Chapter 105 -- The First Day of the Trip and Shabu-Shabu
Fer sprinted along the highway connecting Carerina to our first destination, the town of Claire. I kept telling him to slow down in case I fell off but he was in a hurry and ignored me as usual. I had spent so much time riding on his back and I'd never fallen off before but still... the merchants, Adventurers and other travellers we encountered (briefly) on the road looked surprised at the sight of us passing them so swiftly.
Fer finally stopped. "This is far enough for today." he announced. I climbed off his back and sat down on the solid unmoving ground with a sigh of relief. I squinted at the sun, it wasn't evening yet...
"Aren't you stopping a bit early?"
"Nu, it's maybe a bit early but you were getting tired and I thought you might fall off." Fer's consideration for my well-being surprised me a little and naturally made me suspicious.
"I wasn't planning to fall off," I told him, "but if I had I'd be seriously hurt at that speed. That's why I was holding on so hard." I poked him in the ribs. "Take it easier tomorrow, hey?"
"I got it. Anyway we'll get to the city called Claire tomorrow."
"Eh, really?" The distance on the map had made me think it would take us longer than that. Just how fast had Fer been travelling?
"Umu, there are more and more signs of human activity along the road, that means there's a city up ahead and it's got to be Claire. Not much farther." Well, 'not much further' for Fer probably meant quite a distance to us mere mortals.
"If that's so why stop now? There's still quite a bit of daylight left." I wondered.
"It would be nice to get there today but I'm hungry right now." Fer said. I got the feeling he wasn't telling me the absolute truth but I let it go. I was getting hungry myself.
"Well, hang on while I make dinner." Today's meal was going to be shabu-shabu hotpot with thinly-sliced Wyvern meat as the main ingredient. Before going to bed yesterday I had soaked konbu seaweed in a big pot of water in preparation for making this dish. Now I had to buy vegetables and the like from the Net Super. What would be good, hmmm, Chinese cabbage, mizuna mustard greens, carrots, oh and of course green onions and maybe some enoki and shimeji mushrooms? Yoshi. As for the shabu-shabu sauces they were a given, they had to be citrus ponzu and gomadare sesame seed.
First of all I had to prepare the vegetables. I cut the Chinese cabbage into pieces then trimmed the mizuna mustard greens, removing the roots and chopping it into pieces about 5 cm long. The carrots were julienned into short thin strips, the same for the green onions to make them quick to cook but crisp to eat. I removed the root tips from the enoki and shimeji mushrooms and broke them up into easy-to-eat pieces ready for cooking.
I heated up the big pot of water then removed the konbu kelp before quickly shabu-shabuing the Wyvern meat and the vegetables in the boiling stock. I piled up the shabu-shabu meat and vegetables on dishes, adding citrus-flavoured ponzu sauce to start with.
"Fer, Sui? You awake?"
"Of course I'm awake." Fer was in his usual pre-dinner position, staring over my shoulder at the dish of food I had just prepared.
"Dinner, dinner-" Sui appeared from her satchel. Time to eat.
"Here you go." I presented the shabu-shabu dishes to the Gluttonous Duo, piled high since I knew their appetites.
"Umu, is this Wyvern meat?" Fer asked after taking a large mouthful. "It tastes a bit sharp somehow..." the rest of his comment was slurred as he was muzzle-deep in the shabu-shabu, "but I'll eat it anyway."
"Yeah yeah, it's got a sour flavour but that refreshes your mouth so you can eat as much meat as you want." Saying that I helped myself to my own dish of shabu-shabu, not wanting to be left behind before the inevitable demand for "seconds!" came. The ponzu sauce had a cleansing flavour that made me feel hungrier somehow and I dug in, unable to stop myself.
Hmm, I'd have to try the sesame sauce soon but first I shabu-shabued some more vegetables and dunked them in the ponzu to accompany the Wyvern meat. Munch munch, ohhh that's very tasty. Some more Wyvern meat and ponzu, more veggies, mmmm. The citrus sauce kept the fatty meat from being overbearing, the crisp veggies provided a good feel in my mouth. The meat was fantastic but the vegetable sides kept changing the taste of each bite. Delicious!
"Seconds!" came the chorus. Shabu-shabu, shabu-shabu, into the boiling stock pot and out again, dunking it into the gomadare sesame sauce this time.
"Here you are." I handed out two more dishes loaded with shabu-shabu, thankful that it was fast to cook.
"Oh, it tastes different~. But delicious too."
"Umu, it's delicious."
I made some more because I wanted to taste it myself. Shabu-shabu, veggies and mushrooms as well as meat. The enoki and Wyvern's meat in the sesame seed sauce... well, it just worked. The savoury fragrance of the sesame seed sauce meshed with the tender juicy meat flavours. I decided that both ponzu and gomadare sauce were delicious with Wyvern meat, in fact I couldn't choose between them despite them being so different in taste. I'd have both kinds of sauce for the next shabu-shabu, I told myself.
""Seconds!"" So fast? Sure enough the two dishes in front of Fer and Sui were empty again. I shouldn't let my mind wander like that otherwise I'd never get seconds of my own. Right then, I set to work, shabu-shabu shabu-shabu shabu-shabu shabu-shabu...
* * * * *
After the meal I made a box type 'house' to sleep in with my Earth magic, laying out Fer's futon inside beside my own.
"Hey Fer, I'm going to take a bath, you can go to sleep first if you want."
"Understood. I'll go to bed first then." Saying that Fer went into the 'house'. Right then, it's bath-time for me.
"Aruji, is a bath like in hot water?" Sui piped up.
"Yes, that's right. Do you want to come in too, Sui?"
"I want in-" Sui bounced happily while I made an enclosure with Stone Wall and took out the bath (My bath!) from my Item Box.
"Will you put some water here for me Sui?"
"Yes-" Sui filled the bath with fresh water and I heated it up with a Fireball. This time I judged it better and the temperature was just right first time. I reached into my Item Box and pulled out another Net Super purchase, something I hadn't thought about the first time I had taken a bath. Tadaa! It was a bath mat. My bare feet wouldn't end up all muddy afterwards.
"Right then, jump in first Sui." I offered.
"Understood-" Splash! "S'warm, aruji-" Sui floated in the warm water like a large plastic bath toy, seemingly enjoying the experience.
I took off my clothes and thoroughly washed my hair and body. Rubbing the lather into my hair until it bubbled left me feeling refreshed. I rinsed myself off with more hot water from the bath. Oops, I nearly forgot the bath salts... it was my favourite sort, with a yuzu-based citrus-y smell, a bit like the ponzu sauce for the shabu-shabu, I thought to myself as I sniffed the fragrant warm vapour rising from the bath water.
"That smells nice." I said.
"Nice-" Sui agreed as I climbed in beside her.
After having enjoyed a bath with Sui I was getting ready to go to bed immediately after but I remembered something I had to do, unfortunately. That thing. I sighed but I knew I'd get no peace from certain personages if I put off any longer. It can't be helped, you made a deal didn't you? I told myself.