Weed’s Role in the Punitive Force
The punitive force bound for Village Baran!
Located on the borderline of human civilization, Rosenheim Kingdom was surrounded by monsters.
The kingdom fortified the walls and organized militias in frontier towns, but the annual feasts by goblins and Orcs that raided to pillage autumn harvests were still rampant, which gave the royal court a headache.
The mission of the punitive force assigned to Darius was a group quest to take over Village Baran that had fallen into the hands of the lizardmen. Those who joined the punitive force shared the same quest, and they, composed of three hundred users, would come to drive the lizardmen out of the village.
This topic had been rattling around the Citadel of Serabourg for the last few days. Even users from other kingdoms were pouring into the Citadel to join the quest, making it even more crowded.
A member who took part in the quest was given EXPs, not to mention fame, in recognition of his service to Rosenheim Kingdom. Everyone was talking about it, yet it had escaped Weed as he was busy carving statues at his street stall.
Weed agreed to meet his former teammates first. They were waiting downtown.
“Nice to see you again, Weed-nim.”
“Wow, long time no see!”
Surka and Irene welcomed Weed. Their outfits had changed greatly in his absence.
Surka wore a fine tunic, and Irene a snow-white clerical vestment. For Romuna the mage, it was a standard black robe.
They were surprised that Weed had still not changed his outfit.
“Weed-nim, where have you been?”
“It’s a long story…”
Before Weed could answer fully, Surka cut in and said,
“I understand. You haven’t signed in for weeks, right?”
“Oh, are you going to join the punitive force quest? Please come with us, Weed-nim!”
Romuna slipped her arm into Weed’s as if they were a couple.
Pale the ranger was watching them with a wounded look that sent a chill down Weed’s spine. He already sensed that Pale was secretly courting Romuna.
Slipping his hostage arm away from Romuna’s firm grip, Weed asked,
“What’s your level now?”
“I’m level forty-eight. I died five or six times in battles, so I’m the lowest among us,”
Surka said sheepishly.
“I’m fifty-one,” Irene said.
“Same here,” Romuna said.
“I’m level fifty-three,” Pale said still disturbed by the scene.
Weed learned that his teammates were all friends in reality, so they had always hunted monsters together, thus leveling up at an identical pace. Still, it was evident that they had been on serious hunting sprees because they had leveled up faster than other typical users.
They confided to Weed that they had withdrawn from college temporarily. Though they didn’t tell him more, he guessed that they had since played Royal Road almost non-stop, without sleep, caged in their dark rooms like isolated, socially reclusive individuals.
Pale soon established that Weed would come along with them to join the punitive force quest.
“They posted that the level requirement was thirty and above. This quest gives a premium on earned experience. You can also win some fame.”
The punitive force was scheduled to encounter numerous types of monsters. The main target was the lizardmen that occupied Baran Village, but chances were that they would face relatively less dangerous goblins.
“The mission is a little risky, but we can call for help from NPCs if there’s an emergency. I’m now sick and tired of spiders and bandits.” Pale made an appalled face.
While Weed was away, his teammates had hunted monsters in a nearby dungeon. It was the spider dungeon, where red spiders and poisonous arachnids were lurking behind every stalactite. Poison was taken care of by Irene, but Pale had been traumatized by being fastened to a sticky spider net, struggling pathetically against saliva-dripping giant spiders.
Weed nodded, understanding exactly what Pale had been through. He had had a tough time of his own crushing gigantic worms. “It wouldn’t be so bad to take part in the punitive force.”
“We welcome you, Weed-nim. By the way…”
“Did you find the class?”
As far as the class was concerned, Weed had been undecided when he had been teamed with them in hunting sprees. They even had a private gamble on when he would get one.
“I got a class, but—”
“What class is it? Tell us.”
Irene, usually reserved, approached Weed with twinkling eyes. As a priestess in charge of healing and buffs that supported the other teammates, she was supposed to know every teammate’s class.
There are so many divisions for the warrior class alone, not to mention other branches of the combative classes that specialize in different weapons and styles of combat. Tanker types are heavy on defense and vitality, and deals damage types on attack power and strength.
In the case of Surka and Pale, they belonged to supportive classes with higher agility, but less strength and vitality compared to other melee fighters.
Furthermore, Paladins, nicknamed holy knights, can use divine power, including Healing Hand, for self-healing, thanks to their exclusive stat of faith.
Weed scratched his head. “I’m a sculptor.”
“Wow, cool! You chose an artist class.” Surka laughed brightly, but the rest looked less than delighted. The prejudice that associated a sculptor with weakness was deeply engraved in their subconscious.
In fact, the sculptor class is one of the craft classes that had nothing to do with combat skills, so it is deprived of any effects on strength and vitality.
Still, they embraced Weed as one of their own from the bottom of their hearts. They were not heartless enough to turn their backs on their former brother-in-arms just because he had converted to one of the least desirable classes.
“We were on our way to Sir Darius to join the punitive force. Come with us,” Pale said.
“But, you see, I’m a sculptor,” Weed said.
“Don’t worry. We can make up for what you’re missing. We should hurry before someone else fills the empty slot. The size of the punitive force is limited to three hundred users and two hundred NPC soldier participants in the order of arrival,” Pale said.
“Let’s go, Weed-nim,” Romuna said.
“If you think you aren’t qualified for a spot ‘cause you’re a sculptor, we will help you out. Please?” Surka said.
Now that Weed had disclosed his class, he was left without an excuse to say no.
The women felt so maternal toward Weed that they could not abandon him, even though they thought he was weak, and Pale almost begged him to join the punitive force quest to repay what he had done for them before.
Persuaded by their persistence, Weed headed for where Darius’s troops were stationed.
* * *
Duke Kanus held a regular meeting for the knights. All the knights who were within the Citadel, without exception, had been called to attend it. In the meeting, they discussed how to drive monsters out of Rosenheim, a conscription plan and other urgent military issues.
“You have done an excellent job, Lord Midvale, and the soldiers whom you were assigned are trained competently. I’m impressed that their levels all exceed fifty,” Duke Kanus said.
“That was not my doing, your Excellency,” Sir Midvale said.
“Huh? I personally entrusted this task to you. Tell me what happened,” Duke Kanus said.
“If you insist, Your Excellency,” Sir Midvale said. Lord Midvale then reported in detail the events that had taken place in the Lair of Litvart.
“Hmm… I see.” Duke Kanus said as he rubbed his well-groomed mustache.
Other knights also looked taken aback that a foreigner, other than a Versailles native, had done the job so well. The NPCs recognize themselves as locals born on the Versailles Continent, and that users are freedmen sent by Gaea the Holy Seer. They had emotions, spoke and acted like real people, thanks to programmed artificial intelligence.
“A fine man, indeed. Lord Midvale, why didn’t you recruit him to the Rosenheim Army?” Duke Kanus asked.
“I asked him to be a military officer twice, but he said he wanted to retain his liberty and slay monsters at his own will,” Sir Midvale said.
“A freedman, he is,” Duke Kanus said, impressed.
“Yes, Your Excellency. Though he does not belong to our Kingdom, it seems to me that he is a man who shall devote time again to Rosenheim,” Sir Midvale said.
“If you say so, we’ll see his sword by our side again someday,” Duke Kanus said and dropped the subject about the Lair of Litvart and moved on to the next one.
* * *
On the way to Darius, Weed stopped by a grocery store.
“Weed-nim, why do we stop here?”
The grocery store was crowded with lots of customers. They were mostly delivery boys from restaurants in the Citadel.
A boy, clad in what resembled a messenger’s attire, yelled,
“I want fresh breasts!”
“Puhaha, you are at the wrong place, young tiger. A brothel is at the next corner down the street. Hope you’ve got a photo ID,” the shopkeeper said.
“Shoot. I want chicken breasts!”
The boy grimaced. But the shopkeeper, oily as a snake’s tongue, was only smiling.
“Only chicken breasts? Don’t you need eggs, too?”
“Oops, I forgot… I need eggs, too.”
“Stay put. I’ll give you eggs when hens lay them.”
“How about chickens?”
“When the eggs hatch, sir.”
Irene giggled at the exchange between the shopkeeper and the delivery boy.
“I guess he got a job in a restaurant ‘cause he can’t leave the Citadel for the first four weeks.”
“Bad choice. Why did he decide to work at a restaurant where there’s nothing much to learn?”
In Pale’s eyes, it wasn’t wise to make a career in a restaurant.
Newbies are advised to take quests that pay well or, in the case of spell-casting wannabes, to read and learn many things in a library. This is so they can buy more advanced weapons and gear, hunt monsters more easily and level up faster in the long run.
Weed disagreed with Pale’s opinion, though. “If you work in a restaurant, you can learn the cooking skill. It pays off,” Weed said.
“I know, but what’s the point of learning a useless skill like cooking? If you buy rye bread that is processed by the food preservation spell, it will last for a month,” Pale said.
“He’s right. Why do we need to learn how to cook when we can raise the satisfaction factor easily?”
To Weed, Pale and Surka sounded stupid to the point of childishness. They underestimated the cooking skill just as much as they had looked down upon sculpture mastery, not knowing that what impact great meals could have on the stats.
‘These people don’t know what a poor life is like,’ he said to himself.
Weed’s eyes darkened. Those who actually have been through times of financial hardship don’t underestimate the significance of the cooking skill. Imagine you are forced to eat only rye bread when you hunt monsters in the field.
If you are a low-level newbie, running out of money, you will stand it because you have no alternative. But once your level reaches a point where you can afford to buy more delicious food, your tongue will automatically reject the rye bread.
In truth, even Pale didn’t always put rye bread where his mouth was. When it comes to the bottom line, people are the same. They have the same list of desires, and when they fulfill it, it grows longer by itself. In particular, the basic needs of housing, clothing and food are inseparable from life.
Moreover, the cooking skill works in real life. As the cooking skill matures, it gives you a list of available recipes based on the types of ingredients that you have now. You can try a new recipe in the virtual game, and it will stick in your head after you log out. If you master the cooking skill at least to the expert stage, you will never need to worry about getting a job because any restaurant will hire you with arms wide open.
Virtual reality. It means that reality is exactly realized as it is in an imaginary world. In other words, what is learned in the virtual game also works in reality. Royal Road is such a detailed and realistic game.
Of course, the majority of users who don’t bother learning craft skills as widely as Weed will never comprehend what it is really about until they experience it with their own hands.
‘I wonder if they will ever want to try it, anyway.’
Weed anticipated that the value of the cooking skill would get higher as users leveled up in their hundreds.
For meals that Weed prepared with the basic cooking skill, they had a temporary bonus effect on life, so what would it be like when a master presented his cuisine?
‘I’m sure even a happily married couple would kill each other to taste a crumb of it.’
Not only the taste of food, but also the supplementary bonus would be spectacular.
Hard, flavorless rye bread worth three copper vs. French cuisine that tastes like heaven and increases various stats! The contest is over before it begins.
Weed imagined that meals prepared by a top chef would claim a stack of gold.
He thought that the value of statues would remain superficial, but that the cooking skill, as long as it was an integral part of life, would never diminish in its influence on daily life.
The rankers would long for the best food that they could find, and the value of a professional cook would hit the ceiling.
‘Well, some people might have foreseen this before. Cooks are amongst the most zealous professionals in guarding their secrets. They must be formulating their own recipes and improving their cooking skill.’
Weed turned to his teammates with a serious face and said, “I can’t deny you are looking down on the craft skills as a whole. The combat skills are important. But I think that the craft skills could end up being the most necessary skills in the future. All the craft skills have something in common, and they help an avatar’s combat ability as well. I suggest you learn the cooking skill. It’s essential to your daily life.”
“I’m sorry,” Surka said in a small voice.
“I forgot you were a sculptor, and I was thoughtless to speak ill of the crafters. I am really sorry,” Pale said.
Surka, Pale and Irene were red with embarrassment.
They thought that Weed was angry because they had belittled the cooking skill, one of the craft skills, right to his face.
‘That wasn’t what I meant. You got me wrong.’Weed shook his head.
No matter how hard he showed it to them, they would not see it until they felt the need to see it.
The grocery store had an amiable atmosphere as it largely entertained regular customers.
Weed thrust through them and walked to the register.
“Hello,” Weed said.
“Hello. I just heard you. You have the right idea about the cooking skill!” the shopkeeper said.
“Your face looks familiar to me…”
“Yup. I came here for grocery shopping a few days ago.”
When Weed improved his sculpture mastery and cooking skill at the same time, he had visited only this store to buy foodstuff in bulk—for a simple reason: the low price.
The easiest way to maximize profits is always to minimize costs by buying a large amount of materials at a time at a discount. Weed had always used the store for his purchases, yet it was the first time that he had ever spoken to the shopkeeper.
“Alright. Thank you for visiting my store. By the way, are you taking the path of a cook now?”
“No. My primary class is not a cook, but I know the value of the cooking skill.”
“Nice. So what can I do for you?” The shopkeeper’s eyes shone brightly, sizing up Weed.
He had already gathered from the conversation with the delivery boy that the shopkeeper was a user.
“Spices and sauces,” Weed said.
“Hmm, we have many different kinds of spices,”
the shopkeeper said.
“There are salt, sugar and pepper, and I can show you extraordinary local specialties, such as spices from the land of the Elves, and bottles of sap squeezed out of some plants in the north.”
On the vast continent, plenty of items with distinctive tastes are harvested by local farmers and traded through caravans.
“I don’t need extraordinary spices. Only basic ones.”
“Great. Only fools who want to impress others look for something special. How about the quality?”
“Of course, I want the best.”
Weed counted how much money he had in his pockets. He had not sold various types of ore yet, except for the silver he had collected from the queen worms.
He was saving them for future use, when he improved his repair skill enough to enable him to reduce the ores.
“I have twenty-seven gold now. I want to buy as much,” Weed said.
“Okay. I’ll give you some extra,” the shopkeeper said.
When Weed’s teammates overheard the conversation between him and the shopkeeper, they sensed a mutual understanding and respect flowing in between as if the old drinking buddies had been reunited.
In fact, the shopkeeper was a user who had already taken the path of the cooking skill. When he saw Weed, he realized that a strong rival in the latest wave had showed up.
Weed also recognized the shopkeeper as a forerunner in the field of cooking, so they hardly needed a word. Eye contact alone told them enough.
He packed the spices and sauces he had bought from the grocery store in the backpacks.
Once he was satisfied that he was fully prepared for a new journey, he headed for the camp of Darius’ punitive force with his teammates.
* * *
The punitive force bound to Baran Village was already the talk of the town, so there were many users who were eager to join the quest.
Darius sat down on a tiny chair, as he interviewed applicants for the quest, “Next, please.”
“Hello, I am Cochran. Level 68 archer. I’m good at Multiple Shot, and my weapon is Lasante’s Bow.”
The next in line was Weed’s party with Pale in the foreground, who walked to Darius anxiously.
Pale spoke as the representative of his party. “We are all in the same party. Level fifties. A priestess, a battle mage in the fire element, a ranger, a monk, and…”
Pale stammered before he introduced Weed because he was afraid that when it was mentioned that Weed was a sculptor, Darius would be upset and reject them altogether.
“Hmm, you have a balanced party. Great. And he is…” Darius spotted Weed and asked Pale, “Is he part of your party, too?”
“Five total. It fits exactly the empty slots left in my army.”
“Will you join the quest to take back Baran Village?”
Darius asked, and a message window emerged in front of Weed’s eyes.
|Punitive Force to Baran Village
Beyond the border of Rosenheim Kingdom was a wilderness of monsters. Walls were built, and troops were dispatched in order to keep out the monsters that annually invaded the motherland, but there was an opening. Through the opening, a wave of monsters surged in and occupied Baran Village
With Rosenheim soldiers, save Baran Village from calamity, and destroy the monsters.
Difficulty Level: D
Deadline: Within 30 days
Pale said with a big grin,
“I want to join it, too.”
“Thank you for your invitation to the quest.”
Weed was the last one to accept the quest.
|You have accepted the quest.|
“Okay. Let’s move now.”
Darius sprang to his feet and cried,
“Everyone in the punitive force quest, please come over here! We have enough people, so we’re leaving now!”
* * *
There was no ceremony for punitive force bound for Baran Village. Only a handful of people who were friends of some troops waved goodbye.
Three hundred users, colorfully attired, marched out of the South Gate and toward the Southern Province—the destination was Baran Village. They intended to take back the village that had been lost to the lizardmen.
“Hehe. I haven’t been this far away from the Citadel before. It’s like we’re on a field trip!” Romuna said.
“I think I should have brought lunchboxes,” Irene said.
The two girls were chitchatting pleasantly.
Fresh air and a sunny day! It was a perfect day for a field trip. Lions and wolves, terrified by the size of the troops, were cleared of the path, ensuring the safety of the trip.
While Weed’s teammates were walking lightly, enjoying idle talk, Weed was checking out the other troops, the way they dressed and what they were equipped with.
‘The average level of users in the force is between forty and sixty. I heard that Darius’ level was a hundred and forty-something.’
Darius had five teammates; three sword warriors, a thief, and a plain warrior.
‘I’d better assume that they have almost the same levels.’
Weed concluded that Darius had packed his battalion with anyone who ran up to accept the quest, just to meet the requirement of three hundred users involved.
This suspicion had arisen in Weed when Pale applied for this quest, and Darius was very lax in accepting his party. In the case of Weed, Darius had not even bothered asking his class and level.
‘I guess he wants to get this punitive force quest done as soon as possible. A lot of rewards are at stake.’
A sense of alarm was creeping into Weed’s mind. He had done his own research on Darius, the leader of this punitive force, right after Pale whispered to him to bring up this quest.
Darius had a bad reputation. It was an established fact that he would do anything if it advanced his own interest.
“Everyone, listen,” Weed said in a low voice.
“Huh?” Surka said.
“When we arrive at Baran Village, we should not trust anyone easily,” Weed said.
“What do you mean by that?” Romuna asked.
“I’m saying we’re on our own now,” Weed said.
Pale looked around as though awakened by Weed’s words. Then, he agreed with Weed, “I see your point, Weed-nim.”
“What is it? I don’t get it,” Surka said.
Weed frowned at her.
“Do we know any other member in the punitive force?”
“No,” Surka said.
“Are you trying to say if a good item is dropped, someone else might kill us to take it?” Irene asked.
The question she raised quickly froze everyone in her party. Surka and Romuna even looked scared.
“That’s not what I implied. Of course, it could happen. But I don’t think there will be anyone who is bold enough to overstretch his limit in front of many witnesses in the punitive force. If he earns the murderer’s sign by killing us, he’ll become a public enemy right in the middle of thousands of people, and they will kill him in revenge. Also, Darius will not let it happen, because it could endanger his authority.”
“What is disturbing you, then?” Romuna asked.
“We have no one else to count on. That’s our problem,” Weed said.
Weed led his teammates a little away from the marching troops to avoid eavesdropping, and added, “Despite our low levels, we will fight a great number of monsters.”
“Exactly! Isn’t it why they assembled three hundred users for the quest, and borrowed another two hundred soldiers from Rosenheim Army? When we finish it, we will gain a lot of experience and fame,” Surka said.
“Here comes a question. How will you fight when a battle starts?” Weed asked. “Yes, we have a lot of people, but we are just a bunch of strangers who don’t know anything about one another. We don’t know what skills a ranger over there has. We don’t know if a mage-like man next to him is really a mage or just an imposter in disguise. Imagine if the lizardmen take us by surprise, how will you react to them? How can we stay together and fight back?”
“But what’s wrong with that? The raids are supposed to be like this, aren’t they?” Irene asked.
When Irene raised another question, Pale shook his head. “Most raid quests are about killing a certain number of monsters or clearing some area on a limited scale. I haven’t heard much about large-size battles against an army of monsters on an open field like this quest. We have three hundred users and two hundred soldiers here, but when a battle begins, we will get stuck to our own teammates and break up into segments,” Pale said.
“Irene-nim, numbers always lie. Three hundred users and two hundred soldiers don’t guarantee that the party will be as strong as the sum of their strength. If we overwhelm the monsters, it will be fine. But if we encounter an unexpected turn of events, we will crumble like a house of cards. We should be careful,” Weed said.
Darius had been too impatient and too obsessed with creating a swift victory.
Since there were plenty of users who were eager to join the quest, he could have accepted high-level users to lower the risk of going astray in an emergency—though Weed’s party could not have joined in that case.
However, Darius was determined to have all public service points, so he had rejected any user at level above a hundred. Instead, he had loaded the slots with low-level ones.
He had also ordered the Rosenheim soldiers to stay behind and follow the main body at a little distance.
‘I bet he was worried that the soldiers might pick up some EXPs and fame that would belong to them.’
If Weed had been the leader of the troops for the quest, he would have done exactly the opposite. He would have left out three hundred users, and instead, made good use of the Rosenheim soldiers.
If he had commanded the NPCs to destroy the band of lizardmen, his public reputation and charisma would have gone up.
You can gain fame or EXPs in a number of different ways, but the charisma stat needs this sort of opportunity to rise quickly.
Weed once again reminded his teammates to watch out.
* * *
The troops stopped from time to time to take a rest and a meal. The users in the punitive force chewed on dried food they had brought, or set light meals. The Rosenheim soldiers kept to a timetable of three meals every day.
“How will we prepare meals?” Surka asked.
Pale and Surka shot a casual glance at Weed as they were talking about the upcoming mealtime. They knew, from the conversation that had taken place in the grocery store the other day that Weed was good at cooking.
Weed stepped up to display his cooking skill. “I will serve you meals. Pale-nim, can you go hunt rabbit or deer? At least two of each,” Weed said.
“Okay,” Pale said.
Pale took his bow, and before long, came back with three rabbits and two deer. As a ranger specializing in the bow, he could now fire an arrow at a rabbit without missing.
“Now I will prepare a delicious meal for you,” Weed said.
Weed set a bonfire, peeled the skins of the rabbits and deer, stuck skewers through them, and placed them right above the fire. Rotating them little by little, he salted and peppered them all over.
“Heeyah, it looks great,” Surka said.
“Can we eat now?” Irene asked.
Surka and Irene were slavering over the smell of the broiled meats—the temptation was irresistible.
Weed had already captivated the tongues and stomachs of Sir Midvale and his troops in the Lair of Litvart. They had eaten his beef stew like a pack of hungry wolves, and even scratched what little was left on the bottom of the pots.
Compared to those days, his intermediate handicraft skill now deepened the taste of his food, and the art stat was applied to make the rabbit meat look more appetizing.
Even the skewers poking through the deer’s mouth to its backside to keep it above the fire looked gorgeous.
“Please, help yourself” Weed said when he was certain that he’d taken enough time to torture his teammates with the sight of the food.
As the saying goes, hunger is the best seasoning.
As soon as Weed gave his teammates the go-ahead, they rushed to the barbecues and began tearing flesh from bones and tossing it into their mouths.
“Oh my, it is soooo good!” Surka cried.
“You’re the best, Weed-nim,” Romuna said, giving a thumbs-up with a greased hand. Her mouth was coated with yellow grease.
Apparently succumbing to gluttony of the seven sins, Irene the priestess was eating a rabbit whole, and Pale was busy grazing at a deer’s rear leg. They were even licking the bones.
“Thank you, Weed-nim.”
Gratified by the splendid food, they complimented Weed again and again.
“Not at all.”
Weed looked around, and found many other users had surrounded the little grill party without him noticing.
“Looks so good.”
“I’m envious that she’s enjoying the meat so much!”
Among the members in the punitive force, the bystanders’ appetite was stimulated even more by the sight of Irene and Romuna, who were having the time of their life.
“Do you mind if I have some of your meat?” a man asked.
Weed freely distributed his food to others. “Help yourself. But you should bring some meat next time.”
“Oh, thank you so much.” They received Weed’s food gratefully. But it ran out before more than a few had tasted it.
Weed began to work harder at the next mealtime because many users rushed to him with meat and asked him to cook it for them. In fact, some of them knew how to cook. They had been forced to prepare meals when they ran out of the dried food they had during a hunting mission. To put it bluntly, however, eighty percent of the troops were male.
They hated mundane kitchen chores, such as peeling potatoes and dicing onions. The same goes for the female users.
Even those who learned the cooking skill preferred gathering meat and giving it to Weed to cooking it themselves.
“I feel sorry for you. I really owe ya,” a man said on the second day of the journey.
“Not at all. You don’t need to say that. I am doing this for fun,” Weed said.
“Are you really uncomfortable with it? Then, how about this? Let’s make a deal. If you want to pay back what you feel indebted to me for, you can pay for the meal. For spices and sauces, you know,” Weed said.
“I like that, works out. I’ll feel better that way.”
A great side job!
Weed began to collect a little fee for cooking. Of course, it was much larger than the real costs of sauces and spices, but nobody complained about it because they felt it was acceptable, nevertheless.
When the troops stopped by a town on the trip to Baran Village, Weed purchased a quantity of foodstuffs in a local grocery store.
He needed to update his recipes to improve his cooking skill at a faster pace. Plus, new types of menu that had never been tried before were always received favorably by his customers.
With the foodstuffs he had bought from the grocery store, he was busy working on them on the march and cooking them in mealtime.
Zahab’s Engraving Knife, besides its original use, it was perfect for peeling potatoes.
‘Well, carving statues and peeling potatoes are kind of the same.’
Meals prepared by Weed basically increased a diner’s life by five percent, and as his handicraft skill was in the intermediates stage, it gave off additional options.
Simply put, the intermediate handicraft skill supplements original effects by thirty percent for the sword mastery, and fifty percent for the cooking skill.
Therefore, the final effect on life was an increase of seven point five percent. It might sound trivial, but this difference could save a life in the middle of a chaotic battle where blind strikes were always lurking from behind.
Familiar faces approached Weed, who was immersed in cooking. They were wearing uniforms of the Rosenheim Army.
Only a handful of NPCs would address Weed by the title. He stopped slicing the meat, lifted his head and saw faces he had seen before.
“You are…” Weed said.
“Salute! Greetings to the Commander!”
They were Becker, Hosram and Dale, the brothers-in-arms who had fought alongside Weed in the Lair of Litvart.
“How are you?” Weed asked.
“We are all promoted to denarion, Commander,” Becker said.
When the soldiers who had been thoroughly trained by Weed were promoted to denarion, they could not return to their original regiments. So, the military authorities had assigned them with raw recruits and a new mission.
“I guess they told you to join the punitive force bound to Baran Village,” Weed said.
“Yes, Commander,” Dale said. “Once the mission is complete, we will be stationed in the village to secure the surrounding area.”
A number of Weed’s former subordinates, including Buran, were taken under Sir Midvale’s wings, but the rest, now denarion, were currently serving in the punitive force.
It was Becker’s canine nose, that had smelled Weed’s cooking and tracked it down to find the former commander.
“Hehe,” Hosram said.
“I miss your cooking, Commander,” Becker said.
“I’m sorry that we are not going to serve you again, but why not show us that old comradeship never dies?”
The former subordinates said as they held empty stomachs.
“How does he know Rosenheim soldiers?”
“They’re not foot soldiers. They look like denarions.”
“They just called him Commander.”
Surka and Pale could not hide their surprise. A denarion was a rather weighty position, and the levels of those denarions were seemingly higher than theirs.
Weed dished out what he was cooking to his former subordinates without reservation. Needless to say, all the supplies rationed to their platoons started to be smuggled to Weed from that moment on.
* * *
It took precisely ten days on foot for the troops to arrive at Baran Village.
Weed had intended to improve his cooking skill on the trip. To achieve the intermediate stage of the cooking skill, it required not only proficiency in the skill but also a humongous amount of physical labor.
Back in the days of the Lair of Litvart Weed had served thirty-two men three times a day, ninety-six servings on daily basis, and it totaled three thousand bowls of beef stew.
Then, he had set up an outdoor restaurant to prepare and sell meals in the Citadel. Now that he was feeding hundreds of mouths on the march, it was estimated that he had at least served ten thousand meals.
Provided that a man eats three times a day, it takes ninety servings for a month, around a thousand and eighty servings for the entire year.
Weed had done what amounted to ten years’ worth for a single man to accomplish the intermediate stage of the cooking skill, so if you still don’t get the picture, you’re seriously lost.
Cooking as a hobby isn’t comparable to preparing thousands of meals in order to gain an expertise rating for the cooking skill.
Though sculptural art was best to improve the handicraft skill, Weed was afraid to attract unwanted attention by carving statues on the march.
Cooking could pass more easily, making money and winning gratitude, if not respect, from others.
* * *
The troops were finally within the sight of Baran Village.
“We are almost there.”
“What kind of monsters do you think will be there? I can’t wait to fight them.”
Exchanging small talk complacently, Irene and Surka were walking down the path, while Weed, now finished cooking, and looked up at the sky.
There was nothing but white clouds were sailing in a blue sky.
‘I knew it. The City of Heaven was nothing but a myth. I was distracted by a stupid myth. Baran Village—the book said it was the last place with any connection to the City of Heaven. That’s why I joined this quest, but I was wrong.’ A faint gleam of hope was being dispelled.
When the troops marched near Baran Village, Darius cried, “Halt!”
Darius signaled to the entire complement to stop immediately. When Weed in the rear ranks walked to the front, he saw an old man in shabby clothes and dozens of children staggering toward the troops.
“What is your business?” Darius asked; he didn’t even get down from horseback—Darius and his minions were the only users on horseback.
“Greetings, Your Respectable Commander. We are the survivors of Baran Village,” the old man said. “I am Ghandilva, the elder of the village. I recently sent Jackson to break the sad news of my village’s calamity to His Highness and ask for help. I hope you are the ones to lift us from misery.”
“Yes,” Darius said.
Ghandilva was an elder of Baran Village, and the terrified children who were following him had escaped from the village with him when it was raided by the lizardmen.
“We will take back Baran Village very soon,” Darius said to Ghandilva. “So take comfort and wait a little longer for the good news.”
“I am glad to hear that, your respected commander. By the way, I have a personal request…”
“What is it?”
“Please rescue my people who were captured by the despicable creatures. It is the last wish of this humble old man,”
Ghandilva pleaded amid tears.
Darius’ eyes glinted.
“Is this a quest?”
“Yes, it is the quest from my village, your respected commander,” Ghandilva said.
“What rewards can you give me?” Darius asked directly.
As a high-level user, Darius didn’t rush into any quest presented to him. There were too many quests around, and a lot of them only wasted time.
Ghandilva made a downcast face. “We don’t have anything of value to give you, sir. All I can give is this…” Ghandilva showed a plain-looking seed.
“I thought so. What rewards would I expect from an old man who lost his village to a band of lowly lizardmen? No treasures, no items,” Darius said.
Darius snickered coldly. He thought the old man had come to him to stir up trouble before he got down to driving the lizardmen out of the village.
“Then I will take over the village fast, and if we have free hands available after the battle, I will personally see to it that some troops will be sent to rescue the captives,” Darius said. “We cannot seriously expect that the hostages taken by the lizardmen are still alive by now. Don’t test my patience, old man.”
Darius trotted away from Ghandilva ruthlessly.
Some users in the punitive force called their leader names under their breath, but no one dared rise up to help the elder. Ghandilva was cast into despair. Then, someone grasped his wrinkled hands.
It was Weed.