, sensei!”””

[T/N: It’s a cultural thing, they are in effect thanking him for the experience and work. So don’t let it bother you if it confuses you like our resident editor here :3]

The returning students line up into rows before bowing at their waists. Kun can only scratch the back of his neck shyly at the unexpected gratitude.

“Is that really the same person?” One of the instructors asks another in a whisper.

“Shhhhhh, don’t drag me into this!” The other instructor shifts his eyes back to the man that’s still twitching on the floor.

“I take it it was eventful?” Kun breaks the slightly uncomfortable silence as the students stand up straight from their greetings.

“Yes, Kun-sensei! We learned a lot while we were there!” De’muel answers in a clear voice, his figure seems to have matured quite a bit since he left, a faint aura of a leader can be felt just by listening to him.

“We have some additional plans that we’d like you to look over, as well as dealing with the… unexpected visitors that insisted on coming along.” Mak’ra drags out a stack of tanned hide from one of the packs on the floor, fastened by a piece of rope.

*keho*

The three of them turn their heads at the sound of the cough.

“Oh right! Um… Allow me to introduce you to Clair, she helped us in getting started when we were locked out of the Merchant’s Quarter.” De’muel reacts quickly, without the hesitation he had previously shown in dealing with unexpected situations.

“P’ease to mee’t you.” The middle-aged woman offers her hand, which Kun shakes firmly by the wrist.

[T/N: At the request of Ishman, I’m here to let you know that in raw, the hiragana/katakana for certain words in her speech are missing certain characters (removed) or are replaced with a ‘ to indicate her sorta unique speech, you guys might remember her sounding funny in the chapters she was introduced.]

“Likewise, thanks for taking care of the kids.”

“My pleas’ure, my pleas’ure!” The woman’s sharp eyes are looking around the place, slightly distracted. “Ya folks seriously have’em lots of beastkins here.”

“Oi, oi, Boss! Don’t ye forget ‘bout us!” A voice from somewhere behind the lined up students shouts loudly.

“Ah, right, right.” Clair turns her head back to Kun. “Mind if some of ma’ folks look around yer kitchen? Them hawkers been buzzing since da’ ram and rat pair’o kids been boasting ‘bout where they learn’em fancy cooking.”

“Looking is fine, but if they are learning, they’d have to pay tuition.” The young man smiles as he signals one of the numerous messengers running around and points towards the lined up students with a smooth flicking motion ending in a slight hook with his index finger.

*hahahahaha*

“Certainly, certainly! Ya kids had to do the same with some of ma’ friends!”

The statement leaves Kun with a questioning expression, but before he can ask, the woman is already dozens of steps away, following the group of people being led to the canteen. This causes him to turn his head towards the two demihumans, who merely return slightly bitter, wry smiles.

“Alright, let’s worry about that later, go settle yourselves.”

“““Yes, sensei!”””


* * * * *


“Ma’am Morvok!” Two pairs of demihumans walk into the large kitchen that houses the canteen, leading a group of human hawkers who immediately stand to the side and out of the way. One of the pairs runs off right away towards a counter where messages and orders are relayed, they are of course part of messengers previously sent out to retrieve information when the guests first arrived.

Unlike the first cafeteria, where it proved to be too small to host everyone in the Academy, the canteen was added later with better spacing and standardized seating, the building itself is located closer to the new dormitories as opposed to the farmlands, obviously planned ahead to accommodate the influx of new students, once they arrive.

“Welcome back you two!” A large woman greets the rat-tailed and ram-horned duo by lifting up a hand. She turns to a fairy-esque demihuman with a pile of vellums and tanned hides in hand as another demihuman with a bushy tail checks through them on a nearby counter. “What is taking so long for the guest list?!”

“We are accounting for the new items that were gifted by the arrivals, Ma’am!”
“There are ingredients we can’t make heads or tail of.”

“Ah, about that, we would like to direct the teams for tonight’s meal.” Laum interjects while looking at Kalmi, who in turn looks to the group of humans that are looking around at the various demihumans running around and doing kitchen prep work.

The woman’s eyebrows raise expectantly. “Just let me know if you need my help.” The ‘Taskmaster’ relinquishes her control without a fuss. The kitchen has been running smoothly ever since she taught the students how to manage the flow of the kitchen, everything from stocking up inventory, prep work, cooking, cleaning and the recording of recipes. With how fast they were learning, she didn’t have much to do aside from correcting minor mistakes and improving efficiency, this ‘organized chaos’ has gotten to the point where she was able to get lessons on cooking and seasoning techniques from the students while working. Even off-duty guards would often pop in to join her for the impromptu lessons she would receive from the kids.

“Okay, then can you lead the prep team to cut up 8 bushels of the incoming ingredients?” Laum turns his face back toward the woman, his rattail swaying lightly behind his head.

“Got it.”

“I’ll go with her to show them which ones we need and how to prep them.” Kalmi walks next to the retreating Ms. Morvok right away. “Alright you lot, teach them how to prep these things or else we are going to send you packing!”

“““Hahahahahaha”””

“Dam’d kid picking up aft’r Boss”
“Ya! Sounds ‘ike her al’ight!”

The humans follow the pair while laughing in a good mood.


* * * * *


Hmmmmm… what smell so good…?

I get off the bed as I sniff the air, I can feel my mouth water from the enticing aroma hanging in the air. The smell is familiar, yet distinctly different. Looking at the opened wooden shutter that passes for windows here, I notice the setting sun.

Ahhh… it’s almost dinner time for them, perfect timing!

I quickly slip on the leather cuirass and leather skirt before attaching the halberd into the straps on my back, I ignore my various small bags and such as I make my way to the canteen. The guards in front of the Academy building jump up from my sudden appearance, I simply give them a quick greeting with a wave of my hand before dashing off. Poor bastards must be suffering while everyone gets to eat, well, they will have their meal at a later time, no doubt.

What… the… hell? Isn’t the Opening Ceremony the day after?

I press against my right ear with my hand as I picture Kun in my mind, while looking at the various wagons lined up in an orderly fashion on the field.

[E/N: I forgot this is the motion for PMing, so here’s a reminder]

“Yo! What’s going on in here?!”

“Woah, Bell, did the ‘God of Eating’ bless you, or something?! I’ll see if they can prepare a set for you too.”

[T/N: ‘God of Eating’ loving you or watching you, etc… is often used in asian culture, not just japanese, to indicate someone’s “food luck”, showing up uninvited or arriving somewhere by coincidence, ending up with really good food/drink in the process]

“That doesn’t answer… Oh, Thanks!”

“Ah, right, ummm… De’muel and the rest are back, I will explain things once you get here.”

“Alright, get me extras of whatever it is that smells so goood!”

“Hahahahaha!”

I can only hear laughter from the PM before it gets cut off, I immediately drop my hand and use «Reinforce» on my legs, which get noticeably bigger as I sprint down the road toward the large, square building in the west side of the settlement.


* * * * *


*kohon*

“Sorry about that.” Kun coughs lightly after answering Bell’s inquiries; various merchant representatives are politely waiting for him to continue, after he excused himself to answer the PM. De’muel, Mak’ra, Isnic, Sekn, Echo, Laum, Clair, Cori, and the others are also sitting at the specially prepared table, eating and chatting happily together with each other and the visitors. He waves his arm towards the open window connected to the kitchen before yelling. “Prepare another set for this table please!”

“Yes, sensei!” The fairy-esque demihuman yells back before disappearing deeper into the kitchen.

“As I was saying, it isn’t that we are unwilling to trade with you all, but we simply don’t have enough supplies on hand to give everyone what they want.”

Mak’ra opens his mouth slightly before shutting it quickly after a barely noticeable shake rocks his body, with no one aside from Cori noticing. His eyes shift back and forth between his brother and sister whom kicked his knees with theirs before the realization hits him.

“Kun-dono, I’m Olim with the Amiya Union. If you aren’t aware, we are located in the southwestern regions of the continent, which, need I remind you, is quite the distance from here. We are willing to send a caravan out here every two months to trade for your tea with our dates, Weight for weight.” The tanned merchant stabs into his serving of stuffed chicken to emphasize the dates used.

“Don’t listen to that scoundrel, Kun-dono!”

“Sorry, and you are?” Kun shifts his head to the short, stout man who raised his voice.

“I’m Malfastio with the Principality of Klarritter, dates come in large varieties, Kun-dono. We too cultivate them in our lands, there are lower quality dates that have large seeds which are significantly heavier than the higher quality ones, like our Syrupkernatu breed.” The dignified looking merchant covers his right shoulder with his left hand without touching it, giving a slight bow.

“Tsk! What do you know! The seed can be used for many things!” Olim retorts.

“Why yes! For animal feed right? If it’s so good, then let’s ask everyone here and compare the market prices of our dates.”

The tanned merchant’s face stiffens as the rest of the traders look on with a smile on their face. Who wouldn’t enjoy having their competitors kicked down a notch when there are limited supplies available? A sudden voice breaks the ensuing silence.

“Kun-dono, I represent the Free City of Hamhory, I would like to exchange our herbs for your earthnuts and eggs.” A sinewy, middle-aged man with a wiry beard and dark olive complexion asks, his dusty, plain robe contrast significantly with the rest of the traders.

“Ha! What kind of traders are you?! Herbs! They are everywhere!”
“Hamhory? Isn’t that just some backwater barbaric hamlet? Who would want to trade with it?”
“Now now, even if they aren’t civilized, they still need goods. It would need someone with thick-skin, like our friend here, to represent them.”

“““HAHAHAHAHAHAHA”””

A large portion of the traders laugh and make a mockery of the stoic man, who seems to be only concerned with Kun.

“Kun-sensei, may I have a wo-?” Cori tries to get the young man’s attention, before being abruptly interrupted by a tall figure that cuts in between them, grabbing Kun by the shoulders.

“Oh look, another barbarian.” One of the traders chimes, expecting Kun to kick whoever this is out for interrupting.

“Where is it? Where is it? I’m not too late right?” Bell looks up and down the table, seeing the numerous dishes spread out in fixed sets, not seeing one for herself. Her right ear twitching slightly toward the owner of the snide comment.

“Ca-calm down! They will bring it in a bit!”

“Oh fine, you don’t mind me taking a bite though, right?” The felinoid grabs an empty chair from a table nearby and squeezes herself in next to Kun, proceeding onto nabbing bits of his food without restraint.

Kun can only chuckle while the visitors stare at the felinoid with a variety of expressions, the people from the Academy just continue their meal as though it’s nothing unusual.

Bell tilts back in her seat as one of the students brings a tray out from the kitchen, placing the various dishes in front of her. An appetizer with greens and herbs, two different potherbs served in the same bowl, two opener courses with potage made with spices and vegetable soup, a meat dish consisting of pan-fried chicken, a meat dish of stuffed chicken, a main course with a flat, off-yellow mass topped with an egg, a closing course with sliced goat cheese and dried fruits, and for desserts, a red-velvet liquid mixed with fruit and a bowl of roasted seeds and nuts.

“Ah, allow me to introduce her, she’s also a teacher here at Zinnia Academy, she covers a variety of subjects, including economics.”

The person in question dove into her food, stuffing her face as soon as the student left the table. She lifts up her head for a moment while waving a hand. “Ppumm uuut mmmeto.” She chews her food some more before swallowing and repeats herself. “Pleased to meet you…?” It’s only now that she realizes that these are all unfamiliar faces sitting at the table and that there are numerous wagons outside.

Some of the merchants’ faces stiffen and start twitching while others smile in amusement.

“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going to eat first. Going to enjoy it while it’s nice and hot.” Bell stabs her fork into the foot long, pan-fried, chicken wing.

“Hmm… good idea, let’s finish eating first.”

All the merchants can only put on their respective masks as they suppress their desire to have their voices heard. Most of them have ‘gifted’ various goods to show their ‘sincerity’, but since there were so many ‘gifts’, none of them stood out. Of course, the more astute members of the Academy knew that they were bribes, but they continued to play coy, as the students unexpectedly went and cooked them instead.

Almost everyone resumes eating happily, engaging in small talk. At some point, Mak’ra and De’muel has disappeared after completely polishing off their plates.

“Uhhhmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…” Bell groans in satisfaction after spooning into her mouth a medley of fruit in soaked in what seems to be a puree with wine. “Oh! Kun! Kun!”

“Hmm? What’ve the matter?” Kun hasn’t started on his dessert yet as he is still in the process of polishing off a potage, made with vegetables and spices, with some bread.

She leans into his left ear, whispering her requirements. Kun’s face goes from a frown, a blank look, back into a frown again. “Why would you want to eat that?”

“Pleeeaaase!” Bell claps her hands softly before bringing her nose towards them in a gesture of pleading, with puppy eyes.

[T/N: Had to rephrase this part into ‘with puppy eyes’ from the literal ‘like a puppy’ to make it flow in english, apparently the two paws on a limb and rubbing their head at you for begging isn’t a thing for westerner kept dogs! I always saw it on variety shows and shit back when I was a kid, this is completely new to me! Even dogs raised by different culture acts different, who knew? You can thank Ishman for making me make this T/N]

*fuuu*

“Fine! Just… stop doing that, you are starting to scare me. No wonder Rick always make fun of you.” The young man sighs in exasperation before finally agreeing to it. He knows that people use ice to preserve their food, to make their drinks cold or melt them for drinking water, but eating it? That’s something new to him. Shaking his head, he grabs one of Bell’s empty bowls and casts his spell. “«Spell Modifier»!”

“«Icicle Squall»!” The felinoid immediate casts a spell of her own.

*tink*
*tinktink*
*tinktinktinktink…*

A flake of ice, like a frozen wisp, drops into the bowl in Kun’s hand. Then two. Then it becomes a miniature snowstorm as the tiny flakes of ice pile up, forming a round dome. The spell that they’d normally use to hinder and kill has been turned into a source of shaved ice. Without hesitation, Bell takes the bowl and pours her dessert on top of the pile of ice. Everyone’s eyes stare as the velvety-red mixture and the bits of fruit slowly drizzle down the small mound of ice, the viscous liquid dying the white snow like the first moment of the rising sun.

*kaka*
*kuru*

A wooden spoon stabs into the side of the dome, disappearing quickly inside the felinoid’s mouth. A muffled crunch can be heard as she chews on the ice slowly, her eyes drooping closed, a slight shiver can be seen running down her body, her red hair standing up ever so slightly, giving her a unique look of joy.

“This is even better than the shaved ice we had at the beach!” She exclaims happily after savouring the first bite. Her voice wasn’t exactly loud, but everyone, even those at the other side of the building, heard her.

“Icicle-”
“Don’t!”

Right when one of the younger students tries to imitate her, an older one grabs him by the hand, canceling the cast. “Here. «Ice»! «Metal Claw»!”

*Shi shi shi shi*

The older student holds a large block of ice in one hand, scraping it with the other, causing rows of powdery white snow to drop into the bowl below. Seeing how it’s done, the rest of the students copy the method and the scene is repeated throughout the building as it ripples through the tables, like a stone thrown into a calm pond.

Numerous demihuman guards sheepishly ask the students for help after they made their own serving of ice. Those that finished their meal quicker can only swallow their saliva as they watch others enjoy this novel way of eating. The same, of course, can be said of the merchants, though none of them dares to ask for help to make the ice, not knowing that water produced within the Academy via magic is safe to consume.

*Ton ton*

A large wooden board is dropped rather loudly into an empty space near the main entrance of the canteen. “Everyone!” De’muel’s voice bellows over the chatter and exclamations of the diners as they finish up the last of their meal. “It’s that time again, mark what you liked from dinner tonight, we will then see about bringing the necessary ingredients here regularly!”

“““WOOOOOO!!!”””
*kon kon kon kon*

The demihumans cheer, some of the guards are even banging their utensils in agreement. The traders can only look at each other before looking at the board sitting between a pair of bull-horned and deer-horned youths. That board will determine who will have the advantage before the vast majority of their sales pitch can even be made, causing them to cringe nervously on the inside.

Cori can only shake his head and chuckle. He had tried to get Kun’s attention to give him some advice for the negotiations, but that would’ve been bland and boring, unlike the current situation. Merchants’ first priority is to trade for profit, but to these young merchants-to-be, their first priority seems to be filling everyone’s stomach with delicious food. Having lived in and became wary of the cutthroat world of merchants, this is a breath of fresh air, making him happy with his decision to come here as a scholar.

He looks at the human students that are dotted in the sea of demihumans, most of them fitting in despite their differences. His gaze drifts toward Charlotte who is sitting several tables away, laughing at the strange Immortal known as Mr. Gui. The gray fox is licking at the small bits of dessert topped snow, a feeling of confusion in his body language as he goes from licking, to backing away to stare at it, and repeating.

The diners are slowly leaving the building, making their mark on the board on their way out. Bell disappeared into the kitchen to see if she’s able to get seconds after resting a while. Kun remains sitting at the table, inquiring about the preparation for the opening ceremony from the demihumans. To the merchants, he asks about the general information of what they are trading and where they come from, evading any commitment to trade deals the whole while.

“Kun-sensei, you must be tired. How about I help deal with the trades with De’muel and the others instead?” The resident scholar finally decides to make his move, not missing the chance at watching the traders squirm when the agreements finally get made.

The few traders that recognize the man shudder visibly, causing other traders to look at them with strange looks.

“Hm… sure, just don’t interfere needlessly, they are here to learn after all.”

“But of course. Pardon me.” Cori agrees with a nod, before excusing himself from the table and heading toward the two youths guarding the wooden board.

“Ladies and gentleman, if you will excuse me, I’ve got to go and make sure a certain glutton doesn’t devour all the food, leaving none for the guards on duty. Isnic will be able to help you if you need anything.” The young man bows ever so slightly before getting up and briskly makes his way to the kitchen, a look of concern on his face.

“Would you all like some tea?” The harpy-esque Isnic asks while getting up, offering a smile.


* * * * *


Everyone enjoyed their meals, including the guards that were on duty. Of course, not everyone enjoyed every single one of the dishes, but these are peasant children, the originally frugal -if naive- students, and demihuman soldiers, thus, nothing goes to waste. The trading and sharing of dishes was a-plenty, yet, some dishes were so sought after that there was never enough for a trade to start with.

The spiced potage is one, it was soft and light in texture, a hint of heat to increase one’s appetite, balanced with a slightly salty, slightly savoury flavour, filled to the brim with aroma. It goes amazingly well with hard bread, which gets softened as it soaks up the moisture; when someone bites into it after being soaked just right, the flavour squirts and spreads in one’s mouth.

There’s also the main course consisting of mashed tuber with minced meat topped with a soft-boiled egg, where one would break open the peeled egg with a fork before mixing the bright, savoury yolk into it. The tuber is boiled before being mashed into a fine paste, it’s seasoned with multiple herbs and spices. The minced meat itself is from the body of the Namakemono Chicken where no butcher cuts could be had, boiled and stripped for their meat; it too is seasoned slightly heavily with different herbs and spices, and a touch more salt, to give it a rougher texture. The smooth egg white and the savoury yolk provides for a perfect contrast in term of flavour and texture. It can easily be mistaken for a noble’s meal if it wasn’t for the fact that it doesn’t cost more than a slightly luxurious meal at a tavern.

For the children, it was the desserts that shined. Aside from tasting their first sorbet-like dessert for the first time thanks to Bell, they also indulged in a crunchy snack consisting of coarsely grounded seeds and nuts, slathered with a mixture of tree saps and dried fruits, baked on a flat pan. The flat sheet is then hammered with a wooden mallet to break it into jagged clusters due to its hard and brittle nature, the resulting product is then topped with coarse Sardonian salt before being placed into a bowl and served.

Things proceeded steadily, the kitchen was saved from being emptied out, trade agreements were signed by the early morning as the ones involved pulled an all nighter, and everyone has been updated on each other’s situation.

The sudden handing off of the trade decisions back to De’muel and Mak’ra completely threw the merchants for a loop. With Clair and Cori overseeing the transactions and providing references, the trades themselves were fair, if somewhat strange. The merchants who provided spices, wines & liquors, seasonings, herbs and textile products, benefited the most, the other merchants are also promised shipments later on, albeit having to pay a higher price in goods since there is less demand. The duo knew that they have enough stock to trade with everyone, but seeing their sensei claiming otherwise during dinner, they continued the charade. Doing it this way, their goods will seem even more valuable, and the market will not suddenly be flooded with their products.

The trades primarily focused on Tea, a salty version of the Trail Mix inspired from Sardon’s love of salt, and Namakemono Chicken meat that’s filling, yet relatively cheap compared to other meat. There were a few exceptions, a vast quantity of earthnuts and large amounts of Namakemono eggs were traded along with the promise of a Factory and En Prius should the trades be permanent with Hamhory. A vast quantity of ale-preserved «Huntsmen Rabbits» jerky were requested by merchants from the central part of the continent, not knowing that the product itself isn’t produced within Zinnia Academy.

[T/N: This took some digging (it didn’t help that it was in kata as opposed to kanji). The ‘Factory’ used here is a trading post, it’s vastly different from the one they initially had in Ashentor. It can simultaneously be a market, warehouse, waystation, housing, customs, defense, logistics support and even HQ of the local governing body. Various forts in North America were in fact Factories in function. ‘En Prius’ also took some digging -reads, ‘a metric fuckton’-, it didn’t help that god damn Toyota has a car with the same name =.= It means something like “In Priority” in latin or something, meaning that they get something like a VIP treatment as well as first pick when it comes to trading with whomever that has been granted with this. Considering that Hamhory is a Free City (meaning, no tariff in the medieval sense), this can prove to be very lucrative if the seller in question has any commodity of value.] [E/N: A reminder since it was a while ago, the rabbit jerkies is from the the Feian Plains village where Gui saved everyone from the rabbit by drowning them. The villagers ended up making jerkies out of the ones drowned in ale.]

One of the prime reasons why the traders wanted to trade so badly is due to the power of recognition. New products might not guarantee profit in distant lands, but being the first to acquire said product improves their reputation. This is true for the merchants, regardless if it’s people who buy from the traders or the people who sell to the traders. Assuming that two competitors with similar offerings appear before a seller, the seller would more than likely sell it to someone they sold to before who paid properly. These small gestures, like with the bribes, can make or break a deal. Of course, not all traders are bound by this as there might be other goals and conditions aside from profit for the traders involved. Nevertheless, it’s something that plays a role in the world of commerce.

The various matters were completely handled by the administrators and overseers of the Academy since both Bell and Kun had to log out to deal with other pressing issues. Kun was the first to log out in a hurry to contact Barthos, the engineer who built Kun’s facilities and fixed the buildings within the Academy, to assist Bell in her project. The money involved isn’t small, and it has to be handled properly, considering the results Barthos provided, he seemed to be the most appropriate choice.

As Bell and Barthos hammer out the details over the internet, Kun goes to consult with Hank regarding certain personnel issues as well as the impending classes. Pamuk aside, who behaved himself after the whipping, there’s the concern about their unexpectedly large consumption of the Academy’s resources - namely, food.

The instructors are being paid for their expected service when it comes to training the recruits and trainees, the Academy would be compensated with each payment Kun received by converting parts of the money into gold for the Academy via Leviathan’s RMT services. The idea of the instructors eating at the Academy was never accounted for, leading to this unexpected expense. This was never part of the contract agreement, thus a loophole that could hurt the Academy’s sustainability.

With all the hustle and bustle, the first official school term of Zinnia Academy comes in like a buffalo stampede.

9 comments:

  1. It boggles my mind when I consider how much work is put in by the main party to keep this whole thing running.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heh, you might not have been around back in the days of Everquest and its ilk. Running some of the bigger guilds was almost like a 2nd full time job for the guild masters :s At least they actually get some tangible benefit here.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, that was before my time. I can't pick up MMOs at all, not when there are so many other genres I enjoy just as much.

      Delete
  2. The merchants who provided spices, wines & liquors, seasonings, herbs and textile products, benefited the most, the other merchants are also promised shipments later on, albeit having to pay a higher price in goods since there is less demand -- Should demand be supply? Usually if there is less demand, the prices fall.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's exactly what happened.

      The merchants NOT providing the listed items has to pay more in goods because their goods are worth less due to the lack of demand within the academy.

      Delete
    2. Ahhh, I read it wrong then. Read it as those guys get priority, thus 'less' supply to go round, increasing the price.

      Delete

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