Upper Wind Month, 16th Day, 605 AGG

"Excuse me!"

Adrian meekly shuffled closer to the countertop as the source of the voice—and the masses would hang him if they knew he was thinking this—unfortunately rushed past him.

It was unfortunate because, and well, maybe feeling irked was his problem that he should somehow deal with, but carrying out his duty as an assistant chef of Oriculia Castle was difficult when the Goddess made it a habit to drop by. Of course, his colleagues all saw it as an 'honor,' a 'blessing' and what have you, though that didn't change the truth of the matter: very few could stand in her presence without it taking a mental toll on them.

Needless to say, that wasn't great for working conditions. The only way he could imagine the duty becoming even more onerous was if the Queen herself decided to randomly check in on the Royal Kitchens equally as often.

"Don't space out," Costel mumbled, the older man's path happening to put them beside him. "Just because she says it's fine doesn't mean it is."

"Yes, yes, you needn't repeat yourself," Adrian fired back, politeness worn down by his six-year tenure, and continued chopping the stalks of chard on the cutting board. "My ears aren't quite as stuffed as yours yet."

The senior assistant chef huffed and went off to give a few stern words to a stunned scullion caught staring at the Goddess. This was why newcomers were…

Adrian shook his head with a sigh.

He'd been serving Her Majesty and her Court for over six years now. Before him, his mother bore the privilege, as well as her father, and so on and so forth, but Adrian was sure none of his ancestors had to deal with unintended, constant oversight from a god, or at least someone close enough to being a god that saying otherwise would be quibbling.

All of them had once worked in upscale establishments prior to beginning their tenure within Oriculia's halls, so they were no foreigners to strenuous conditions. Certainly, Lady Yuriko was kind, pleasant in the same manner she'd been ever since the early days of her arrival in the kingdom, yet that didn't change the fact that she was a dragon and he may as well be a bug for all the difference it made.

A dragon didn't need to have malice to accidentally crush a bug. Like the one time she thought a damnFlaming Spheremade for a good portable stove.

Thankfully, nobody had died or suffered horrific burns—not that either would be a permanent concern, usually—and the Royal Kitchen received a number of useful magic items following the whole ordeal. After that, the Goddess put a stop to further attempts at trying to streamline the culinary arts with her magic.

'The knives were a touch excessive though,' Adrian recalled the Royal Chef ruining a cutting board, the surface underneath, and nearly gouging out a chunk of their thigh. Honestly, how was the Institution of Magic able to spare that many combat-grade items?

He was grateful to her as any sane citizen of the Draconic Kingdom was, but he would be even more grateful if Her Majesty could simply… have a private kitchen built for her wife's hobby.

Six years was a long time to be sharing the same kitchen. Long enough to wear away at reverence until she saw fit to remind the world her stature.

"Um, where did I put it…" He could hear the Goddess's murmur even over the din of the kitchen's activity. "Should be this, right?"

From the corner of his eye, he watched her uncover a large bowl to sniff its contents. "Oooh, yup! It's perfect!"

Lady Yuriko took out the, hm, judging by the smell, some kind of vinegar-cured fish, laid the fillets upon a board, and began butterflying each piece. To the side, wisps of steam wafted from a wooden basket of rice: some kind of grain imported from the Slane Theocracy.

'She must be making that again,' it was a dish foreign to this land, but after seeing it made time and time again, Adrian figured he could recreate it in his sleep. 'I still can't fathom what would drive one to think of eating raw fish though. Raw and undried too.'

He had since been made aware that the practice wasn't uncommon in the Theocracy as well as some of the nations to the south. Strange, that tastes could vary so greatly among members of the same species. The assistant chef knew there existed preparation methods to lower the possibility of contracting food-borne illnesses, yet the memory of slipperiness that dominated a particular taste test refused to leave him even after several years.

In any case, Her Majesty's role must be a heavy one indeed. Raw fish…

Unaware of his ruminations despite what her more zealous worshippers would claim, Lady Yuriko merrily carried on while humming a bizarre tune, retrieving from the usual mysterious rift a rectangular wooden mold with its matching base and lid before moistening the two parts alongside her hands with a water-vinegar mixture.

The mold was then filled with a layer of the thinly sliced fish, perilla leaves above that, the rice, and then the top piece of the mold was firmly pressed—

"Ah, I forgot!" Lady Yuriko suddenly shouted to herself. Adrian narrowly avoided severing the tips of his fingers, cursing his curiosity. "I'll be there right away!"

'Must be aMessage,' only the highly positioned or those directly assigned to missions would dare contact the Goddess without warning. 'What did she mean by forgetting though?'

"Thierrick, is it okay if I leave my stuff here for a bit?" She called out to the Royal Chef on the other side of the kitchen even while hurrying to the exit. "I gotta go check on something real quick!"

"Hoho! Take as long as you need, my Lady!" The old coot didn't mind one bit as he responded with equal boisterousness. Quite unlike the early days, when the elderly man had taken secret offense to the Goddess's constant intrusions. Whereas the Queen put an end to her drinking habit, the Royal Chef developed one; Oriculia Castle and alcoholics were inseparable, apparently. "I'm sure Her Majesty can wait a few minutes!"

Lady Yuriko let out a short laugh and waved. "There's cookies for everyone in the basket there too! I'll cry if there's any left!"

A blatant falsehood seeing as she would clearly never cry for such a trivial reason. Either way, the kitchen staff always ensured whatever container the Goddess used was empty by the time she returned. Something the newcomers sneaking unsure glances at the exit and basket would come to learn in due time.

Adrian dumped the chopped chard with the garlic-seasoned diced potatoes already in the pan and pointed a stick of lacquered wood at the cutting board. "『Clean』."

The leftover vegetable scraps stuck to the surface vanished, leaving behind the sterile scent of the magically cleaned. They lacked the quantity to forgo manual dishwashing and other scullion-like tasks outright, but it was becoming a thing of the near future rather than a foolish fancy. 'Perhaps one day we'll even have kitchens that can maintain their own hygiene.'

"It's here, right?"


"Shhh!" A second disembodied voice loudly hushed. If it weren't for the ambient noise, their attempt at stealth would've been foiled on the spot. In fact, the only reason Adrian wasn't making a commotion was because of shock and the uncertainty surrounding the situation. "Keep it down!『Invisibility』doesn't cancel out noise, you monkey!"

'Calm yourself,' he tried his best to pretend nothing was out of the ordinary. How did these interlopers make it past the countless angels glutting the castle hallways? The very fact that he could hear them meant the Goddess's holy servants absolutely should have. Besides, there were visitors from afar staying in the castle too, visitors who were said to be legends in their own right, so an attempt this direct felt foolhardy at best. 'It can't be charm magic, otherwise—'

"Who're you calling monkey?!"

"You! You call yourself a monkey, don't you?!"

Although, he was starting to think of them as bumbling buffoons instead of actual intruders. One of the voices sounded terribly familiar too.

"That's something different," the lid that the Goddess used to press down on the 'sushi' floated upwards, held in midair by an invisible hand. "By the way, why couldn't you cast a 『Silence』or something, huh?"

" 'Cause I never learned that spell, you dummy."

"What's the point of invisibility if you're making noise?" The second voice complained. "We're lucky nobody caught us with how loud you're being."

"Me?! You know what, forget it, let's hurry and get this done with," the familiar one sighed, their name on the tip of Adrian's tongue. "You got it on you?"

"Yup, yup," something was unscrewed, and then a strong fragrance overwhelmed his nose: a mixture of horseradish and pepper powder grown in Falgris. For most humans, eating that would likely be… fairly unpleasant. "Whew. Alright, just a little bit here…"

"Make sure you don't do anything to the ones on the ends," the familiar voice spoke up as portions of the rice were lifted up by an unseeable hand. "She eats those first when checking the flavor."

"… It's kinda creepy that you know that."

"Oi, I'm just making sure this works, okay?!"

"If you saaay sooo~"

'I need to report this,' Adrian grimaced to himself. 'Even if these fools weren't stopped by the guards or angels, Her Majesty wouldn't tolerate what they're doing.'

"Shit, I think she's back," the sections of sabotaged rice were carefully placed back into the oshibako a second after Lady Yuriko re-entered the kitchen. "We need to hurry up. Invisibility doesn't work on her."

The pair ran away before the Goddess reached the countertop, their surprisingly light footsteps barely audible even when he knew what to listen for.

"Adrian, hi!" His thoughts stuttered as Lady Yuriko greeted him while brushing an errant strand of hair out of her face. "Sorry if Thierrick made you look after my stuff! You wanna try one?"

"I apologize, but I must decline," he said. "Actually, Lady Yuriko, there's something I wanted to bring to your atten—"

"Mmph?" She frowned while chewing on a sample from the pieces she'd cut out with an innate celerity that transcended skill. A piece from the end too, like the familiar voice had said. "I forgot to sear the fish… "

"Yes, about that, my Lady—"

"It should be fine? I think it still tastes okay," ahhh, this wasn't good; she was misunderstanding what he wanted to mention. "I'll get you to try it one day though!"

"Lady Yuriko—"

"Sorry, I'm a little tight on time right now," the Goddess winced with an apologetic smile as she grabbed the oshibako and prepared to leave. "But you can send me mail! I'll make sure to check it the first chance I get!"

And then she left, before he could get a word in edgewise.

Adrian slowly lowered his hand.

Well, it was only a bit of spice, wasn't it?

"I'm back!" Draudillon looked up from the documents that cluttered her desk. Despite the dragon queen's wishes, life had only gotten busier after the insanity of the past year.

Not everything was bad though. They'd made it out alive, hadn't they?

' 'Disaster' is the only suitable description,' her entire body stung with a phantom, yet all too real, pain. 'It could've gone better.'

It could've gone much, much worse.

"So you are," she smiled. "That was quick, dear."

"I think I just misheard Teacher, but we straightened everything out," Yuriko, her beloved wife and Queen Consort of the Draconic Kingdom, laid an oshibako filled with pressed sushi upon an empty spot on the table. "And I prepped a lot of the ingredients for this beforehand, so it was mostly putting them together!"

Draudillon picked up the fork and speared one of the pieces. The odor was fishier than usual. "Mackerel?"

"Mhm. I forgot to sear it though…"

"I'm sure it will still taste wonderful," like every other occasion that preceded today, her heart was filled with warmth.

Truthfully, she had omitted much of the ceremony and pomp from meals partaken in Oriculia because of cost and time due to the war with the beastmen, but even now that the conflict was a thing of the past, she hadn't bothered enforcing a return to tradition. Perhaps this was the reason why.

'The fattiness goes well with the vinegar. It's fresh too: a clean flavor reminiscent of the sea,' the dragon queen finished chewing and went for another piece. "It's good. Thank you again, dear."

Compared to when the angel first started, the improvement she'd steadily built over several years was praiseworthy given her limitations. Because her level was already at the point where further growth was challenging to say the least, Draudillon doubted Yuriko's cooking abilities could ever reach the realm of the supernatural.

Indeed, if she were to set her feelings aside, the angel's culinary skills were objectively outdone by even novice cooks after a few years of experience.

'The kind of dishes that bestow buffs typically require expensive ingredients anyway. I shouldn't overthink. It is simply a hobby for her, after all, treasured as it may b—'

"W-Wha—cough," Draudillon gagged and scraped the food off her tongue with the fork. "What is this?"

A faint part of her found a tinge of irony in how a dragon thought something was too spicy, but the rest was unfortunately busy trying to avoid coughing out her lungs.

"『Heal』!" Healing magic was truly amazing to be able to even cure the pain of eating too much spice. "Drau?! Are you okay?!"

"I'm fine," she picked apart the spat out chunks of rice, mackerel, perilla, and… "I must ask though: is it normal for this sort of dish to be smeared with so much horseradish and pepper?"

"I didn't put any of that there!" Yuriko distraughtly dissected the rest of the oshizushi. Of course, blaming them never crossed her mind. They respected the food too much for that. "I… I don't know what happened… I only left it alone for a minute or two and none of the chefs would mess with my stuff…"

"No, I believe I have an excellent idea of what happened," the image of two giggling nitwits, one with brown hair and the other red, popped up in her head. "Don't trouble yourself, dear. I'll handle this matter myself."

Min-eun, she'd leave to their Master, and Mira…

'Actually, why don't I let the Abbess handle both of their disciplining?'

The corner of Draudillon's mouth twisted ever so slightly upwards.

Was it wrong of her to look forward to their reactions?