The Orphanage — Part 2
Editors: Joker, Speedphoenix
“Okay kids, go get your bowls and form a line!” The hero turned to face the children after using a ladle to stir the pot of beef stew situated on top of a table in the orphanage’s courtyard. Though orphanages often led one to think of poverty, the lot was surprisingly large. There was plenty of space for the children to frolic about and play. “You won’t get any if you don’t wait your turn, so don’t even think about cutting in front of each other!”
“Okay!!” The children eagerly responded before obediently arranging themselves into a neat, single file line.
While the kids were the reason I had initially prepared the meal, they weren’t the only ones attending our little chow session. Carlotta and the orphanage’s director were also both present and accounted for.
“That dish has got quite the alluring smell,” said Carlotta. “What was it called again?”
“Uhmm… I think he said it was called beef stew. He did all the flavouring and stuff, so I have no idea how he made it. Would you like some, Carlotta? There’s a whole lot, and I’m sure the children won’t be able to finish it all by themselves.”
“I may as well have a bit.”
“What about you, Miss uhm… Firni, was it?”
“Well…I suppose a tiny bit wouldn’t hurt.” The orphanage’s director nodded hesitantly. “Thank you so much for doing this. You’re supposed to be our guests, so we should be the ones showing you hospitality. And yet…”
“That’s alright.” Nell smiled. “He said this already, but we were the ones that suddenly showed up on your doorstep and asked to stay the night. Think of this as just our way of covering our debts.”
While there was more than enough stew to go around, it wasn’t the only dish on the menu. I was situated by the next table over, carving the second dish, a whole roast of meat, into bite-sized chunks the kids could enjoy with ease.
They seemed to find the sight of me chopping a larger piece of meat into several smaller ones fascinating, as their eyes were practically glued to my hands as they carried out the process. Okay no, that’s total bull. They just really can’t wait to dig in and I know it.
Chances were, they were imagining how the two dishes would taste. Though they didn’t quite seem to recognize either dish, they clearly had very high expectations—which was fine. Both were delicious. I was sure they’d be happy with what they got. I, however, wasn’t. The normal Japanese line of thought was to cook up some sort of curry. That was just the standard when it came to feeding a bunch of hungry kids. But there wasn’t any rice. I hadn’t been expecting the situation, so I hadn’t bothered bringing any sort of grain-based food with me. As such, I had to think up something that would be okay as just a roux without anything to accompany it. I ended up picking beef stew. Even though it didn’t satisfy my craving for a Japanese aesthetic.
“Next!” I called for the line to move after placing several pieces of meat on top of one of the kids’ plates.
“That’s me!” The next immediately stepped up, held out her bowl, and smiled. “That mask you’ve got on right now looks super cool, Mr. Mask!”
“You’ve got a good eye, young lady. You know what we do with good girls like you?” I smirked. “We give ‘em an extra piece of meat.”
I garnished the beef stew in the girl’s bowl with a few slices of meat and then called for the line to move yet again.
Though I’d called it an extra piece, the number of pieces post-mask-compliment more or less ended up becoming the standard. Everyone had gotten an extra slice because everyone had immediately picked up on the fact that praising my mask would get them more food. Heh. They might just be saying it for the reward right now, but I’m sure they’ll turn around eventually if they keep doing it. They’re sure to learn just how badass these masks are. Not that I’ll actually be sticking around long enough for that to happen. But y’know.
Inconsequential as it was, I had in fact traded in my mask for another while hanging around in the kitchen. My current mask wasn’t full faced like my last one. There was a hole where the mouth was so I could join everyone in eating. I knew for a fact that the mask would end up being more annoying than anything when it came to meal time. It would get in my way by virtue of the fact that it was a literal physical barrier between my mouth and anything I wanted to put inside of it. I didn’t want to tear it off and end up showing my face. That would just make me feel like an idiot.
That said, there wasn’t much of a point to hiding behind a mask to begin with. But I didn’t care. Truth be told, all of my behaviour stemmed from a rather shallow thought—wearing a mask made me feel like a badass. My justifications had all been excuses I came up with in order to provide myself with a sense of self-validation.
“Are you really okay with giving away all this for free?” Carlotta frowned. “It must have cost you quite the pretty penny. I can tell that you used both monster meat and plenty of spices.”
“It’s fine.” I shrugged as I watched the children happily devour their meals. “The monsters I got this meat from weren’t all that strong. It doesn’t take me much effort to hunt a bunch of them. The spices are… more or less homemade, so I didn’t really incur any significant expenses on that front either.”
The only thing that had cost me anything was the base I used for the beef stew. And it had just been a minor DP expense.
I had only done what I had for my own self-satisfaction. All the time I spent around Illuna and Shii really had changed the way I looked at kids. I didn’t really like them all that much in my last life. But now, things were different. Seeing them suffer tore at my heartstrings. I helped them because I didn’t want my heart to bleed for them. I immediately realized that I was likely prone to keep this behaviour up going forward, so I promptly adopted a new policy: I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek out kids just to help them, but I would help those in my immediate vicinity.
I had been in a bit of a barbecue kinda mood, so I ended up making the whole roast out in the yard. The smell of roasted meat in the midst of a food shortage had drawn many a person to the front of the orphanage.
“Hey… you smell something?” asked a passerby.
“Yeah man. It’s not anything I recognize, but man it smells good. It’s making me real hungry,” replied another.
It didn’t take long for a crowd to form on the street in front of the orphanage. Many peered in through the gate, their eyes tainted with a hungry jealousy. Hmm… You know what? This might actually be a pretty decent opportunity.
“Hey Nell, you mind taking over for a bit?”
“Huh? Uhm, sure.”
I left serving everything up to the hero and headed out towards the crowd.
“Are you assholes hungry?” I took up an imposing stance by crossing my arms as I posed the question.
“Y-Yeah!” Though they started off regarding me suspiciously, a few of the crowd’s members soon came to realize my intent.
“Do you miss the taste of meat?”
“Hell yeah!!” The second response came swiftly, and carried much more energy than the first. The crowd was getting fired up.
“Then meat you’ll get,” I said. “But only if you lend me a hand.”
I opened up my item box and poured a bunch of monster corpses out onto the street.
“U-Uh huh…” The crowd faltered in response to the sudden introduction of a copious amount of food.
The meat in my inventory could be split into two distinct categories: meat that had been butchered, and meat that still happened to be in the shape of a monster. I had planned to give all the meat that was ready to be turned into food to the orphanage. While that would have left me with plenty to sate my appetite, the stuff it left me with would have been much more inconvenient to use. I decided to bear with it, however, for the orphanage’s sake.
Or at least I would have had I not found a sudden, convenient source of cheap labour. Might as well use what you got, right?
“There’s no more stew. So you ain’t getting any of the stuff you’re smelling.” I said. “But, there is still plenty of meat to go around. Or at least there would be if it was actually ready to go. As I’m sure you can see, it’s a bit underprepared. And you know what that means. If you want to eat, you gotta work.”
A few members of the crowd stepped forward.
“That’s somethin’ I can handle, no sweat. Shop’s closed right now, but I run a butchery. I got no problem doin’ some of the work I normally handle erryday,” said a member of the crowd.
“Count me in too. I may not look like it, but I used to be an adventurer. And I was fairly proficient when it came to chopping up monsters for their parts,” added another.
“You can leave all the cooking to me! I cook for a nearby restaurant,” said a third.
“I’ll bring us some plates! I’ve got some big enough to use for this kind of stuff back home!” said a fourth.
The unorganized mass soon formed into strike teams and got to work.
“Good,” I smirked. “Now listen up. The only people that get to eat are those that contribute. And no touching the food until you’re done your part. Don’t worry about there being too little. ‘Cause once you’re done, I’ll shove so much down your throat that you’ll be begging for me to stop!”
I continued to act all cocky as I voiced one last bit of encouragement. To be fair, I had every right to be as full of myself as I wanted. I was the one supplying the food, after all. This whole event was literally impossible without me.
Mwahahahaha! I cackled internally. Work, ignorant plebians. Work and provide me all the cheap labour I could ever want!
The crowd in front of the orphanage caused others to raise questions and flock to it. I increased the amount of monster meat available in response to the change in the size of the crowd, therefore increasing the amount of work to be completed. That, in turn, generated more noise, which caused people to notice the crowd. It was a vicious cycle, one that kept feeding into itself over and over.
It didn’t take long for the street the orphanage sat on to transform into what was basically the venue for an impromptu festival.