Alice listened to the sound of the timers, limbs moving on instinct to lift lids, set temperatures, and season just the right amount in order to create perfection.

And that was exactly what she was cooking: Perfection, a blend of Indian gastronomy and her take on curry.

Letting out a breath, Alive avoided touching her face with her hands and instead wiped her forehead with a clean drying rag. The pie crust had just been placed in the oven to brown, and she had a good minute before she'd have to pull it out, giving her a short reprieve.

One of the spots to the preliminaries was as good as hers, so what she focused on now was being the overall first place of Block B.

She'd thought there wouldn't be many competitors to the goal other than the Aldini brothers she'd met in passing, but things were taking a flustering turn.

Alice pursed her lips, and avoided falling victim to her curiosity as the rhythmic sound of cutting and sizzling echoed to her immediate right.

There were Ten seconds left before the heat timer would ring in the high powered microwave convection oven.

Alice's eye twitched, a subtle indication that she was somewhat tense.

Tch.

As a Nakiri, there was no way she'd lose her confidence here.

Meanwhile, in another part of Block B at an uppermost kitchen row, a blue haired girl with vacant eyes was beginning to feel the heat.

Megumi Tadokoro, a member of the Polar Star Dorm with Soma, took in a deep breath and hardened her resolve. Now wasn't the time to be meek in the face of all her competitors.

There were the Aldini brothers, Takumi and Isami, eyes bright with a passion for victory. Unlike them, they already looked confident in the recipes they had in mind and were cooking away. Isami was using a mincing knife with dexterous hands while Takumi focused intently on his food prep.

As for Megumi, she was still contemplating her plans as the timer overhead steadily dwindled away.

Even mellow Yuki Yoshino of the same Polar Star Dorm was giving her best and Megumi was letting her low self-esteem prevail despite reaching this stage in Totsuki's academic year.

Then there was Shirou Yukihira. His red hair made him difficult to not notice in a crowd even during a competition.

Yeah, that's right. That was Soma's brother. The one Soma said had barely cooked professionally in his life, and yet there he was.

Unlike Megumi, he looked utterly lost in his own world, unaffected by the fierce spirit of competition or pressuring gazes.

He was just cooking for the sake of cooking, utterly at peace with himself.

She'd been like that too before. Back when she'd first started aspiring to be a chef. That kind of spirit and relaxing air was exactly what Megumi needed!

Moreover, what would Soma do?!

Give up? No way.

Megumi clapped her cheeks, trying to refocus on the fish and ingredients she'd grabbed in a daze and think about how to turn it into a curry.

Forty minutes were left on the clock.

She could do this!


"Oh, we sure have a lot of spirit for this year's festival," one of the judges, a man named Shingo Ando, said

Shingo was an older man with square-framed glasses and receding hairline covered by a lop-sided toupee. Known as an influential food critiquer, he started off with online mukbangs and worked his career forward through vivid reactions to various foods, raising the distinction of his palate.

Beside Shingo was another judge named Osaji Kita, a renowned entrepreneur and owner of a high-end gastronomy club. His influence and avarice towards good food helped land him a role as a preliminary judge.

He wore a brown dress tuxedo with a white undershirt and a red tie.

"Spirit doesn't make good food." Osaji replied, a finger brushing over his scruffy beard. "Rather, it's skill to work in a kitchen and effectively use a kitchen's modern appliances. Naturally, a clear winner can already be seen."

Shingo glanced in the direction Osaji was facing, and quickly realized Osaji's attention was focused intently on Alice, a fellow advocator of food gastronomy.

Shingo smiled, noticing the uniqueness of Alice's dish even from afar.

"As expected of a Nakiri." Osaji gave praise. "A culinary skill far surpassing her peers."

"I wouldn't say all." Shingo voiced out in protest on behalf of all the others competing against Alice. He noticed that all competitors here had their quirks and flavours. "There does appear to be some decent competition. What do you think Ms. Sendowara?"

"..."

No answer.

In truth, the third and final judge that was actually worth anything between the other two hastily hired judges, had been quiet for some time now

At a glance, Orie Sendowara, a beautiful woman with long blond hair framing her face and running down her back, appeared to be looking at Alice as well, but in fact, her attention was slightly to the right.

Shingo noticed the anomaly and hummed in thought.

"That student next to Alice Nakiri…?" He murmured before abruptly trailing off.

With two colleagues suddenly silent, it wasn't wasn't long before Osaji too looked over.

"Hmm- oh?"


The best way to describe it was like a fever dream- Like both Shirou's mind and body had gone on autopilot and his thoughts had taken him to a happy place.

Regardless, it felt as if the moment had been too fleeting; a momentary reprieve from stress and tension he couldn't help but long for again when it was over.

The timer rang loudly, echoing in the tense kitchen Block as the judges took their seats and warned all competitors to move away from their kitchens.

Shirou untied his chef's apron, and took off his hair net, relieving himself of that stuffy feeling from built up sweat while he'd been cooking over the grill. From there, he stepped off to the side and lined up with his fellow competitors in a line.

The person who stood nearest to Shirou was none other than Hisako who had cooked a unique curry using mutton as the base ingredient. Mutton was the meat of older sheep, so it lacked the springiness of fresh lamb, or the consistency of hogget, but its flavor was deeper and aged.

Admittedly, Shirou had never had mutton as the dish wasn't as common in Japan as it was in Europe. He just never had the chance to cook with it yet, which triggered a feeling of curiosity and anticipation that led him to open his mouth and share opinions. However, the results weren't what he was expecting.

The moment Shirou turned to make eye contact with Hisako, he had a clear sight of the expression she was leveling on him.

Heavy scrutiny, slanted eyes, confusion, doubt, and balled fists.

Slow as he usually was to pick up on certain cues from women, he could recognize animosity or dislike at a glance at this point.

"Do you have a problem with me?" Shirou changed the question he wanted to ask.

Finally given the opportunity to speak face to face with Shirou, Hisako leaned forward and whispered heatedly into his ear so that others wouldn't eavesdrop.

"...How did you do it?" She demanded.

Of course, Shirou was perplexed.

"Do what?"

"It wouldn't just be about your skill as a chef because there are many other chefs in the Elite Ten that are just as skilled. So then how?" Hisako narrowed her eyes on him.

However, Shirou wasn't playing. He was through with unnecessary misunderstandings after Erina had already gotten it into her head that Manga depicted a hidden truth of the world.

It didn't help that it had been accurate so far.

"You're not making much sense." Shirou manned up and stood his ground. "If you think I know what you mean by being vague, then you'd be wrong. Just be direct."

"Erina," Hisako finally ground out, but that only made things more complicated.

What did Erina have to do with anything related to him? She'd swore not to divulge anything about the Moonlit World, and with her life in danger, she wouldn't be so reckless.

"What about her?" Shirou asked in genuine confusion.

Hisako didn't like that. She bit down on her lips and barely held back a snarl.

"Really? That's all you have to say?!" She hissed. "How could Erina give someone as clueless looking as you the time of day?"

"You make it sound like she's on a pedestal." Shirou got the impression with unerring accuracy. It was like how Ayako, the Archery Captain of Homurahara Academy, had looked at him before.

"That's because she-"

"Hisako Arato, please present your curry!"

Before things could get any more heated, the conversation was cut off by the call of the judges individually testing each competitor's curry dishes.

Gnashing her teeth, Hisako huffed before letting the matter drop in favor of the competition.

There was always later.

"We're not done here."

Really, what was that girl's problem?

Shirou crossed his arms, and waited for his turn as Hisako headed towards the judges with a plate of her dish. If he thought Hisako was the end of those who garnered interest in him, then he'd be wrong.

He was unaware that his demeanor and kitchen handling had rubbed off on others who had glanced towards him during the process of the competition.

Numerous chefs from Block B were giving Shirou odd looks, while the Aldini brothers nodded to Shirou in acknowledgment as they'd visited him before.

Out of all the Block B candidates however, only one was starting to get truly flustered.

Alice was uneasy as she shifted her weight from foot to foot.

She didn't know when, but she'd suddenly noticed that Erina was watching from a spectator stand with a view of Block A and B.

Worse-

'W-When did that brat get so cheeky?!'

Erina was smirking at Alice as if she'd already lost!

Alice would never have known where Erina's confidence came from- no, she really wouldn't have wanted to.

-A belittled or scorned shonen protagonist always has his stepping stones.

Erina narrowed her eyes and nodded to herself.

There was always the 'Sensei Arc' where the teacher shows off to their student, and this was a continuation from the magic side, to the culinary side!

Hell, with the ability to copy the skill and experience of a knife's wielder with just a glance, who could stop that?

Erina was sure Alice was going to pout and cry and was already waiting with a camera in hand to well, uhm; commemorate the moment.

It was always Alice who got the upper hand between them, but not this time!

You see, that languid carefree attitude Shirou displays is all a ruse!


'It's him.'

As Shirou's name was finally called forward, there were many eyes that turned his way, not the least of which were the primary judges for the preliminaries.

Orie Sendowara had been watching Shirou for a while now ever since he began cooking while next to Alice Nakiri.

Moreover, it was a whim of the judges to choose Shirou's dish to try first before Alice Nakiri's. They had an impulse to not let the flavors of another curry wet their palate before they could truly get a sense for the depth of flavor in Shirou's.

If Alice's curry blew the judges away, then the lingering aftertaste would dull the flavor of Shirou's dish.

For some reason, the judges just couldn't have that happen when Shirou's method of cooking had been the one that was the most attention grabbing of the entire Block.

The air of a professional chef, Shirou did not have. Rather, it was closer to that of a home chef who did his own thing.

Cutting technique, ingredient sorting, measurements, and handling all appeared self taught, but the sheer dexterity of it all left the judges breathless.

In much the same way one gawks at a man eating a flaming sword and spits it back out, Shirou's performance was captivating.

"Did you see how he cut everything?" Shingo whispered to Osaji while Shirou was still coming to present his dish. "Was he raised a Samurai or a warrior? How did his hands move like that?"

Thinking back to before, Shirou would place all his vegetables together, toss them up into the air, and then cut them into precise pieces as if it were a normal occurrence. In reality, what he was doing was something similar to show cooking, revealing the sheer level of his skill and lack of tension during a competition.

What Shirou held in his hands was a curry known as Thai Yellow Chicken Curry with seasoned potatoes and carrots.

Made with curry powder, coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic, peppers, lemongrass, a pinch of sugar, and coconut milk to blend it together, the grilled beef gave the spicy curry a strong depth.

At first glance, it was hard to make out what the dish was distinct or unique from any common recipe, but the judges were trained to hold back their doubts until after they'd tasted the food.

Partitioning portions for the judges, Shirou stood waiting for the verdict.

As if in agreement, Osaji, Shingo, and Orie picked up their utensils first and examined the dish.

"Presentation is nice," Shingo complimented absently.

"The overall smell, texture, and cutting also look uniformly even," Osaji said in wonder before shaking his head and joking with Shirou. "Are you human? Your dexterity rivals that of an industry slicer."

"Thanks," Shirou nodded and just accepted the praise.

Orie in contrast said nothing and decided that taste was more important than presentation.

One by one, Orie, Shingo, and Osaji took a bite and utterly froze as they mechanically chewed and swallowed.

Shirou felt his hands grow sweaty, not from nerves, but needless apprehension from prior 'foodgasm' experience.

He refused to believe this was the world he lived in!

How could food ever be immoral? Impossible.

The people from before were just part degenerate. That had to be it.

The tenderness of the meat that sank between the teeth of the judges burst with a meaty release of flavourful juices offset by the gentle coriander. Then there was the sauce that was greedily slurped up into waiting mouths.

Manners and decorum had somehow fled the premise.

But something else became widely apparent as the judges cleaned off their plates.

The skin and complexion of the judges practically glowed as something about the food was just magical. The heat of flavors and spices caused the skin around their necks to flush and their eyes to glaze over.

No, they really did appear younger. All of them.

Shingo even shed tears as he hastily used the reflection of his cutlery knife and fork to see buds of hair growing back over his balding head. The tingle he had felt above his head had been real!

It was like some sort of health tonic that did wonders beyond just the extraordinary taste.

For a second, it was like the food wasn't just about food anymore. It was practically a fountain of youth.

Even Osaji's wrinkles disappeared!

But the taste. The taste. I-It was…

Fortunately, for Shirou's sanity, clothes did not naturally burst apart again. No, maybe they did, but Shirou's brain created a sanity filter that prevented mental collapse.

Though, if he were honest, he pretended not to hear grown men and women moaning after the first bite.

His brain blocked it off, but one of the judges soon came to her senses faster than the others.

Orie silently looked Shirou straight in the face, ogling his sturdy frame.

Her following words did not consist of a critique or judgment, but a demand of a woman in the acting industry who always got what she wanted.

"You, work for me. You won't even need a Totsuki degree."

Shirou stood stunned, but Orie was determined and had the audacity to stand up and whisper to his ear away from eavesdroppers. She winked, suggestively shaking her hips and emphasizing her alluring vixen-like smile.

"I'll be your sugar mommy."

She was dead serious.


Thanks for reading!

Free web novel :[The Apostate in Grim Fantasy] (For those that asked, the web novel is available on webnovel and the patron main page, leave a review if you'd like! New goal is 20 reviews)

Next update: to be announced

P a treon. com (slash) Parcasious

Book links:

Fatedlegacydark

New Book: Out on Amazon (Remove dash on link)

Survivor's Log Reflection: Amazon.c-om/dp/B08VDDGN7Z?