AN - I know it's a long chapter, but I have neither the time nor the willpower to review a thing to let me post two consecutive chapters.
The Wild Boar Buffet, located in the Duraham Woods (named after how a child pronounced the name of one of the dullahans that roamed around in it promptly before he was killed by it), was a famous hotspot for adventurers and those that could afford them. Its owner, Marco Dublais, was a professional monster chef, someone versed in the art of preparing monster dishes. The buffet was his pride and joy, something he had saved up for since he had left magic college.
His location of choice was something he relied on, as there was a large variety of edible flora and fauna just ripe for the picking and killing.
Now, Marco, a scrawny man with auburn hair, wasn’t the best monster chef in the world. He could easily dice a walking mushroom or roast a silver-crested duck, but he lacked both the combat skills and knowledge of most species to be considered a true practitioner of the monstrous culinary arts. His fame simply came due to the fact that he was one of the only human chefs in a style commonly practised by demons. Due to this, he had no clue how to react when three large dragons violently barged into the lobby.
“Hey! We’re here to eat!” Fruity growled. Tank and Big Slick pumped their claws into the air, letting out two roars in unison. Marco, who had stepped out of the kitchen to work at the reception, ducked underneath the desk. One of the waiters, a young elven lad, crawled up to him, sweat dripping from every pore.
“Mr. Dublais, what are we going to do?” the waiter asked, flinching as the dragons roared once more.
“Don’t worry. I’ve hired some of the best adventurers as guards. They should be able to handle this,” Marco said, doing his best not to stop his teeth from clattering. As soon as he said that, a body flew over their heads, before colliding into the wall opposite of the two. Its metal armour popped off before the rest of his body fell with it. “And that would be one of them.”
“Hello? Is there someone here?” Tank asked.
Marco’s blood ran cold as soon as he looked up. The snout of a green dragon peered out from the desk. It sniffed the air twice before retreating back. Marco sighed in relief before jumping to the side as the waiter leaned against him. On closer inspection, it turned out that he had gone into shock.
“Hello, can you provide us with some assistance?” Fruity asked. Marco slowly looked behind him, turning face-to-face with a large, blue, angry-looking dragon. Frost puffed from its nostrils as it squinted.
“H-h-how m-m-may I b-be of s-s-s-service?” Marco asked. He tried to move his legs, his arms, any part of his body, only to find them completely frozen. He silently whispered one final prayer to himself before closing his eyes.
“Yes, we’d like a table for three...well, make it nine,” Fruity said.
“I-I’m sorry, w-what?” Marco asked, his confusion briefly trumping his fear.
“We’d like a table. We even have the coin for it.” The blue dragon pulled a sack off of his back, dropping it in front of the frightened chef. He then pulled out a slip of paper, one Marco was very familiar with. “We also have a coupon.”
“Ah,” Marco sighed. He had deduced that he was going crazy. After all, what kind of dragon would come barging into a buffet and ask for a table? The denial of reality had wiped away all the fear in his body, and he managed to jump to his feet without a fuss. With a smile on his face, he took the coupon out of the blue dragon’s hand. “I'm sorry, this expired a few days ago.”
Fruity clicked his tongue.
Marco took the bag of gold, retrieved a few coins, and gestured towards his new patrons. “Follow me, please.”
With the courage of a blind idiot, Marco lead the three dragons through the shabby restaurant. Dirt and grime lined every crack and corner. Marco couldn’t reasonably hire any janitors willing to travel out so far, so he was usually forced to clean whenever he could, and he usually just focused on the kitchen. The decor wasn’t spectacular either: the buffet tables were draped in stained cloth, the seats were just basic wooden tables and chairs, the walls were slightly rotting, and a musky scent wafted through the building.
Marcos remained oblivious of the attention he was getting from everyone else in the dining room. Some looked at him in confusion, some in fear, but most in admiration of the chef that lead three dragons without fear.
“Here is your seat,” Marco gestured towards a long table. He bowed before leaving them to their own devices.
“He didn't even take our order,” Tank whined, shoving the chairs out of the way.
“This is a buffet, Tank,” Fruity muttered, slamming his tail into the chairs on his side. He pointed his claw towards the row of tables in the corner, where several patrons were either staring at the three or trying to ignore them. “We pick the food from there and bring it back here to eat.”
“We’re not going to eat it here, though, are we?” Big Slick asked. A small grin grew on Fruity’s face before he coughed into his fist.
“Of course we’re not going to eat here. Huddle up,” Fruity ordered. Tank and Big Slick pushed their table out of the way as they grabbed each other’s shoulders and formed a circle around them with their wings. “Here’s the plan. We’re going to carry back as much food as we can back to the cave.”
“Can we not eat here?” Tank asked, patting his stomach.
“No. We need to get food back first and foremost,” Fruity explained. “We’ll have a feast when we get back. A rationed feast, but a feast nonetheless.”
“Got it,” Big Slick said, nodding her head. “Just grab whatever we can and then we leave.”
“Oh no. I’m not letting Big Slick near the meat,” Tank muttered. “She’ll have eaten most of it by the time we leave!”
“No, no, Tank is right,” Fruity nodded. “Big Slick, you handle the vegetarian isle for us. Tank and I will take everything else.”
“…Fine…” Big Slick grumbled.
"Wrap the food in tablecloths. It’ll make it easier for us to carry back,” Fruity ordered. “We'll meet up back at the entrance and then ditch this place."
"Did we have to get into this circle just for this?" Tank asked. "You could've explained this while we walked there."
"Yes, but this is more fun," Fruity chuckled. "On three, we leave. Three!"
The three dragons broke the circle before they approached the buffet tables. Fruity split from the group first, eyeing the wide variety of vegan dishes shoved into the corner. Big Slick immediately forgot about her job and grabbed the nearest dish — a slightly burnt cockatrice broth — before slurping it all down. Tank sighed. Not wanting to deal with the strongest member of the trio, he moved on, walking to the back table filled with an assortment of small hand foods.
A family of three elves stood frozen as Tank walked over to the first open basket of breadsticks. He ripped off the corner of tablecloth before tying the ends together to form a makeshift bag. He mindlessly tossed the breadsticks in one by one before the cloth filled up.
“What are you doing, Mr. Dragon?” an elven boy asked innocently. His parents quickly covered the boy’s mouth while Tank ripped off another section of the tablecloth.
“Getting food,” Tank answered, moving onto the next plate filled with small dumplings. He tossed them in mindlessly. “Got to make sure to have enough for a while.”
“But won’t it rot?” the child asked, managing to speak as his parents fumbled for his mouth.
“That… I didn’t think about that before,” Tank murmured. He thought about it briefly, confirming that, yes, most of the food would rot in the next few days if they brought it all back. He shook his head, trying to get that thought out of his head and finish wrapping the dumplings. He paused as his eyes laid upon the boy’s outstretched plate. Tank pointed to the one yellowish brown food taking up most of it. “What’s that?”
“That,” the boy said, pointing to the tub right next to him. Tank peeked into the pile of brown wedges piled up mostly at the back. Hesitantly, he grabbed one with his fore-talon and held it up to his nose.
Tank, who had, for the better part of three years, never eaten anything other than goat, was bombarded by a kaleidoscope of smells. Was it fruity? He couldn’t tell. Nutty? Still, he didn’t know. What he could tell, however, was that it smelt entirely unlike goat entrails. The smell wafted around his head as it ensnared him into a light daze. The moment Tank finally awoke from his food fever dream was when he dropped the wedge into his mouth.
For a minute, Tank silently chewed on the wedge before swallowing it. Then, he grabbed another wedge from the tub and placed it on his forked tongue without a moment of hesitance. Then he grabbed another. Then another. Then, he scooped up a chunk of the pile. Finally, he took the tub itself and poured everything it had down his throat.
This strange foreign delicacy felt like solid ambrosia as Tank voraciously chewed and swallowed each chunk he had in his cheeks. It was at sometimes crunchy, then sometimes chewy. He hummed in glee as he tasted each little flake of the lightly salted substance. He savoured each bit he could; each completely un-goatlike bit. It took him only a few seconds to finally swallow everything, but to him, it felt like an eternity.
“What is this?” Tank asked excitedly, jerking his head towards the elf family.
“Potato wedges!” the mother squealed.
“Potato wedges…” Tank whispered. He looked for a member of staff, grinning as one stepped in from the staff room. “Hey! Get here!”
“R-right away!” the dwarven waiter, who had unknowingly walked towards a fire dragon, exclaimed as he ran up to the table. Sweat trickled down his forehead as he stood at Tank’s beck and call.
“Get me more of these…potato wedges,” Tank ordered, pointing towards the empty tub. The waiter questioned the dragon’s demand before taking the tub and walking back into the kitchen. Tank grinned before remembering about Fruity’s orders. He collected himself before ripping off a third part of the tablecloth and turning it into another makeshift bag.
The elven family exchanged glances with each other before looking at the dragon as it scooped fries into its bag. They put their plates on the table before they slowly stepped back.
“Hey,” Tank spoke up, frightening the boy’s parents. The dragon pointed towards a gooey yellow triangle on the mother’s plate. “What’s that?”
“Uh...p-pizza,” the other mother whimpered.
“Pipizza, huh?” Tank muttered to himself. Something about the strange yellow triangle looked appetizing to him. Even more so than the potato wedges he had scarfed down before. He looked over the rest of the table’s dishes. “I don’t see any Pipizza here. Where did you get it?”
“O-over there,” the other mother whimpered again, pointing to a counter in the corner of the serving area. Tank, with a sparkle in his eyes, bowed his head before walking away, leaving the sacks of breadsticks, dumplings, and fries behind. The boy grabbed a few dumplings before his mothers pulled him away and ran out of the restaurant.
Tank walked across the serving area, passing by Fruity stuffing the entire fruit table into one large sack. He stopped in front of the counter, where an array of cooked goods laid in rows for anyone to pick up. Tank briefly scanned through the items, unable to find the pizza he was looking for.
“Hello? Is there any pipizza here?” Tank asked, looking behind the counter to an open kitchen. Everyone who had been previously cooking before had tried to escape once word of the three dragons had reached their ears. The only one currently inside was Marco, who blissfully chopping lettuce unaware of the dragon looking at him. “Hey! Poofy head! Why is there no pipizza here?”
“Has the pizza finished?” Marco asked. He didn’t break eye contact from his work as he dutifully pushed the minced garlic and laid another few cloves onto his chopping board. “It always runs out quickly. We have another one in the oven, if you’re willing to wait.”
“Fine,” Tank muttered, laying his head on the counter. “Just tell me when you’re done.”
“If you want, there should be a plate of baby roc legs on the counter,” Marco noted. Tank looked over the spread in front of him before taking the plate filled with crispy brown chicken legs. He knew he had to save most of the food he had to collect, but he couldn’t help himself as he scarfed the plate down in one fell swoop. The crispy meatiness of the baked roc legs gave him a fuzzy nostalgic feeling before the rumbling of his stomach made him realize what he had done. Marco simply chuckled before returning to his chopping. “Sounds like you were really hungry.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve had bird,” Tank admitted, licking his lips while simultaneously shaking his head in regret. “Though, it seems to be missing a little something…”
“Really? I thought I got that batch right. I even made sure to peel off the skin.”
“Why did you peel it off? That’s the best part!”
“If you cook it for too long, then it releases a horrid odor. I don’t know how anyone could stomach it.”
“It’s the feathers that stink! Don’t you pluck them completely?”
“Baby rocs don’t have feathers!”
“They do! They just haven’t grown yet!”
“O-oh,” Marco stuttered. As he brought the knife down, he missed the onions, nipping his finger in the process. He winced. Tank watched, amused by the chef’s ineptitude.
“Are you really a monster chef?” Tank asked. “You don’t exactly seem to be the type of person to go out with a sword and slay a monster yourself.”
“Heh, I get that a lot,” Marco sighed. “But no, despite my physique and reliance on others to hunt the ingredients, I am a professional monster chef.”
“Why are you, then?” Tank asked, laying his head on the counter. “What’s the point of declaring yourself to be a monster chef if you can only do half of the job?”
“The reason, my dear customer, is because you and I have different standards of what it means to be a monster chef,” Marco stated. “You may see it as someone who is able to effectively kill and cook a monster, and that is certainly the standard. However, I see it as someone who is able to take a monster, one of the many dangers of everyday life, and turn it into a delicious meal for someone to enjoy.”
Marco took a break from the onions he had been chopping and walked over to the brick oven in the corner of the kitchen. He grabbed the wooden peel off the rack before facing the oven with a grin on his freckled face.
“Look around you, friend!” Marco exclaimed as he excitedly jabbed the peel inside the oven. “Each dish in this restaurant has a bit of monster in it! The veggies are grown on the back of world turtles! The meats are hunted in this very forest! Even the dough for the bread is taken from wild breadmancers! A piece of monster lies in every dish I serve, and you cannot say that they aren’t delicious!”
With a swing, Marco pulled the peel from the oven, tossing the freshly baked pizza onto an awaiting pizza tray laying in front of Tank. Marco tossed the wooden tool away before pirouetting, eyes closed, towards the counter.
“That, dear customer, is what makes me a monster chef. Bon appetite,” Marco said, ending with a flourish. He bowed his head before cracking one eye open. Once he saw he had been talking to a one-ton green fire-breathing dragon, Marco froze solid.
Tank eyed the pizza with a skeptical look. It looked very appetizing; both his eyes, nose, and slobbering mouth agreed. However, he knew he should save it and bring it back with him. He couldn’t look Fruity or Big Slick in their eyes if they knew he had eaten something so good looking, despite the fact they did so in front of him on a regular basis. Eventually, his hunger got the best of him, and Tank dove into the pizza, gobbling it down with a voracious passion.
“This…is amazing!” Tank exclaimed, his eyes sparkling from delight. “It’s so chewy, but the underside is all crunchy, and the things on top are sweet, and, and… I don’t know how to describe it!”
“I-is that so…” Marco said, falling back into his delusion. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I need to splash some water on my face. Again.”
As Marco turned to leave, something began to awaken inside of Tank. Some hidden, childish desire that had been suppressed suddenly sparked for the first time in years. The last moment he could remember was when he had plucked the feathers off the roc, not because he was hungry, but because he wanted to eat something delicious.
“Hey, wait up for a second,” Tank called out, climbing over the counter and into the kitchen. Marco froze up once more before turning to face the dragon.
“Wh-what can I help you w-with, sir?” Marco asked, losing the same bravado he had earlier.
“How do you become a monster chef?” Tank asked excitedly. Marco was taken aback by the question, so it took a while before he could properly convey an answer.
“W-well, you usually have to go to m-magic college and take c-cooking as a major,” Marco began.
“Is there any way of doing it faster?” Tank asked.
“I g-guess it’s possible to become a chef by just h-hunting monsters and cooking them yourself.”
“I would still need some place where I can cook though. You know, like this restaurant of yours…”
“Y-yeah, I guess you would.”
“Marco, yes. Do you mind if I ask something from you?”
“N-not at all? What can this h-humble chef give to you?”
“I-I’m sorry, what?” Marco asked as Tank grabbed the monster chef with one claw and leaped over the counter. The two charged through the restaurant, knocking chair, table, and patron alike, before skidding to a halt in the middle of the building.
Many of the guests, wary of the monsters to begin with, paused as they saw the green dragon holding the chef in one hand. They ducked to the ground in fear as Tank let out a mighty roar, shaking the restaurant to its very foundation.
“Listen up, everyone!” Tank roared, stamping his other three feet on the ground while holding Marco with his fourth. “I’m the new owner of this restaurant, and I want everyone in it to scram!”